This past fall the meetings and events team travelled to Las Vegas to participate in IMEX, an annual international trade show. We learned about and tasted whiskey from a kilted man in Scotland, snapped a group picture at the World Cup in Germany, ate empanadas from Brazil and took a virtual tour of London. On the last day, we posed the question: Based on these three days, which city or country would you visit? Between the German-style tables with giant pretzels and imported beer on tap, Munich was an easy answer. Matt Williams, founder and CEO, Exhibit Partners, who also went to IMEX, agreed: “That was their culture. It was clean, it was welcoming. And there were multiple activities and touch points within the space.”
At the end of the day, it comes down to the business being done inside these booths. “Trade shows themselves have been around for literally hundreds of years,” says Thimmesch. “They go back to trade fairs where people come and meet and that’s the one thing that’s not going away—the need for people to meet face to face.”
Technology & Engagement
“The most effective trade show environments enable the audience to not only quickly see what benefit they can get out of engaging these people, but having the right tools to navigate too,” says Williams. You can, and should, leave your PowerPoint slide at home—it’s interactive technology that will drive engagement. Williams’ initiative is to create what he calls “cerebral, intelligent media content.” If customers can navigate through a touch screen that contains various kinds of information, they’re able to find what interests them.
Hyatt has been using touch screens in their booths for two years—something that Exhibit Partners added as a way to introduce Hyatt’s various brands to potential clients in 30- or 60-second spots. “It’s kind of like visiting the Hyatt website but more tiered, more structured,” says Michelle Romein, director of corporate events, Hyatt Hotels Corporation. “So if you’re looking at a world map, and you want to see how many Hyatt places we have, we basically break it down by brand and then you can see the scope of what Hyatt places we have and where.”
Skyline recently did a survey that found two-thirds of exhibitors are using tablets. “They’re getting so pleased with the results that they get from that interactivity that now they’re taking that to the larger monitors and embracing the idea of using touch screens,” says Mike Thimmesch, director of customer engagement, Skyline. The flexibility that technology offers also allows exhibitors to send different messages based on their audience. For instance, product messages can be changed seamlessly based on the audience.
Sustainability & Repurposing
With all the time and money that goes into designing and building trade show booths, the motivation to reuse parts is only natural. Skyline’s modular exhibits like Envoy allow for flexibility in changing out parts rather than scrapping a booth after one show. The same practice goes for Exhibit Partners. “[Exhibit Partners] completely designed a booth for us that has multiple pieces that can be interchanged at any different type of show. So we have a wide variety of arm chairs, and different wall structures and touch-screen monitors and welcome desks,” says Romein.
“Debs [Holloway, BPI director, Exhibit Partners] works with whatever local center we’re in on what things can be recycled properly, like padding,” says Romein, who also reuses carpet year-round in Hyatt booths (a minimum of 25 shows a year). Williams affirms his company’s eco-consciousness: “Our creative director is totally on board with sustainable elements and you’ll see that every time we design an environment; he wants to make sure that there are elements that reflect back well on the organizations that we’re working with but also on the environment.”
There are creative ways in reusing resources, too. As a holiday gift, Exhibit Partners took fabric blend that served as a wall in a Hyatt booth that was no longer usable (dated logos and no-longer-relevant photos) to make winecarrying bags for that client. The tag on the bag read: “Before I carried wine, I was a trade show graphic.”
“The more cumbersome the exhibit, the more it costs,” asserts Williams, who says drayage can cost $1 per pound. Lighter weight materials like fabric and aluminum offer an affordable option without compromising the design or message.
Skyline launched its Windscape system in 2013, which is also known as the world’s first air-powered exhibit system. The frame is inflatable with industrial-strength fabric (Skyline has two proprietary fabrics) to fit around the outside of the structure. “I’ve travelled to Europe and packed enough for a 20x20 exhibit in my luggage. It’s something that with any other system you couldn’t do,” says Sofia Troutman, segment manager, Skyline. “When I had a 13- to 14-foot tower, I just picked it up and people would stop and freak out,” recalls Thimmesch.
From charging stations to food and beverage, exhibitors are catering to basic needs to create interaction. “You’re nurturing existing relationships or actually sitting down and having a conversation rather than just providing information,” says Troutman, “So that gives you more of an opportunity to be a little bit of a host, especially for those highend clients.”
At the 2014 IMEX conference in Las Vegas, Hyatt incorporated a natural environment theme into its décor. “We made a very concerted effort to bring in calming, soothing pieces like live plants and integrate them into the seating environments, into the fixtures,” says Williams. “It just makes people—when they see the Hyatt brand—feel more welcome.”