Does size matter?

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What makes a “big” exhibition successful? Is there an ideal sweet spot in terms of show size? Does industry maturity and the exhibition’s age have anything to do with it? Or is it in fact dependent on whether your exhibitors are product-oriented? And how does co-location fit in the equation? EN asked organisers to weigh up the pros and cons of delivering a broad-based exhibition versus a small, niche event, and to provide examples of where each approach works best. How big is too big for an exhibition?  Laura Biggs MD BBC Haymarket "Having enough buyers and sellers that match each others’ needs is the key ingredient for any size of show. From a consumer point of view, a show can be too big when it is difficult to see or enjoy the majority of it in a day. A few years back we organised the Summer Festival at The NEC that covered gardening, homes, food as well as areas dedicated to overseas property and evening concerts. In hindsight, the ‘day out’ had become too big and as a result lost some of its appeal to the core audience who essentially wanted a gardening and food show.  Therefore we now have Gardeners World Live and Summer Food sitting happily alongside each other. It has taken a couple of years for the more loyal visitors to embrace the new format, but equally for new visitors co-location has proven an attractive proposition and been essential for the development of both shows.  For BBC Haymarket, co-location also helped with the recent acquisition of The Wine Show, which historically struggled to be a commercially viable show running independently. This year we ran The Wine Show alongside Masterchef Live and while it had its challenges, ultimately the crossover of audience and the economy of scale of running both shows at the same time worked. Audiences are seeking better value for money and a tangible reason to come along to shows in the consumer sector. Tickets are not purchased on a whim, so it is essential that our shows represent excellent value for money and are too good to miss. The size, scale and editorial content as well as the option to go into another show for the same ticket price is definitely a plus.  However, you can get it wrong if the show gets too big and loses its relevance to your core audience. With any business, your customers will tell you pretty quickly if they think you’re getting the content or size of the show wrong. We are focusing more and more on customer feedback and acting on it." Peter Jones MD Niche Events "A show can never be too big, so long as the visitors show up. In my opinion, there is no sweet spot and no ideal size. Industries are like sand dunes: They never cease to evolve. My advice is to keep selling, developing and attracting more relevant visitors. Niche Events was established nine years ago and in 2007 we decided to slot under the wing of industry legend Phil Soar. As chairman, one of Phil’s duties is to offer a sanity check. The moment we stray from our three simple principles (selling square metres, delivering visitors and banking cheques) we are quickly reminded of our lunacy, which also helps keep our shows on track. Too many people agonise over reports, studies and analysis. Then they hold lots of meetings to discuss the previous three. I think you’re much better off reading a couple of industry magazines over a morning coffee, then calling target visitors and asking them what they’re looking for. Once you’ve done that, call target exhibitors and share your new-found invaluable wisdom. It’ll make you sound really intelligent and trustworthy enough to invest in booking a stand. Sell as many stands as you can and then after each show listen to what the exhibitors and visitors had to say, tune the format of the show and hit them again for next year. Why should it be more complicated than that? Just stay close to your majors (exhibitors and visitors) and the rest of the industry will follow. The one thing I would suggest is adding lots of content. People love free educational content as well as seeing lots of exhibitors – it justifies their day out, which is especially important given the current economic climate." Donna Bushell Event director Faversham House "How big is too big for an exhibition? If it is larger than the venue it is being held in! Seriously, it does depend on the exhibition in question and the industries it is representing. Some sectors have a larger product and services range. You will also find a number of exhibitions that have been co-located because of similar visitor profiles. Then there’s the fact that organisers need to give more reasons to a visitor to attend an event. This also leads to additional areas or features of interest. Having said that, some exhibitions are impossible to get around in a day and quite often a day is all the time a buyer has. Yet too small a show will not attract the number of visitors that a larger event does – especially as 'exhibitor marketing' is key in attracting people to a show.  One solution is to have focused events taking place at the same time. With our Sustainability Live exhibition there are five key exhibitions that have major crossover interest which works well getting the buyers there. A dedicated niche exhibition and conference can work well if you have an audience that just wants to meet a specific set of buyers. It’s all about meeting expectations and if the exhibitors get the ROI they expect. This could be achieved even if that they only see a dozen relevant visitors. It’s better than meeting hundreds who are not relevant.   So what makes a “big” exhibition successful? A good mix of exhibiting companies offering the widest possible range of products and services of interest, good branding, a huge amount of targeted marketing to promote focused areas that are relevant to particular buyers, free seminar programmes, interesting feature areas and a chance to network with like-minded people."
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