Working with exhibitors overseas
When your exhibitors are successful, your event is successful. They want traffic, leads, new relationships. Organizing aoutside your home country adds a challenge to meeting those goals. Exhibitors know how they like to sell, but how do these prospects like to buy?
If you can help exhibitors show that they respect and appreciate differences among cultures, you've gone a long way toward keeping your event in business.
We talked with international trade show expert Matthew Green, principal of consulting firm Project Profile, based in London and Chicago, about the perils of the international pitch — and how to help exhibitors help themselves.
Beyond Borders: How can trade show organizers help their exhibitors to be more culturally sensitive?
MG: The problem is that inexperienced exhibitors “do not know what they do not know.” Most exhibitors and exhibition organizers are, by definition, experts in their own areas of manufacturing, commerce, or services. And as trade show organizers focus on the details, they can sometimes neglect the big picture.
We once participated in a major exhibition in Hyderabad [India]. On arrival there, the plasma screen and DVD in the client's booth worked perfectly. Of course it did, because the show organizers had provided information on electrical supply and plug configurations. What had not been provided, however, was the cultural clue that visitors prefer to come straight into the booth and talk, rather than stand in the aisle, watch a video, and wait for the sales personnel to “catch and reel in” visitors, as is the case in Europe.
Result? A high-production-value video made, extremely expensive equipment shipped, and none of it used. Instead, there needed to be far more staff in the booth than would be needed in North America, where the client traditionally exhibited. (Interestingly, the contractor had mentioned this would be the case on the first day of the build, as he knew that the footfall of the event was high, the amount of visitor time spent on booths was significant, and that rigging the screen and DVD was an unnecessary task.)
Exhibit organizers need only make small efforts to gather information that will allow exhibitors to properly prepare. The Web address of the national tourist board, the address of consulate/cultural attaché of the country in which the exhibition is to be held, details of the primary television broadcasts, and names of the most significant newspapers are all valuable resources.
Exhibitors gain an enormous amount from phoning other exhibiting companies, perhaps even in different fields of business, to get background information on where they are going and what they are about to experience. Exhibitors and trade show managers are a friendly bunch. They nearly always want to talk about their successes and experiences, so a few minutes on the phone or an exchange of e-mail is well worthwhile.
BB: Are there simple ways to make potential buyers from other countries feel more comfortable at a trade-show booth?
MG: In Europe, the most well-received booths are those that employ multilingual staff. Though it is universally thought that English is the common language of the business world, multilanguage graphics are always well received, even if it is only a welcome message in the visitors' home language.
Consider your furnishings. Certain cultures find furniture of different types off-putting. Do you want bar tables or low, relaxed seating? So called “bum-bars” on a presentation theater within a booth or spaced apart chairs? All will have an effect on how long a visitor will stay at the booth and how comfortable they will be with their environment.
BB: You say that sometime the smallest considerations can have a large impact. What are some examples?
MG: How many times does information arrive misspelled? Often! Why is this? Not because an exhibitor or an exhibition organizer is sloppy. They will have spell-checked their documents. But will they have set up their information in the language of the country to which it is being mailed or e-mailed? Center or centre? Aluminum or aluminium? Defence or defense?
If you are working in an area where an exhibiting company does not have a local office, will the visitors wish to call the exhibitor internationally? Will they even know how to? Business cards with the appropriate international dialing code cost pennies to produce but may make hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of difference in new business. Indeed, how about purchasing a local number and having it redirected to the company's headquarters so the visitor is dialing locally but speaking internationally?
Are the business cards in English on one side and in the local language using the local alphabet on the reverse? If not, why not?
BB: How much accommodation to local culture and customs is enough? How would exhibitors measure their return on investment in translation, training, or other efforts?
MG: Trade show booth visitors who feel cared-for will be loyal and repeat customers. They will remember your messages, appreciate your brands, and recognize that you have made an effort to communicate with them on a local and international level. And that translates into long-term, positive results.
So how much effort is enough effort? The simple answer is, “as much as your time and budget will possibly allow and then even more.”
Multiple-language graphics (print, PowerPoint, DVD, etc.) are not going to increase costs by substantial amounts in relation to the initial design and production, so the argument is: Why not go the extra mile to guarantee a positive reception by a foreign visitor? Event organizers should provide projections as to the proportions of nationalities visiting an event. Remember: If as an American you often find an Englishman hard to understand, how challenging must it be then for an Italian or Argentinean or Saudi Arabian to grasp the nuances of meaning of an American during a sales process?
BB: What training options are offered by Project Profile? How can you “train” an exhibitor to be culturally aware?
MG: Project Profile's team consists of a multicultural communications analyst whose previous experience was gained as a partner in an international management consultancy; a presentation trainer who has made a particular study of body language; and a graphic designer whose videos, print, and intranet projects have been used in 17 countries in 11 languages. We offer training on a bespoke level to groups or individuals in organizations or corporations exploringoptions outside their traditional territories who want to maximize their opportunities and minimize their mistakes. As a first stage, there is an audit: We find out what you already have in place, what is planned, and what needs to be undertaken immediately to meet the norms of international business.
Project Profile offers general and specific training. The most popular is the communications analysis and the tools available to research and “self-train.” The more specific is for clients with a particular challenge in a specific country — a new marketing initiative, an acquisition, or a new supplier who is not a ready fit with an existing method of doing business.
BB: Can you share the story of an exhibitor who got it very wrong?
MG: Perhaps the most infamous example is a government department participating in a large and prestigious exhibition in the Middle East. The booth was large and prestigious to match. No local-language staff were hired for the booth, so when a pair of visitors with limited English turned up in uniform and appeared very interested in the most expensive and complex of the exhibits, they were treated to a full demonstration and significant corporate entertainment. In the end, staff from an adjacent booth explained that the visitors were not 5-star generals struggling to resolve the technical details being demonstrated. They were, in fact, car park attendants who happened to have walked into the booth! Four senior exhibit personnel for nearly two hours — a misplaced investment in time and effort which could have been avoided by the use of even a low-cost multilingual student as a “greeter” on the booth.