Shows & Exhibitions: A Marketer’s Perspective

A good booth is worth a thousand wordsThese days, marketers are spending upwards of $20,000 on a single exhibitIn this special report, Strategy asks a cross-section of marketers what role shows and exhibitions play in their marketing mix and whether marketers...

A good booth is worth a thousand words

These days, marketers are spending upwards of $20,000 on a single exhibit

In this special report, Strategy asks a cross-section of marketers what role shows and exhibitions play in their marketing mix and whether marketers are paying more attention to the design and planning of their exhibits.

The marketers we interviewed included several of those whose exhibits were honored with an EDDI Award November 25 at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel for excellence in exhibit design.

All of the marketers we spoke to had commissioned exhibits that had attained the level of finalist in the weeks leading up to the awards.

The EDDIs are organized and presented by the Exhibit and Display Association of Canada (EDAC), an organization which represents companies that design and manufacture exhibits used in trade and consumers shows, conventions, shopping malls and public exhibitions.

In the second part of the report, the winners of the EDDI Awards outline their clients’ objectives and explain how their exhibits met those objectives.

For an increasing number of marketers, gone are the days when participating in a trade or consumer show meant showing up with a generic booth, a portable sign, a stack of brochures and a tray of business cards.

Today, it is not unusual for marketers to spend upwards of $20,000 on a single exhibit – excluding the cost of space rental, product and manpower.

One more chance

Shows and exhibitions, while not as high profile as mass media advertising, are increasingly being seen by marketers as one more chance to get their names in front of potential customers, and one more opportunity to battle it out with competitors for market share.

But just as in advertising, there is no point getting involved if all you are going to do is make a poor impression.

John Febrey, marketing manager of the food service division at Toronto-based Primo Foods, puts it like this: ‘It costs a lot of money to attend these shows, so you may as well go first class when you’re there.’

Febrey estimates Primo spends 10% of its marketing budget to attend food and beverage shows in Ontario, Quebec, b.c. and the Maritimes.

He says that not only do the shows add to Primo’s corporate profile, but they provide his division a once-a-year chance in each region to meet face to face with the representatives of hotels, restaurants and institutions which are his potential clients.

He says that although Primo has not increased the number of shows it attends each year, the company is paying more attention to the design and planning of its exhibits.

This year, for example, in addition to its corporate booth, Primo commissioned a custom-made exhibit from Toronto-based manufacturer Exhibits International to promote its Old El Paso line of Tex-Mex foods.

Designed to resemble a Mexican cantina, the exhibit sports a handpainted mural along the back wall, a barnboard serving counter and the brand’s signature red tile roof along the top.

Barrels, cacti and Mexican blankets complement the Tex-Mex theme.

Reflects personality

Febrey says the display attracted a lot of attention and he attributes that in part to the fact that it reflects the personality of the product being sold.

‘Especially with Mexican, it’s fun food, and we’re trying to get that message across with our booth,’ he says.

While he declined to be specific in terms of sales figures, Febrey says the exhibit fulfilled two important functions: it raised the identity of the brand, and it enticed potential customers to try the products, something especially important to signing on new customers in the food business.

Robert Brown, manager of corporate promotional services at Nordion International, a healthcare services firm which makes radio isotopes used in medical diagnostic procedures, says for companies that target niche markets, shows and exhibitions are an integral part of the marketing mix.

‘They’re very significant because we have a small target market,’ Brown says. ‘We don’t have thousands of customers.

‘They provide an opportunity for our sales and marketing people to tap into a very concentrated collection of our clients, who come to hear lectures and give seminars,’ he says.

Brown estimates the company, which is based in Kanata, Ont., just outside Ottawa, attends 30 to 40 medical shows a year, mostly in North America, but as far away as Indonesia, Australia and Europe.

He says Nordion employs a full-time exhibits co-ordinator, and spends about 20% of its marketing budget on attending shows tied to annual conferences such as the one convened by the Society of Nuclear Medicine.

While the company had been steadily increasing its sales and marketing presence in the five years since it was privatized (it was formerly a division of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited), Nordion took a dramatic step this year when it commissioned a custom exhibit from Giltspur, a Toronto-based exhibit maker.

