27 the exhibition guru R ead any of those ' How to Exhibit' guides and you'll find a wealth of wisdom about briefing your stand staff. Sensible companies take this on board, ensuring everyone involved is totally aware of the organisation's products and services, recent releases, industry news and the latest trends. But how good are most companies at considering all those awkward questions that could be asked at an exhibition? After all, there is potentially a vast audience of visitors exposed to the organisation through a wealth of on- and off- line communications channels. For example, think about some of the major organisations you've seen mentioned in the papers over the last month, with stories that move from the business pages to the mainstream. Banks, airlines, pharmaceuticals, cities and countries have all suffered their share of bad press, and you can bet your life it'll be a similar picture, with different names, same situations, next month. The trouble is that the exhibition environment is one where you rarely have any control over the visitors or the questions they ask. Much of the traditional business decorum that a private meeting generates may go right out the window. Let me give you a real- life example. I recently ran a training course for a much- loved client recently. I won't mention its Gladiators, are you ready? Exhibition guru Richard Johnwarns that everyone needs to be clued up on company business. Before attending an exhibition, make sure the visiting team is briefed on everything the company has been doing EXHIBITING- July/ August 2010 www. exhibitingmagazine. co. uk
the exhibition guru and had implemented a rebuttal and response to the incorrect newspaper report. The trouble is, it hadn't thought to close the communications loop and tell the people organising the company's events. It is a simple and common error that's easy to fix. Some organisations do it well. At a recruitment exhibition a few years ago, one of the surprise exhibitors was the security service, MI5. The timing was unfortunate; one of its former staff, David Shayler was being prosecuted for selling inside secrets. His allegations were very serious, so it was inevitable that curious visitors would question the stand staff. These were both MI5' s recruitment agency and genuine ' spooks', but all were brilliantly briefed to calmly deal with the range of questions, some of which were frankly quite bonkers. Of course, MI5 has the benefit of calling in an SAS hit squad if the situation got out of hand, an option that the rest of us don't share. So, for all your future exhibitions and events, make sure the staff briefing is both comprehensive and compulsory. Get people to practise the party lines, and role- play scenarios of awkward questions. Give clear instructions to everyone involved about who can say what, especially to the media. It's also an advantage to ensure that there is always a helpful public relations officer at the end of the telephone, who is also responsible for media monitoring. As always, the best ideas are the simplest. But do take them on board or you could find you've become your industry's ' turkey twizzler'. Richard can be contacted via the deputy editor. Avoid show floor horrors: ensure staff are prepared to deal with any question household name because I like the company, and it hadn't done anything seriously wrong. But, sitting on the train on my way to see them, I was reading the local paper. Surprise surprise, there was an article about my client involving a class action dealing with public liability. In this case, a sofa manufacturer thought it would be a good idea to protect the leather used in its products by spraying toxic waste over them. Hundreds of people suffered health problems. And my client was the insurer of some of the outlets selling these sofas. It said so in the paper, so it must be true. Yet, when I asked how many of my delegates, which included some senior marketing managers, were aware of the story and their part, there was a complete sea of blank faces. Lets move on to this month's valuable lesson for you to digest. For many companies, exhibitions and events can be an almost daily occurrence. ( Plus, the media will publish almost anything with a vestige of truth if it helps sell papers, or they'll print any old lie and cover themselves with the select use of quotation marks). This means there's a good chance some of those stories will reach the visitors attending events where your organisation is exhibiting. Make no mistake, you need to consider how well- prepared your people are to deal with all those awkward questions. You need to know they can deal with the troublesome, or just genuinely curious, enquiry about something your company may have done wrong. So, in the case of my client, we took a tea break and some frantic phone calls ensued. Sure enough, the PR people were aware of the article, www. exhibitingmagazine. co. uk July/ August 2010 - EXHIBITING 28 " Make no mistake, you need to consider how well- prepared your people are to deal with all those awkward questions"