The Education Expo

 

Linda Vining

 

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Choosing the Right Staff

An exhibit with a first-class product and a first-class booth, but with second-class floor staff will probably fail. An exhibit with a second-class product and a second-class booth, but with first-class floor staff will undoubtedly succeed. Trade show wisdom highlights the value of good staff on your booth.

Creative displays and alluring give-aways are useless if exhibitor behaviour is uninviting - backs turned to customers, eating and smoking while on duty, sitting down, constant chatting to colleagues, reading a newspaper and hiding behind the potted plants.

Working on a stand is physically, emotionally and mentally hard work so staff need to be hand picked and willing, even keen, to participate.

Staff your stand with enough people.

Executive staff should always be on hand to consult and make appointments. Personal contact with the principal is impressive. Only knowledgeable and sociable staff and students, with good communication skills should be rostered.

Ascertain that the people staffing your booth have a high energy level and won't burn out too soon.

Staff should have regular breaks, wear name badges and comfortable shoes.

Write It Down

An expo is not the place to sign up enrolments. It is a lead-gathering and image building activity. Gathering names is what it's all about.

You need a system for recording leads. A business card is not good enough. After talking to hundreds of people conversations will blur.

Carry a pocket notebook to staple business cards and write visitor details. After each meaningful encounter religiously record your conversation. Data collection is your top priority.

Another idea is to have a form that will prompt staff to ask useful questions and record important information such as interests, special needs, obstacles to enrolment, time frame for decision, number and ages of children.

Marketing Tactics: Your Expo Strategy

School growth requires new customers. Expos have the potential to reach previously untapped markets. Buyers wander into your arms but you must be ready for them. An expo is a huge opportunity to gather leads that can turn into enrolements

However, many exhibitors think that they can book a booth a couple of weeks before a show, order a few pieces of furniture, roster staff and watch the families roll in. It's not so easy.

Effective expo strategy consists of what you do before the show, during the show and after the show. To capitalise on your investment you need an action plan and good booth skills.

Pre-show preparation

Research the show so that you can determine your budget and approach. The expo team needs months to plan the display, produce promotional material and practice their 'selling' technique. Get in early to claim a good site. Management bookshops have a range of books on the subject. The Exhibition Industry Association puts out a useful publication How to Exhibit at Australian Exhibitions Phone 03 819 9242

During the show

Know your reason for being at the show and the return you want on your investment. Once the conversation begins quickly determine if visitors are potential customers. If not, be pleasant, be polite, but be brief. Potential buyers will only wait a few minutes before being lured away. Time is a precious commodity at an expo.

If you identify a potential family, find out where they are in the decision-making process and what they are looking for in a school. If they won't be making a choice for a few years plan to contact them again later and cultivate them by other means. If they are looking to enrol soon give them your full attention for as long as it takes.

When business is slow, wander around the entire exhibition and learn about your competitors. Identify new trends and innovative offerings and collect show material.

After the show

The final stage consists of systematically following up the leads. Schedule the day after the show as a debriefing session. Organise the leads in order of priority. Follow up with letters and phone calls. Invite prospective families to school functions that relate to their interests/talents. Do it quickly and beat the competition. Enter the information on a database and devise ways to keep in touch.

Things To Take Away

Nobody should leave your booth empty handed. Give them something to remember you by&emdash;at the very least a business card. Prepare a supply of promotional material such as inexpensive, but professional looking handouts. Have fliers that announce coming events such as your open day, or a performance.

Invest money in promotional gimmicks. They work because they live on after the show . Rulers, stickers, balloons and carry bags can all be covered with your name and phone number. Have you left-over stock in cupboards (magazines, annual reports) or in the uniform or crested wear department that are suitable for distribution? Remember to have a little goodie for the youngsters. Build name awareness. Make it easy for customers to like you and to contact you.

Don't freely hand out your expensive prospectus or video. Save it for later and post it with a personalised letter to genuine leads as a follow up.

Your Expo Booth

It is physically impossible to talk to all show visitors but a good stand is constantly working for you, inviting enquiry. You have about 3 seconds to grab someone's attention and draw them into your space.

To create an effective booth:

Use signs. Keep your message short and to the point. Features should be read at a glance. Design your message around 'What we can do for you'.

Activity attracts atten-tion. Small groups of students can contribute e.g. musical group, woodwork or pottery student in action

For eye-catching back-drops use large photo-graphs, not a collection of small ones

Above all keep it simple and colourful. A clutter is not inviting.

Analyse the Organisers

Not all exhibitions are successful, so before you commit your money undertake a critical review of the expo management.

Contact the organisers and ascertain the estimated audience size and profile. Ask about the organiser's background. What other shows have they run? If the show management is fairly new, be careful.

Determine the target market for the expo and how the organisers plan to attract a crowd? What type of advertising and promotion will they provide? Who else will be exhibiting at the show? Get a list of last years exhibitors. Ask for an attendee breakdown from the last show. Will there be computerised visitor registration and identification to provide information to exhibitors after the show? Will there be free seminars to attract visitors? Offer your staff to run a seminar.

What are the setting up arrangements? What exactly does the fee cover (for example, booth, furniture, plants, cleaning, electricity)? What must you arrange yourself at additional cost? Ask for a floor plan to help you select a site. What insurance cover does the show have? Get all this information in writing.

Linda Vining is the Director of the Centre for Marketing Schools. She conducts a series of school seminars on Marketing The Modern School. Phone (02) 9683 6725.

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