‘It was a very significant departure,’ Brown says.

‘We had always used portable, lightweight displays for the vast majority of our shows,’ he says.

‘A decision was taken early last year that we had grown to a point where we had to present our image more accurately.’

The exhibit, which is largely open to encourage visitors to walk through, uses backlit photographs to illustrate the company’s key service offerings.

The structure, at 1,600 square feet and rising 16 feet into the air, more than doubled the physical size of the company’s previous exhibits.

‘It was meant to make a statement about our size in the industry,’ Brown says. ‘It was meant to make a statement about our international presence.’

For Brown and others like him, an exhibit is simply an extension of a marketing plan. And the best marketing plans are those that are well thought out and presented.

‘If there’s a key product or service offering, a key philosophy that encapsulates what the marketing people are trying to do, that’s the kind of thing that needs to be brought home,’ he says.

‘There should be great consistency with the literature of the booth and the presentation of the company. If you’ve got a positioning line and a particular graphic presentation, everything should look the same.

‘That kind of attention to detail is what really separates the guys who do it well from the rest of the gang.’

Nancy Sprague, president of Prospects Unlimited, a Toronto-based division of Blackburn/ Polk Marketing Services, which sells Canadian consumer databases, agrees a successful exhibit must communicate the essence of a company’s business.

‘A lot of times when people walk by a booth, they can’t tell what it is the company does,’ Sprague says.

‘It should be clear,’ she says. ‘If people don’t know, a lot of times you’ll miss the opportunity because they won’t ask, they’ll just keep going. A company name is not good enough.’

Sprague speaks from experience.

‘The first time we exhibited, we put up our name, and we had a lot of information on hand, but we didn’t bother to put in the key thing, and that was that we have a Canadian consumer database,’ she says.

‘I don’t think companies put enough focus on that. They think, `Trade show. We need a booth,’ and they throw it together.’

Sprague says this year there was no way the 10,000 delegates attending last month’s Direct Marketing Association conference in Toronto could fail to know precisely what it is Prospects Unlimited does.

The portable exhibit the company commissioned from Scarborough, Ont.-based ExpoSystems Canada graphically depicted an open envelope, containing oversized versions of the datacards in the company’s marketing package.

As well, a sign makes clear the company markets Canadian consumer databases.

At Chrysler Canada, exhibits are used largely to support the local sales effort at nearly a dozen auto shows around the country.

Walt McCall, manager of corporate public relations for the Windsor, Ont.-based automaker, says it is not unusual to have 500,000 people attend major shows such as the one in Toronto, so it is important to display the cars in a setting as attractive as possible, without diverting attention from the featured attractions.

McCall points to one exhibit he says fits the bill.

A display by Toronto-based exhibit builder Worden-Watson used backlit photography to illustrate the roominess of the interior of the company’s family of lh cars, which includes the Intrepid, the Concord and EagleVision, as a means of encouraging prospects to slide behind the wheel.

‘It’s easy to sell the outside sizzle,’ McCall says. ‘The looks speak for themselves. It’s harder to entice the would-be purchaser to step inside.’

At Toronto-based Sportslines International, which markets a complete line of golf hardware under the brand name Maxfli, the importance of pro-golf shows to the company’s marketing mix is significant.

About 90% of Maxfli sales are to the golf-pro market.

Dave Peets, promotions manager at Sportlines, says most golf pros are too busy running their golf courses, managing their golf courses and supervising golf lessons to spend more than a few minutes with the company’s sales reps.

A show during off-season, however, provides them an opportunity to have a complete overview of the company’s product line.

This year, the company abandoned what Peets described as a rather spartan display in favor of a custom-made exhibit that boosted Maxfli’s image.

‘It came out of a conversation between us and [Toronto-based exhibit manufacturer] Convex as to what would work in terms of elevating that image, giving it a more glossy or upscale appeal,’ Peets says.

The strategy worked.

‘There was a lot more activity [at the Toronto pro-golf show] than there was last year,’ Peets says. ‘The days that I attended, there was at least a 25% to 30% increase in activity.’

