CUSTOM-BUILT STANDS: Combination theory

Brash stands are giving way to a new wave of show areas that integrate a client's marketing strategy, says Stuart Derrick

Downsizing is the order of the day in the current economic climate. As a result, custom-built stands can be seen as an easy cut from an event budget. No longer opting for the kudos of having the biggest and best stand at the show, companies are rethinking the rationale behind spending heavily on something that may be broken up after a few days.

"Attitudes are more discerning in the overall planning and selection process," admits Mice Group sales and marketing director Ian Denny. "Companies are asking why they are attending events, and are selecting the stand size and investment accordingly."

Kevin Marriott, account director at agency Small Back Room, agrees. "The biggest-is-best argument is on its way out. Testosterone marketing is being replaced by a more sober and analytical approach that's financially led," he says.

Justifying the budget

Clients increasingly want stands that deliver specific objectives, rather than ones that simply provide the wow factor. A multi-purpose stand is one way of justifying a budget that might otherwise cause the finance director's jaw to drop.

Creative agency Imagination USA designed a 1,160sqm stand for global technology company Samsung at the 2002 Winter Olympics. As well as showcasing wireless products in an interactive environment, the pavilion provided an area in which competing athletes could spend time with their families. The stand won the agency a 2002 Gold Event Award for custom-built stand design.

"We got great value from running multiple audiences through the same experiences," says Imagination USA chief executive Mark Hider. "It enables clients to build a consistent brand message for their customers, staff, media and other key audiences."

Hider warns companies that turning their backs on custom-build stands could turn out to be a false economy if they become anonymous at exhibitions. "You don't want to be become just another firework at a firework display," he says.

Budgetary pressures have forced Small Back Room to focus on alternative methods and materials. "We have seen a reduction in budgets, so the challenge is to continue to create impact on the show floor using new ideas and materials," says Marriott. "We have moved away from the traditional build of MDF and are working with plastics and light to develop unusual environments."

Client demands and expectations are also changing. Peter Forse, director at design agency Apex, believes businesses are taking a more integrated approach to shows. "An exhibition is about far more than just putting up an attractive stand for two or three days in an exhibition hall. Clients want creativity and value for money, but we have found the better solution is to look at exhibitions as part of an overall marketing strategy."

Apex designed a custom-built unit for Cabana Soft Drinks to help launch products to the hotel and catering industry. It was used at Hotelympia 2002 at Earls Court in London and at the Scottish Pub Club Hotel and Catering Show at the Royal Highland Centre, Edinburgh last year. The agency also created pre-event promotions and show activity.

This illustrates how agencies are adding value by offering services that go beyond core stand design. Another example was Mice Group's decision to launch an entertainment services arm (Event, May). The company brought in chart-topping boy band Blazin' Squad to appear at the Sony Playstation Experience at Earls Court last August, which was organised by Mice International.

Playstation Experience ran as a standalone event alongside CMP Europe's computer trade show ECTS. John Furneaux, managing director of design agency Furneaux Stewart, says this highlights how companies are changing the way they showcase products. "There has been a move towards more targeted events with invited audiences and activities outside the exhibition hall," he says.

Spreading the cost

Furneaux adds, however, that it can still pay to make a splash at a major show. Clients can make custom-build work for them by planning a run of events and spreading the cost over several years.

Renault, too, has tried to integrate blockbuster shows like the British International Motor Show (BIMS), with niche events such as the English Heritage Proms in the Parks concerts. Rapiergroup designed Renault's largest stand to date for the former event last October, measuring 2,250sqm.

But Small Back Room's Marriott warns that clients are looking for ways other than exhibiting with a large stand to woo customers. He says: "They are moving towards dinners, lunches and seminars. Companies still have to partake in the show, but it's a question of how."

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