Battle of the Expos

Thu Sep 28 12:00:20 2017

I went to two different EXPOs this week, both were held in the local area to the Shadowcat offices. the first was the North Lancs (Lancaster/Morecambe Bay) Expo held over two days at the Lancaster Leisure Park/Brewery (Sunday for business to consumer and Monday for business to business); the second the Blackpool Expo at the Village Hotel in Blackpool (held on a Wednesday).

The North Lancs Expo was organised by the Chamber of Commerce and the Blackpool Expo by NWEvents.

I thought I would share a few thoughts. One important difference to consider from the start is that the North Lancs Expo was the inaugural event held by a team who hadn't run this type of Expo before.

Location

Blackpool scores higher here as it was held in a nice hotel so they had comfortable armchairs and air conditioning and that gave it a more comfortable feeling. North Lancs Expo was in 3 very large marquees and so suffered from irregular temperatures and the noise of rain on canvas at one point. There was also a large distance between the main expo and the speaker's tent.

However, it should be noted that the North Lancs Expo had a slightly more accessible feel, the tents made everyone a little more relaxed and there was also more space between the rows.

Organisation

Both teams did well in having nicely organised events. However I am going to rate North Lancs much higher. They had a much better event magazine with actual articles and not just sponsors adverts. They had a friendlier welcoming team with more bodies to welcome people and they were stood waiting to see you not sat behind a desk indicating you needed to use the iPad - this created a queue at Blackpool.

Please note that the staff at Blackpool were polite and friendly but they also complained about how early they had arrived and that some of the exhibitors hadn't set up the night before but left it to the morning of the event. This was good as a conversation piece but one wonders at telling visitors about this shows a lack of respect to the exhibitors and sponsors who paid to be there.

North Lancs also had two days to manage which is an extra overhead. Since the first day was aimed at the general public it was busy, but it gave a chance for businesses to spread recognition and plant branding and identity amongst the general populace. I think this helped when the quieter, businesses only, day arrived as the exhibitors seemed a little more relaxed and could be more targetted.

Exhibitors

There were a greater number of exhibitors at North Lancs. Whether it was the price point, promotion or general first time nature the team who organised it got the location filled quickly. The tent that had many more smaller exhibitors was crowded with people and had a real friendly buzz to it. Also the chance to eat locusts and mealworms rubbing shoulders with natural wholefoods was nicely ironic for me.

Attitude

The event colours the attendees and the exhibitors. The rather stiff formality of the Blackpool event struck me as cold. It is hard to be happy when you feel like you are on display in a formal manner. It is also hard to warm to people when you are in a much more controlled space. There needs to be some softening.

Blackpool's more traditional offering was an issue when they are trying to incorporate modern media companies and greater social or technological advances. The event feels like it could have happened at any point in the last 40 years. There was too much of a sense that I should be wearing a tie and polished shoes, that my conversation should be about business networking alone.

Networking

North Lancs Expo had a lot of chance to talk at stands and to go next door to the Brewery or the cafe and restaurant but the tents had no direct provision to sit down.

Blackpool had plenty of room for extra tables and chairs to sit at so the increased casual business networking was with Blackpool. There were also comfy couches and breakout tables and spaces.

However I would contend that this style is showing its age and not something that is as relevant to smaller or more modern companies.

Opinion

My feeling is that businesses are advancing and becoming more social. The impact of technology and communication has disrupted the traditional business landscape and these events need to move with that. North Lancs comes off much better. From the welcome, to the inclusion of the general public on their own special day, to the more exhibitors, to the relaxing of traditional business displays, to the more communicative and friendly magazine with the less controlled space.

This felt more modern.

Both events need to include more social elements for on the day with live video, twitter walls, facebook pages etc. that should update at the event so that exhibitors can interact with each other and the general public without moving from their stall/display. But for an initial event they did a fine job.

The only thing North Lancs got wrong, from my discussion with others, was placing the speaker tent away from the main exhibition. Often people wouldn't go to the talks, or wouldn't return from them. Next time I would suggest they hold it in the brewery building itself. Somewhere people can sit and listen with a drink and a snack.

One thing is certain the North Lancs Expo made an excellent impact and a good start that they can build on in future years.

As for Blackpool, well I think they need to re-think how they approach a more modern landscape and make themselves more appealing to more companies. They should also consider if they need to re-think the approach of on-the-day management and presentation.

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Notes

[1] Sometimes the only note, is this note...





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