Ron Bertram, merchandising and promotions manager at Nintendo of Canada, agrees the investment in a well-designed exhibit can pay for itself.

The Richmond, b.c.-based video games marketer operates a futuristic permanent exhibit, designed by Toronto’s Davis Display, at Ontario Place, in which youngsters can sample the latest and most popular Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Game Boy releases.

Bertram, who describes the Power Pod as ‘Nintendo nirvana,’ says the budget for the exhibit was in the low six figures, excluding operating costs.

But in Bertram’s opinion, the investment was well worth it.

‘When you invest money in a high quality display, you can really reap the rewards of tremendous consumer feedback and acceptance,’ he says. ‘That’s what the Power Pod has done for us.’

Category A – Portable Exhibits

Client: Prospects Unlimited

Exhibit Builder: ExpoSystems Canada


Prospects Unlimited chose the PROFORMER System, a ‘pop-up’ variety of exhibit system.

It requires no tools for assembly to the point that even the lights can be installed during assembly without the need of a ladder.

It is easily installed and/or dismantled by one person and is contained in two carrying cases that will both fit into the trunk of a standard-size car.

It is light-weight enough for one person to handle without assistance.

Even the counter shown in the photograph fits into the cases.

The outer skin of the exhibit, including all the graphics, can roll up and go into the carrying cases along with the exhibit components.

The panels on the exhibit and counter frames attach magnetically, while the graphics apply with the use of velcro fastening.

Last Show:

1993 Direct Marketing Association Conference, Toronto

Client’s objectives:

Most important was to create an exhibit which reflected the client’s product marketing strategies.

The marketing of the Prospects Unlimited product was based on the use of a red envelope containing color-coded, single-paged literature describing different programs.

This strategy was considered so important to the company that even its logo was adapted from the shape and style of a stamp.

The ultimate exhibit would provide instant recognition of the company’s marketing strategies.

All of the different programs offered by Prospects Unlimited would have to be incorporated graphically on the exhibit with the ability to interchange, add or delete programs as needed.

As well, the client required counterspace to display actual product.

Finally, the exhibit would have to be easily handled and installed by the client’s own personnel.

Objectives achieved:

We used the client’s packaging style of the red envelope and chose an exhibit system which created a larger-than-life imitation of it.

Ordinarily, these flatwall exhibits are used for two-dimensional graphic treatment. To create three-dimensional visual impact, we customized the panels to look as though the envelope had been opened, revealing its contents.

The logo and contents of the envelope deliberately extend beyond the surface of the back wall.

The contents of the envelope are enlarged copies of all the programs offered by Prospects Unlimited.

Interchangeability, addition or deletion is easily accomplished by the use of velcro application.

By including the knockdown counter option, the client could easily display the actual product package.

With the ultimate portability of these exhibit properties, the client was easily able to handle and install this exhibit with its own personnel.

President’s Award of Excellence

Client: Hockey Hall of Fame

Exhibit Builder: Taylor Manufacturing


This project was undertaken in conjunction with the design firm of Design Workshop 2.

It was an interactive and historical tribute to the sport of ice hockey.

The exhibit was built on a site area covering 5,500 square feet.


BCE Place, Toronto

Client’s objectives:

the client requested an updating of the old hall at Toronto’s Exhibition Place.

Everything in the exhibit was to be updated to 1990s exhibit standards and adapted to the new site at BCE Place on Yonge Street.

The history of hockey through to its present day was to be emphasized, as was its current influence worldwide.

Objectives achieved:

The exhibit consists of an historically correct reproduction of the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room, dioramas of traditional hockey games, animatronic figures performing ‘live’ demonstrations and interactive laser displays showing team locations across the continent.

As well, there are two 100-seat video presentation theatres, an interactive gaming area where visitors can record and take home their own play-by-play commentary, and a 4,000-square-foot retail store.

Category F – Best Refurbish,

Client: Consolidated Bottle, Exhibit Builder: Convex Systems


The Consolidated Bottle exhibit is a 40′X12′ exhibit designed and manufactured in 1968.

The circular hoop shaped structures were designed to project a bottle image with the corrugated end hoop as the bottle cap.

