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Help Your Exhibitors Help Themselves

Want to maintain revenue from exhibitors and sponsors until in-person events come back? Be a consultative partner. Here’s how.

“Show organizers faced a hard and fast learning curve with the shift to virtual and hybrid exhibitions and events in 2020,” says David DuBois, CMP, CAE, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. Truer words were never spoken.

But this is also true: Exhibitors and sponsors of business events faced the exact same problem. So, with everyone trying desperately to bolster their ability to make an impact on attendees in the electronic medium, associations are in a good position to provide value to their exhibitors and sponsors, according to Mark Roberts, chief marketing officer for PGi, a provider of virtual meeting and exhibition platforms. 

Specifically, associations in 2021 are not just a conduit to a targeted audience for an industry’s suppliers; they can also guide suppliers on how to engage that audience in ways that deliver the most impact. Here are some ideas and tactics that have come to Roberts over the past year as his firm has executed virtual events for its clients.

Establish the right mindset ahead of the virtual event. “In this environment of no in-person events, it’s never been more important for sponsors and exhibitors to start the relationship with an audience before the show,” says Roberts (pictured here). 

AM0121Roberts0121.pngIn order to do this, “exhibitors and sponsors need to have a clear idea of what to expect from the association’s virtual experience as it relates to their presence, so that their messaging to prospects sets proper expectations. From that, each piece of their show strategy can work as intended and complement the next piece.” Maintaining a regular conversation with sponsors and exhibitors on the features and possibilities of the platform is key to helping them succeed at this.

Suggest formats that boost engagement during the virtual event.  When sponsors have the opportunity to create and deliver content, the association should make sure the content advances attendee knowledge rather than come across as an infomercial. 

“The best practice is to require the sponsor to record the session in advance and build in enough lead time for you to review it,” Roberts says. Then, on the day of the event, “let the sponsor host a Q&A chat forum as attendees watch the presentation or have a post-presentation Q&A so attendees can speak with the presenter.” The latter tactic also keeps the prepared presentation shorter. And if the presentation itself is conducted live, require the presenter to take questions from the audience at specific intervals. “This makes it difficult for them to slip into infomercial mode,” he notes.

As for virtual exhibit booths, “we find that by using an authority from outside the company—perhaps an industry researcher or consultant or even an executive from a company in a related industry—exhibitors can drive traffic more consistently throughout the day,” Roberts says. “This is where the virtual medium has an advantage; you have access to people you can’t normally get for an in-person event.” Such interaction also benefits the authority figure. “An analyst or researcher gets to test some of their ideas by interacting with that audience, and executives would appreciate the exposure.”

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