GRAPHICS: Focusing on value - When choosing a graphics agency, it may not be wise to go with the cheapest quote, but even so excellent graphics don't have to cost the earth. Simon Clarke finds out how

A large company once commissioned a stand from the agency that gave

the cheapest quote. It collected the stand a short time before the

exhibition was due to start. To the company's horror, there were

shocking spelling mistakes, the Pantone colours for the logo and

corporate identity were wrong, the scanning was appalling and the panels

didn't line up. The client was distraught and it ended up costing a

frightening amount of money because another company had to be found to

do the whole job again in less than a week.

It doesn't have to be that way, according to Photobition marketing

manager Rob Kelly. "Think about the graphics before anything else and

cost it into the design of the stand," he says. "Always use a graphic


The downside of computer-aided design (CAD) is that everyone thinks

they're a designer. If you're serious about producing a professional

stand, don't give the job to the office junior."

Out of the dark days

Things have improved from the dark days of the Seventies when the height

of sophistication was to have a scantily-clad model decorating a new


"It certainly gets attention, but very much the wrong type," says

Furneaux Stewart design director Laurie Stewart.

Other examples of design howlers have included carefully designed stands

which clients then covered with pot plants to make them "a bit more


Stewart believes the key to a successful stand is an integrated design

process. "Whoever designs the stand should also design the graphics," he

says. "Get the project manager, the 3D designer and the graphic designer

together from the start."

Excellent production with quality materials is key. "It is essential to

embrace new technology and invest in equipment," says ETC managing

director Neil Fraser. He believes that with a good concept, a tight

brief, and a good computer operator anything is possible. "Understand

what the machines can do," he says. "When you have a quiet moment,

experiment with finishes and formats - you'll be astonished at what you

can achieve."

Nowadays, the cost of hardware is plummeting, and companies can access

sophisticated kit without having to break the bank. Printmax from

supplier PCG can put a large format colour print package in your hand

for as little as £118 a month, for example. Sophisticated

laminating machines are also available for use in-house and these cut

the cost of outsourcing.

The problem with this is that it allows almost anyone to set themselves

up as a graphics house. "For £20,000 you can buy a printing

machine put it in your garage and start churning out graphics," says Key

Designs managing director David Miall. "But that doesn't mean you're a

graphics producer. We get absolutely exasperated walking around

exhibitions by the quality of some of the prints."

But how can professional companies stand up to the fly-by-nights?

"Cowboy outfits have a huge impact on proper companies and it is

essential to be ahead of the game in terms of technology and investment

in equipment," says ETC's Fraser. And Stewart adds: "Just be careful

about who you work with."

Coming back to the fold

Key Designs won't even tackle the cowboys on price. "It's just not worth

it," says Miall, who has had clients come back to the fold after a bad

experience. His advice to clients is to be diligent. "Always visit the

graphics house," he says. "Don't buy graphics over the phone."

Clients should also get full-size samples made from their own data

files, as well as a smaller piece from the finished article to check for

problems such as bitmapping. "You have to take into account viewing

distance, types and depths of colours, the size of the imagery and

whether the artwork is of sufficient quality to enlarge to a three-metre

image - library shots often aren't," says Photobition's Kelly.

However, not everyone thinks the democratisation of the industry is a

bad thing. "High quality visuals can be produced without much skill

provided you have the right type of equipment," says Hunt Graphics

direct marketing coordinator Steven Green. "It's patronising to assume

that people who work in a company don't understand the needs of that


Hunt supplies a mix of equipment and backs this up with training and

technical support. However, he concedes that the finished product "still

depends on the quality of the design concept."

Translating ideas

Experienced graphic designer Peter Ashley insists designers are crucial

to the image of a company. "Our job is have great ideas and translate

those ideas into effective and exciting communication," he says. "Even

the smallest space can be enhanced by a good idea, well executed, with

quality materials - and it needn't be expensive."

Furneaux Stewart put together Citroen's presence at the Fleet Show 2001

at Alexandra Palace, which as well as the stand included an

attention-grabber at the entrance featuring two cars on a digitally

printed carpet.

It included a Tri-Wonder animated graphic backdrop. "It gave movement,

three images and three messages in a restricted space," says


Giant Exhibitions director Carole Cozzi is keen to warn of the dangers

of overdoing it. "Effective graphics doesn't mean overbranding, it means

the right graphic, in the right place, at the right time," she says.

The key is to remember that visitors won't read everything, and need to

be steered through the stand experience. "Stands are not just about

plinths and platforms - every single thing must reinforce the value of

the brand, the product and the overall marketing strategy," says


Photobition's Kelly backs this up. "Work out where the walk-on and

walk-off points are going to be and exactly what message you want to


Make sure something catches their eye at every point," he says.

Money isn't everything, but clients must make the most of their

exhibition budgets. Here a professional design company can be

invaluable. Giant Graphics director Gary Sullivan argues that companies

are often hamstrung by their lack of knowledge. "Many companies,

particularly if they are unfamiliar with exhibiting, assume that they

are very limited by their budget, and are therefore very narrow-minded

in their approach," he says. "Our job is to open their eyes to other


Make your cash go further

And there are ways to make that cash go further. "Being very expensive

you'd think people would look after graphics," says Miall. "But they'll

stick them on the wall with Velcro and then rip them off, which quickly

makes them pretty tatty."

The solution is to finish them properly in the first place, using

techniques such as encapsulation, and to spend some money on carrying

cases. These have been available in the US for some time and are now

finding their way into the UK market.

"Of course, cost is important," says ETC's Fraser. "Check the invoicing

structure and the deal very carefully, but don't let the cost detract

from quality."

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