Exhibition

A Newbie’s Guide to New Builds

So when my previous co-worker Marcey Culp, CTSM, CMP, and I were tasked with our first new build several years ago, something akin to panic crept into the pit of our stomachs and took up residence for about a year. Our company owned two booths at the time, but they were in pretty bad shape; plus, they looked completely different, providing no continuity for our brands. Since we were about to launch a new product, management wanted a fresh new face for a major upcoming show taking place in just over a year. We needed to build a booth that not only met our marketing needs, but also was reconfigurable to sizes including everything from a 10-by-20-foot in-line to a 50-by-50-foot island.
To further complicate matters, shortly before management ordered the new build, our exhibit house folded. Rather than trying to establish a relationship with a new exhibit house and account executive at that time, we simply followed our AE to a new firm, which then stored, maintained, and provided on-site management for our exhibits. As such, when we entered the booth-building process, we were complete new-build newbies, and our company had a less-than-established relationship with its exhibit house.
When we started this endeavor, I would have given my right arm for this kind of guide. Few people have ever explained exactly how this process works from beginning to end, much less what tactics have worked miracles – or failed miserably – along the way. This is why I’m passing it on to you. While every RFP situation is different, this simple guide, which is littered with the valuable lessons we learned, should help you complete your new build faster and more efficiently.
Next, using information gleaned from research, industry square-foot averages, and past experience, we devised a budget and sent our capital-expense request to management, which was approved a year before the new booth was set to debut.
Next, using information gleaned from research, industry square-foot averages, and past experience, we devised a budget and sent our capital-expense request to management, which was approved a year before the new booth was set to debut.
We then compiled a list of questions for the group and scheduled a series of meetings to answer them. Questions included everything from “What do you like/dislike about our current booth?” and “What type of journey do you want attendees to take inside our space?” to “What feelings do you want our booth to evoke?” and “What messages must we relay?” After a couple of meetings, we established a list of key objectives and outcomes for the new exhibit.
During this time we also began gathering data necessary for the RFP, such as the company mission statement, product samples, a list of non-design-related requirements (such as staff experience levels, promotional-support capabilities, etc.), Pantone Matching System (PMS) logo colors and usage instructions, etc.
The group’s second, near-fatal flaw was its struggle to talk effectively about intangibles, such as how we wanted customers to perceive our brand and what we wanted our booth to convey about our company. To aid in this process, I would suggest providing photos of other booths to help people illustrate intangible concepts. This way, they can say, “I want our booth to feel like this example,” or “The booth in this photo feels too cold for our brand.”
The group’s second, near-fatal flaw was its struggle to talk effectively about intangibles, such as how we wanted customers to perceive our brand and what we wanted our booth to convey about our company. To aid in this process, I would suggest providing photos of other booths to help people illustrate intangible concepts. This way, they can say, “I want our booth to feel like this example,” or “The booth in this photo feels too cold for our brand.”
Finally, our task force should have included the field-sales reps and booth staffers who have contact with customers and are the ones working the booth, which means they possess oodles of information that would have aided us in planning our new exhibit.
So instead of issuing an RFI to 11 companies like we did, thoroughly research each company and conduct verbal interviews to help narrow the field to a more manageable number.
We sent the RFI to the 11 firms selected and provided a deadline for receipt of their proposals. Once we’d received the proposals, we analyzed each of them compared to our goals, as well as the quality and speed of their responses, and eliminated all but five of the exhibit houses.
My RFI was also far too detailed, as it generated a mountain of information that was difficult to sift through, making it hard for our group to identify key differentiators and stay on schedule. So streamline your RFI as much as possible, honing in on the areas that are most important to you and your internal team.
However, we also knew that the designers needed a guideline, so shortly before we sent out the RFP we included a ballpark budget to give some flexibility. We also stressed that designers should include all of the wow-factor elements they could muster regardless of cost, as we would consider going above our budget constraints if their creative capabilities warranted.
Several supplemental instructions and information accompanied the RFP. For example, the cover letter listed all the competing firms responding to the RFP and provided a deadline by which they had to submit additional questions and requests for clarification. It then explained that we would answer each question by a certain date and copy all firms on each question and answer.
The RFP also contained detailed instructions about how firms should respond. For example, it explained what we expected to see during the presentation and its suggested length, what we needed to see in writing, how many copies were required and in what format, a list of people who would be in attendance, the audiovisual equipment available, etc. Plus, we asked that all creative concepts be presented prior to and separate from any pricing information.
We knew that the minute firms received the RFPs, phone lines would be buzzing as reps tried to find out who they were competing against. So instead of fostering the mystery, we listed all of the companies on the cover letter. This strategy not only cleared the phone lines, but also allowed firms to play up their strengths in relation to the competing companies – which in turn allowed us to more easily compare them.
Having a set timeline for incoming questions and our responses also allowed us to assess each firm’s ability to meet deadlines; plus, our on-time responses showed the exhibit houses that we could hold up our end of the bargain as well.
Keeping the Q&A process transparent helped level the playing field, as we wanted all companies to have the same exact information from which to create their designs. This open communication made the exhibit houses think twice about the questions they asked and how they asked them, as nobody wanted to give away any clues about what they were working on.
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