Illuminated shelf units are at back wall and front. Overhead canopy lighting is located at the back wall.


Packaging Show since 1968

Last Used: pac-ex, Oct. 4-6, 1993

Client’s objectives:

Twenty-five years ago, our client, Consolidated Bottle, asked us to come up with a dramatic modern design to display his product.

A quarter century after it first appeared, the exhibit has become a landmark at the packaging show and still meets our client’s needs.

Our client’s objective has always been to display a cross-section of his bottles. Originally, the back wall consisted of embossed panels with a feature showcase at the centre for specialty perfume bottles.

This was changed and replaced with a back wall of glass shelves to increase product display.

Clear plexi-screens have been added at the aisle to protect product and direct traffic flow into the booth.

Although the client has never bought crates, with careful handling and occasional repainting and repairs, the Consolidated Bottle exhibit still sparkles.

Objectives achieved:

The exhibit has worked so well for our client that I have not been able to persuade the company to build a new exhibit. What better way to sell and promote bottles than from within a ‘bottle.’

Category E1 – Special Projects Under $100,000

Client: Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce

Exhibit Builder: Taylor Manufacturing


This project was a prototype for cibc’s in-store banking centres.

It included closed and open offices, instant banking, graphics and signage.

The location was a national chain grocery store.


A&P, St. Catharines, Ont.

SuperFresh, Kitchener, Ont.

Client’s objectives:

The bank’s objectives in this case were to create an accessible banking centre in a retail environment.

It was to appear permanent and solid in order to encourage people to use the bank’s full range of services.

We were asked to create a modern and dynamic look to promote the bank’s new ‘outreach selling program.’ The setup was to be modular in order to facilitate a variety of layouts.

Installation and dismantle time was to be kept to a minimum in order to interfere as little as possible with the main store’s operations.

Security issues were also addressed.

Objectives achieved:

The banking centre was based upon a series of modular interlocking panels and sign bands.

The series of panels could be produced and set up in a variety of configurations from a free-standing unit to a three-office complex.

Appropriate finishes and hardware were used to give the banking centre a permanent and secure feeling.

Category E2 -

Special Projects Over $100,000

Client: Holocaust Museum

Exhibit Builder: Exhibits International


The 3,450-square-foot exhibit entitled ‘Remember the Children’ is one of three inaugural exhibitions of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, d.c.

This gallery was developed for a young audience, aged nine to 12, and is dedicated to the youth murdered in the Holocaust.

The subject matter is serious in nature and contains sensitive theme material which encourages the children to build upon their own personal and learning experience by interacting with the exhibition elements.

Client’s objectives:

The primary objective was to prepare an exhibition to meet the educational needs of the expected audience of hundreds of thousands of children under the age of 13.

Objectives achieved:

‘Remember the Children’ exhibition recreated with historical accuracy the chronological events in Europe.

The visitor walked through the exhibition experiencing the era of Germany before the Holocaust and the series of events from 1938 (Crystallnacht) to about 1945 in Europe during the Second World War.

Educational messages for the young audiences were articulated through sight, sound and touch.

The story could also be absorbed by reading the diary of a young boy named Daniel found throughout the exhibit.

‘Daniel’ is a fictitious character who is of the same age group as the visitor, but his diary represents the story of many children who lived through the era.

The gallery architecture, which consists of four spaces joined by arched links, was integrated into the design. The arched links represented transition spaces for historically important milestones (ie. ‘deportation to ghetto’ from Germany and ‘deportation to camp’ from the ghetto.)

One stop in the exhibition is an area called ‘Do Something.’

This is a neutral space with warm lights and color and allows the visitor a chance to draw pictures or write down comments about their gallery experience.

Category D – 601 Square Feet and Over

Client: BMW Canada

Exhibit Builder: Taylor Manufacturing


1993 Montreal Auto Show

1993 Toronto Auto Show

Client’s objectives:

The client requested that we take an already established exhibit presentation system (developed by bmw’s world agency Zintzmeyer & Lux) and adapt it in such a way that it could be fabricated on budget for use on the Canadian automotive show circuit.

The various components were to be flexible in their functions and able to carry lighting, graphics and power.

