Exhibiting at a (German) trade show is an investment that is likely to pay off provided you choose the appropriate event(s) and prepare your attendance well. Here are some tips especially relevant for first-time exhibitors:
Once you have decided to attend a certain show, get in touch with the organiser; they can advise you on the registration procedures and deadlines. For certain shows, don’t be overly surprised when they are already sold out. Inquire what it takes to be put on a waiting list (maybe even for the next event in three or four years).
When registering, duly follow the process and meet the deadlines. Make sure you are up-to-date concerning when you can deliver your exhibits, etc. In many cases, the organisers publish detailed instructions and checklists on the event website. If in doubt, ask them who they would recommend for stand construction, catering, etc.
Do not postpone thinking about your marketing initiatives to the very last moment. Work on your strategy and chalk out an action plan to achieve your trade fair goals. Ask the organiser what tools they offer; this can be entry vouchers, a .jpg file of the trade fair logo with your booth number which can be embedded into your e-mail signature or website, catalogue entries, ads in the official newsletters, etc. Read more about increasing the footfall at your trade fair booth.
Take care of your hotel booking well in advance; rooms usually won’t get cheaper if you wait! Don’t leave applying for your visa to the last minute; remember that the trade fair organiser will also need time to issue your invitation letter or any other needed document; make sure you keep yourself informed regarding these requirements.
There will necessarily be substantial communication with the trade show organiser in the run up to the show, creating plenty of opportunity for (intercultural) misunderstandings and frustration on both sides:
From what I have been told, exhibitors sometimes come across as quite pushy on the one hand but also highly unreliable on the other. Some tend to cancel on very short notice, do not accept the cancellation fees, and are not very well prepared regarding stand construction. First-time exhibitors sometimes do not realise they have booked only raw space. My advice is, if you tend to get nervous when waiting for a reply from the organiser or one of their service partners, sit tight and try to imagine how much these people have on their plate. ‘Outsiders’ very often cannot imagine the tremendous work that needs to be done to make an event happen.
Better try to avoid putting yourself under time constraints in the first place. When you register for the fair, ask the Exhibition Manager if he / she can share a checklist to help keep track of important tasks and deadlines; always allow them some time to get back to you—chances are high that he / she is dealing with more than one last-minute request when you contact him / her.
Also, please keep in mind that, in Germany, it is just not common to call somebody shortly after you have sent them an e-mail. People over here would easily feel annoyed or pressurised if you instantly ask them to confirm receipt of your mail. Never call them to tell them “I have just sent you an e-mail.” Unless they know you very well and would especially look forward to catching up with you, they will not appreciate it.
Germans lay great emphasis on formal written communication; even if e-mails go back and forth, make the effort to politely greet the addressee. ”I request” for us sounds very harsh and demanding; better write “could you please…” and add a “Thank you” from time to time. If you speak some German, avoid addressing the other person with “Du”; use the more formal “Sie”.
We have a saying: “Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus.” This literally translates as: “The way you shout into the woods, the echo will sound,” meaning “What goes around, comes around.” Chances are your counterpart will go the extra mile if he / she enjoys dealing with you.
“Dealing with you” doesn’t mean that you should have high hopes of being able to bargain with a German trade show organiser. Quite generally, prices for floor space and certain (premium) positions are fixed. You can ask for bundled offers (e.g., with advertising), and with that, you may even succeed in negotiating a little extra; but by no means should you go back to the organiser to try to re-negotiate the deal. That is just not how we do business—people will easily perceive you as shady and, if you are not a key player, they will probably try to avoid you in the future.
And don’t forget to get acquainted with the fair ground rules early: Ask when you can let the forwarder deliver your exhibits and plan accordingly; ask how to handle waste; ask when the earliest is that you can pack and leave on the last day. Germans love rules and if you (also) consider their guidelines important and follow them (please!), they’ll love you even more. Plus, I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble!
Any questions, you can always get in touch with me (andra[at]andra-ibf.com).
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And….for Indian exhibitors: Please check out the special edition for Indian managers on amazon.in