For the printer, expos offer the opportunity to get up close with the latest tech and do some down-and-dirty bargain hunting on the price or conditions of a machine purchase. This is where Linney has been known to get out his coin and chance his luck.
Getting the most out of an exhibition is a fine art and, like many games of chance and skill, depends on variables – preparation, timing, even something as innocuous as a delegate’s job title on an ID badge can help make that year’s Drupa, Fespa or whatever go down a storm.
The last time Linney flipped his lucky coin at a show, “I won the toss for that extra year’s warranty as part of the final negotiation.” But his team makes their own luck not so much from the toss of a coin but through research, preparation and then tracking down expert advice.
“For a company like ours what we expect to get out of a show visit depends as much on who goes as what show they go to,” says Linney who has hundreds of staff to choose from at his 165-year-old marketing services company based in the east Midlands. As well as production specialists, employees at his family business include designers and a fulfilment team.
So while printers head off to Drupa and Fespa, the fulfilment staff swing by Packaging Innovations and the lucky designers get booked on a flight to California to check out computer graphics and virtual reality at the Siggraph show on interactive technology. That’s if they have any sense: visiting shows is not only encouraged but benchmarked at staff appraisals at Linney Group.
“There’s always been a deep culture here that people don’t just tip up to their desk in the morning and knock off in the afternoon. In appraisals we ask ‘what visits have you made and are planning?’ and I will be assessing them on how good they are at getting off their backsides and going to shows, exhibitions, fairs and conventions, be they down the road at the NEC or in the US.”
It all started in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in 1851 when William Linney opened a bookshop. Six generations later Miles Linney joined the business, in 1991, starting as an assistant cleaner, and three years ago mopped up £5m of new digital, litho and CTP kit. Big spending decisions like these depend on background work, of which regular show visits are central.
Fortunately choosing which bash to attend is not the chore it once was, he says, thanks to blogs, Twitter, Google alerts and good-old mail. Finding out who is exhibiting, visiting and speaking at an exhibition is rarely more than a few computer keystrokes away. Prioritising objectives however can be harder and this is where research helps. It’s not just about visiting regular suppliers.
“There seems little point for long-time users of Speedmasters going to a show and spending all their time at the Heidelberg stand. It’s better to go with the unique flow of a particular show and not be too rigid on objectives. Some of my best shows involved the chance encounter at a small stand at the back of the last hall with a supplier I’d never heard of before demoing a clever little conveyor-belt part or gripper-bar coating. A bit of uncoordinated spontaneity is no bad thing.”
But in choosing who to send, a more structured approach is called for: “When it comes to big shows like Drupa and Fespa, I will go as will our senior manufacturers and most heads of departments along with team leaders. Last time we went to Drupa we took 45 people including machine operators because they know what to ask and are more knowledgeable than me.”
That was a lot of people, and this year will be no different. The jaunt to Düsseldorf between May 31 and June 10 is likely to cost £30,000, but even smaller forays such as the last Siggraph show in the US cost £10,000 for four people to attend. The other extreme is the NEC where a visit can cost little more than petrol money for the 60-mile drive and “£1.75 for a cup of Costa coffee”.
Having worked the internet and social media for background information on the show and who will be there, Linney’s team home in on kit; this year packing and large-format machines are on the radar. Several weeks before the show, the team will be taking detailed, copious notes and making appointments with various suppliers.
“In the past, when looking at management information systems, we did four weeks of research on five suppliers before the show. At the show we evaluated the kit and developed a scoring system. We then went back two days later to debate the merits of each system. But 95% of the time we know what we want because we’ve done the research beforehand.
“You can also use shows to get a better price because the atmosphere is quite charged and people are sometimes prepared to do better deals.
“In truth this has happened to us only once in about 20 years and anyway, if we are buying a big piece of equipment we often don’t want the kind of attention that might come our way if we secure a great deal.”
Even so, Linney is “laid back” on show itineraries, networking and to-do lists. “My personal formula is the first two hours of a show are often spent acclimatising myself, locating where the loos and bar are. Then I’m tracking down the list of people I want to see, and I aim to do this fairly quickly. But I also make a point of going to the furthest away hall, because that’s often where the really interesting innovations are to be found.
