10 tips for avoiding a riot on your book fair stand

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In the run up to The London Book Fair 2016, we ran a series of posts on how to make the most of your visit to a book fair. Here Julia Garvey shared her top tips.

You’ve drawn the short straw and it’s your turn to run the company stand at the book fair. Congratulations – welcome to your baptism of fire.  I ran book fairs for companies big and small for over 10 years and here’s what I learnt.

1) Use a professional stand builder

Don’t try and design the stand yourself. A professional company will be able to help you make the most of the space available and they will take care of the set up and break down for you.

2) Get your budget right

As a rule of thumb the stand build will cost the same again as the space you’ve booked. Anything less and you are going to struggle. Plus catering, travel and hotels on top of course. Book fairs are not cheap.

3) Visit the venue

In an ideal world you will have attended the book fair in the past and know how it operates. If not, then the next best thing is to visit the venue in advance so you can understand the position and orientation of your stand. Not so easy if you are looking after Bologna or Frankfurt, in which case you will need to dig out old photos of the stand and talk to people who’ve been before. And request a trip out this year – I like to attend for the final day of set up so I can check everything is in order before the fair starts, and then stay for the first day to smooth over any teething troubles and see how the stand functions.

4) Your job is to make life easier for the people who use the stand

It’s not just about making sure that everything turns up on time and looks fantastic. Trade fairs are different to customer facing exhibitions. Often the rights and international sales team will be in back to back meetings, stuck on a stand with uncomfortable chairs, not enough storage, lights that burn the top of their heads and nothing to eat or drink. Solve these problems for them and they will be better equipped to do their job.

5) Keep on top of deadlines

That said, you can’t overlook the fact that you need to be highly organised. Set up a critical path early on and keep referring back to it to ensure you don’t miss any key deadlines. Some deadlines will be completely immovable, but others simply incur additional costs – make sure you know the difference. In year one you will be creating this as you go along so that in year two all you need to do is follow the template you’ve created.

6) Build in contingency

Not only are you juggling the stand design and logistics but you are probably also managing a number of suppliers as well. You need to get good at keeping track of who owes you what and diplomatically nudging people in good time. Always build in at least a week of contingency between the deadline you give them and the absolute deadline (but don’t let anyone know you’ve done that).

7) On stand events

Make sure you let everyone know about on-stand events. It can be very frustrating for people to try and hold meetings whilst the stand fills up with noisy guests drinking wine around them. Give people the chance to reschedule or clear their diary in advance.

8) Steal ideas from other stands

While you are visiting the fair, take time to walk the floor and look at other publishers’ stands. There will be lots of good ideas you can take and adapt for your own stand, even if you have to reduce the scale somewhat to fit your budget.

9) Hold a post-mortem

As soon as the event is over gather as much feedback as you can – what went well, what didn’t work, what do we need to change next year. You will very soon forget that the table tops were too low until you bang your knees under them again the following year.

10) Never forget the Haribo

I worked on a major stand redesign for a client who had been struggling with a stand that made everyone’s life a misery. The year we swapped to the new stand was revolutionary. BUT I forgot to order Haribo for the kitchen – there was nearly a riot. I’ve not made that mistake again.

Julia Garvey is Head of Marketing at GL Assessment. Her role involves delivering innovation and change across both UK and International marketing in order to drive brand recognition and sales. Prior to this she was a freelance marketing professional and project managed London, Frankfurt and Bologna book fair stands for clients for over 10 years. 

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