Simon Robinson, co-owner,and organiser of Mediatech Africa – the largest media and entertainment technology trade show on the continent – shares strategic exhibition insights from his 17 years in the industry. With a profound understanding of the difference between success and failure in this game, Robinson unpacks what it takes to make an exhibition sustainable.
When it comes to B2B tradeshows few have grown in size and stature and been as successful as Mediatech. A biennial show now in its ninth year, today it’s the only exhibition on a global stage to successfully incorporate three different industry sectors into one show. While that may not sound exceptional,what is unique is that each vertical “owns the show” as if it were being staged entirely for the benefit of that sector. Achieving this seemingly unattainable goal was no accident and Robinson has worked tirelessly with his extended team to accomplish this balance.
- What initially attracted you to the exhibition industry?
I was selling diving equipment but as an opportunity spotter– when I realised there was an option that would put me at the centre of a trade show – I grabbed the break with both hands. The rest as they say is history. Only as time went by, did I realise that I definitely gravitate more towards B2B shows and find these far more rewarding to stage than the consumer alternative.For me,B2B shows are more tangible with greater longevity. You also have the opportunity to build relevant relationships that have depth with your exhibitors, all the while developing a fundamental knowledge of the industry sector and how their business fits into it. That understanding and knowledge is what makes it easier to deliver on the promises you make about a trade show.
- How many expos have you run and in what industry?
My experience in the industry has been notched up across various verticals, including expos that cater to the sports market, franchising, property, health and beauty, gardening, and through Mediatech – technology. Mediatech has been the most B2B focused trade show on this list.
- What was your title – were you always the show director?
No. Like most people, I worked my way up the ranks; a journey that started with selling exhibition stands –to my current role as co-owner, organiser and head of marketing for Mediatech.A unique and exciting vertical – it’s the B2B show I have worked on for the longest.
- How long did you plan before you first launched Mediatech and how has it evolved over the years?
We planned for about 15 months before launching our first Mediatech show in 2001 and since its inception it has enjoyed tremendous support, growth and success. It’s safe to say our evolution came about through the introduction of new verticals to the show. We began as a broadcast and production exhibition and then successfully integrated the live events sector. The introduction of the AV integration sector followed. Our growth has definitely been driven by on boarding these new markets. Not just that, we were able to deliver a uniquely different visitor to each sector; and because there is very little overlap between them this required a focus that ultimately lead to each vertical believing the show was their own.
- What makes this show uniquely successful?
It’s the only B2B trade show of its ilk in Africa and what makes it unique at a global level, is the successful incorporation of three different industry sectors into one show – each with its own unique visitor profile. I have not come across another show in the world that integrates all three verticals as we do. Another big part of the show’s success has been achieved by cultivating exhibitor relationships.
- What in your view is the formula for a successful expo?
- Delivering the right visitors to the show: This is the biggest determinant of happy exhibitors after the event. If your exhibitors do great business during the expo you are home and dry. They may be lenient on other small mistakes in the build up to the show and even at the event – but they will be completely unforgiving if you don’t deliver the right visitor profile to the expo.
- Making sure you have the right suppliers:You need good relationships with reliable suppliers who will deliver on what they promise.
- A committed and competent team: You need to surround yourself with a great team who can make everything happen – and often under stressful conditions and time pressures; ultimately every exhibitor becomes your boss.
- Of those points – what is the single biggest contributor to the success of an expo?
At the crux of a trade show’s success is the realisation that you are not just an events co-ordinator. You need to understand the business of the exhibitor. More than that, you must grasp their market – perhaps better than the exhibitor even does. It’s this knowledge that will enable you to deliver the right visitor to the show [and in turn to the exhibitor]. You might get away with below par service right up until the show – but if you deliver the right audience and your exhibitor does good business during the show – almost everything can be forgiven.
- What are the fundamental flaws that will cause an expo to flop?
Not giving yourself enough lead time on a show is a common problem – the sales process takes much longer than generally anticipated. Another pitfall is making assumptions – people will not necessarily attend your show just because you like or think it’s a good idea. This brings us back to knowing the market – without this understanding you are unlikely to get out the starting blocks. And perhaps the most common crack evident in the average expo is failing to listen to and negating the exhibitor’s business needs. You have to understand who the exhibitor’s customer is and who they want to meet with. And then deliver that visitor to them.
- What’s the biggest mistake you have ever witnessed at an expo you attended or participated in?
Exhibitions don’t always go to plan and the unexpected is inevitable; it’s during these times that you have to rely on the strength of your team to iron issues out and of course – effective contingency plans will save the day.I have seen 20 cars go up in flames at a show; 100km winds have collapsed marquees and massive PA towers have been blown onto cars. It’s for all these reasons that we carry cancellation and abandonment insurance on our shows so when the inevitable happens, you are in a position to refund exhibitors a portion of their costs. Matters of Health and Safety at shows have also become incredibly onerous and the responsibility and liability all lands squarely on the organisers’ shoulders. Compliance is an admin intensive exercise but it’s not something to be sidestepped and it’s important to get your house in order.
- For those wanting to get into expos – what sort of personality traits and strengths do they need?
Definitely tenacity and an aptitude for sales, good organisational skills and attention to detail. You also need to be astute – with an ability to discern who your exhibitor’s audience is – and then attract and secure their attendance.Anyone can put up a good show,but the ability to be tactical in a way that also adds value, are skills that are in short supply; master them and success will undoubtedly follow. A good sense of humour and a thick skin will also go a long way in this industry.
- Best piece of advice to exhibitors wanting to make a success of their participation at an expo – is it all about their stand?
It’s definitely not all about the stand – it’s the complete package in a B2B environment. At the onset, it’s critical for the exhibitor to profoundly understand why they are participating in the show; they must be clear about what they hope to achieve from their investment. Part of this process includes bedding down goals to be achieved. This includes putting a system in place where everyone on their team buys into the significance of their contribution to the plan – before during and after the show. Exhibitions provide brands with a platform to do business with both existing and potential clients and they need to leverage the inherent opportunities that come with the event. It’s an ideal occasion to entertain and engage- so pull out the stops and make it memorable. By far – one of the biggest failings we see with exhibitors – is not having a strategic follow up approach after the show. Leads are generated but the opportunities are lost when post-show communication is absent.
- What stand considerations and advice would you give to exhibitors?
No matter how strong your marketing and brand messaging is, and even with great [looking] customer-facing teams, you still need to draw in visitors and this is made a lot more difficult if you don’t have an enticing stand. It’s not about an elaborate custom-built design thought it helps; it needs to be impactful so as to stand out from competitors. Find ways that will immerse your customers in your stand and capture their imagination. Always remember your goal, why you are at the expo in the first place, and revisit your audience profile. This will prompt ideas around what’s most likely to entice customers.Combine this with committed follow-ups to show leads, and you’ll ensure your exhibition experience isn’t a wasted one.
Mediatech Africa is an engaging biennial trade show that brings creative thought to life within six verticals:Broadcast – TV & Radio; Film & Video Production; Digital Media; Pro Audio – Lighting – Staging; Audio Visual Integration; and Studio – Recording – DJ.An unmatched platform for networking, education and entertainment, this high energy – high impact event is all about the seamless integration of technology and creativity. It’s about making the impossible possible. It’s about innovation and bringing ideas to life using the latest tech. The three day event attracts global and local brands who are at the forefront of their industries. Thought leaders, decision makers and the highest calibre influencers who are shaping tech trends and the very industry itself – attend the showcase. By design, Mediatech Africa is an experience which visitors immerse themselves in, leaving invigorated and inspired by the possibility of opportunity and a fast forward glimpse into the future.