“We are still quite laid back on forward planning: if we get something from the exhibition – and we usually do – that’s brilliant. Other times someone goes to a show and it’s pretty crap and they’ll tell the team coming behind it’s probably not our kind of thing – we get these situations once every three or four years, and you have to take the philosophical view.”
Back at base, he is also philosophical on measuring the results of a visit: “We don’t really try to calculate a return on investment on a show; all the clever things in life are hard to measure. That said, there have been stand-out moments such as when we saw the first Linotype–Hell machine 30 years ago. I remember someone phoning my father from Brussels and telling him to get out there.”
A week later the company bought the machine. Nine years ago on the strength of a show, Linney Group bought its first wide-format press, an Inca, which cost £1m, was only the third in the UK and was 10 times quicker than anything on the market. More recently, at the last Drupa, Linney saw, and then bought, those clever coated gripper bars that saved his company £20,000 over two years.
If kit specs, purchase prices and cost benefits are fairly straightforward to quantify, totting up the benefits of seminar visits and all that networking is more nuanced. Visitors have to write up summaries of their show experience and present them at informal workshops, called ‘coffee’ sessions – or ‘garage’ runs for the more technically minded.
“Insight is a vital part of our proposition, driving ideas and answers to improve service and expand our offering. Visiting shows and preparing feedback is an essential part of this. We are not asking for 400-word essays, but want people to tell informally of their experience so we can identify trends and needs. Anything we gain from these show visits, we try and push back into the business.”
The onus, insists Linney, is on the informal, recalling his last visit to Germany and a breakfast debriefing from machine operators following a night out. Hangovers aside, Linney has no doubt the exhibition road show goes down as well as the beer and schnitzel did that night: “Exhibitions are great places to network and forge good business relationships. Face-to-face contact not only enables the wheels of business to turn more smoothly, it makes you more open minded and willing to try new ideas. Some people may see them as a chore; we don’t; we love visiting trade shows.”
Location Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
Inspection host Miles Linney
Size Turnover: £85m; Staff: 780
Products Catalogues, brochures, booklets, magazines, leaflets and wide-format work including posters, point-of-sale material and displays, design and marketing services
Kit Two 10-colour Heidelberg XLs, three five-colour Heidelberg XLs and one four-colour Heidelberg XL, five Xerox iGens, an HP 7500 and Inca wide-format digital
Inspection focus Getting the most out of a visit to an exhibition
Attend the right show Check out the trade show’s website, find out which companies are going to be there.
Check out registration Many shows are free; others have different entry policies and pricing structures, so registering early could save you hassle and money.
Research where to stay Hotels associated with the event often have most of the retailers and buyers staying – ideal for networking in the cocktail bar. They will also get booked up fast.
Look for late-night show openings This may help when you can only afford one day at a show and time is tight. Conversely watch out for half-day closing, often the show’s last day.
Be prepared You need goals, objectives and a list of which exhibitors you will hit and in what order, but don’t be afraid to go off piste if something interesting crops up.
Don’t forget the badge Put ‘Managing Director’ or ‘Director’ on your badge, suggests Linney, “you get better service and offered more drinks”.
Pace yourself Most shows are massive, so avoid needlessly tiring yourself. Once you’ve visited the companies on your list, why not walk the floor at a more leisurely pace?
Dress the part People might take you more seriously if you dress appropriately, but be comfortable and, above all, wear comfortable shoes.
Take a lucky coin Linney says: “So you win the toss for that extra year’s warranty as part of the final negotiation.”
Be prepared to network Carry businesses cards and other company bumf everywhere - you could meet a contact anywhere like the lobby, in the bar, or in a lift.
Pick up literature But don’t overdo it: too much information can be as counterproductive as too little, so be realistic on what you want and how much you can absorb.
Time your stand visits It might be an idea to avoid a packed stand where the chances of a one-to-one are slim, equally if you leave it to the final day, some key personnel may have left.
Make sure to get a card It’s not always enough to give someone your details, the power of shows is contacts, so don’t be afraid to get as many cards as you can.
Don’t forget to follow up Once you’ve returned from the show, you must follow up, so whip out those cards but time your move accordingly depending on whether you want to appear keen, or cool.