The elements combined had to be suitable for configuration in a variety of booth spaces.

The exhibit was also to act as a subtle environment or backdrop for the car, rather than a showpiece in itself.

Objectives achieved:

Careful attention was paid to staying within the company’s traditional color and material range.

Each component was capable of a variety of functions.

Graphic panels, photo murals and lighting arms were removable.

All shows were completed using the original number of components with the full number of vehicles.

Category C – 241-600 Sq. Ft.; Client: Sportslines International, Maxfli Golf Division; Exhibit Builder: Convex Systems


A 20′X20′ custom-made island exhibit, rotolock and bolt construction, lacquer and faux finish with rotating 48′ diameter golf ball above booth.


1993 Canadian Golf Merchandise Show

Client’s objectives:

Maxfli was looking to achieve a number of goals.

The company wanted to emphasize that Maxfli is a leader in its industry, particularly the golf ball market.

The booth needed to attract attendees initially and provide a semi-private working environment once in the booth.

It needed to maximize display space and give booth staff the ability to merchandise their complete line, walking potential buyers through it.

Maxfli staff wanted to bring clients into the booth to avoid distractions during conversations and the sales process.

Finally, the booth needed to be flexible in show space and marketing requirements.

Objectives achieved:

The exhibit design and black-and-gold faux finish suggests a quality company producing quality products.

The prominent rotating Maxfli golf ball above the exhibit can be seen from around the show floor.

Outer showcases feature new products, and a continuous video attracts passersby.

The interior of the exhibit is slatwall, which maximizes product display while the wall layout creates natural flow and a somewhat private environment.

The booth construction allows for changes in its shape and possible future expansion.

Category G – Best Use of Photography

Client: Chrysler Canada

Exhibit Builder: Worden-Watson


Photographic modules using illuminated product and feature photo images of Chrysler Canada’s 1993 Car Models.


1993 auto show circuit including: Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax and Calgary.

Client’s objectives:

The client’s objective was to inform Canadian consumers of design, engineering and safety features of Canadian-built Chrysler cars and vans.

The cab forward design feature expanded interior room and stabilized the ride with wheels toward the corners.

Second, the client wanted to inform consumers about the engineering achievements of the new V6 engine.

Third, the client wanted to emphasize safety features incorporated in the new vehicles such as air-bags, child seats, protective rear-door locks, anti-lock braking systems, electronic wheel security, and so on.

The exhibit had to form a background and information source for consumers while they were looking at the cars displayed.

Objectives achieved:

A series of individual modules were designed to show the information by lit photo images, featuring single to multiple images of the subject aided by graphics and typographics.

Photography was the main communications medium used to convey design, engineering and safety features of the product.

(See photo: page 20)

Category B – Under 240 Sq. Ft.

Client: Primo Foods

Exhibit Builder: Exhibits International


This custom exhibit is designed for a 10′X20′ configuration.

A 26′ mural of a typical cantina is painted onto the double-sided boxframe panels.

A faux tile roof, barnboard for the wing walls, sombreros, blankets, barrels, cacti and other props add to the authenticity.


Canadian Food and Beverage Show ’93, Toronto

Primo Annual Sales Meeting ’93, Toronto

Just for Laughs Festival ’93, Montreal

Client’s objectives:

Our client asked for a problem-free exhibit that must be durable and practical for shipping.

The client asked that the design move away from the typical systems rental that they had had in the past.

The client wanted a new look that would best represent Old El Paso products and leave a lasting impression on the visiting customers.

The booth is used to sample the client’s products, therefore, a large serving/cooking area was required.

In addition, a creative way of displaying the products was requested.

Objectives achieved:

Our solution to a problem-free, durable exhibit was to provide a fully serviced exhibit, built with quality materials and custom crates.

In order to move away from the typical look Primo had had in the past, we developed a custom exhibit that would incorporate a Mexican theme.

To best represent the Old El Paso/Los Palmas product lines, a Mexican cantina seemed appropriate.

Our design would create a memorable experience because it was designed with humor in mind and reinforces the client’s packaging and product art.

A long bar typical in a cantina was used as a serving counter, and several barrels and props were used to creatively display the product and complete the theme.