In this section, we're going to look at a real exhibition manager/convention planner job description—as described by a professional; Grace Nacchia, Event Director, George P. Johnson.
The day-to-day job of a convention planner/exhibition manager will differ depending on whether you are organizing the entire event, or just handling a client’s presence at a third party convention/exhibition.
If it’s the latter, you are effectively creating an event within an event; you will have a footprint at the venue in which to create an impression utilizing elements such as set, staging, lighting, sound, AV, catering, furniture, signage, display, and product demonstration. Ultimately, you have to fit your own mini-event within an existing one, and work within the limitations imposed.
If, however, you are organizing the entire convention/exhibition, you will be less involved with how individual exhibitors designs their space. Instead, you’ll take on more of a supervisory role; overseeing all of the exhibitors and co-ordinating their production requirements.
In addition, the convention planner/exhibition manager will be responsible for event marketing, ticketing, and registration, on-site restaurants, cafes, lounges, and bars, staging and production, signage, and a program of activities, talks, entertainment, and performances.
In smaller organizations, there may also be a sales element to the job; selling the individual stands or ‘footprints’ to exhibitors. However, most companies have dedicated sales teams for this, who—once the space has been booked and paid for—will then hand the exhibitor over to the convention planner/exhibition manager to handle the logistics.
Now let's hear a first-hand account of a Convention Planner/Exhibition Manager job description from a professional:
Grace Nacchia is an Event Director at George P. Johnson where she works on multiple conventions/exhibitions and conferences for clients that include IBM and GSMA (Global Systems for Mobile Communications Association).
Prior to George P. Johnson, Grace worked for Imagination on the Shell/Ferrari global convention/exhibitions program and EMS Worldwide on roadshows and events for Sony and Royal Bank of Scotland.
Grace has delivered events throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
“Usually a client will come to you and say they want to participate in a particular trade show, for example the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. From a George P. Johnson (GPJ) point of view, because we’re quite process driven, we would first evaluate for them—from a marketing perspective—whether they should actually be attending this show and asking ‘what is it they want to achieve?’
We have a whole bunch of marketing strategists who help the clients get to that stage, to determine whether the audience at the trade show is the right audience for them. If it’s a good fit, we then move to the next stage of deciding what sort of participation they should have—whether its sponsorship, or sponsorship and footprint [i.e. their presence on the exhibition/trade show floor].
Then we look at the different type of footprints; whether that’s physical, graphical, or digital, and the best positions within the exhibition halls—because there are different ways of presenting your brand from a marketing point of view. If you want to demonstrate some of your products and showcase your portfolio, then exhibition space/a trade show booth is probably the best option as that offers you a platform.”
“First, we’d look at the different convention/exhibition halls; examine the footfall, the traffic, and the type of people that visit that area. Then we propose the amount of space they might need; depending on the amount of demonstrations they might have and what kind of information they want to present.
The important thing that people often forget is, ‘what do you want to achieve from this before we design it?’ because until you work that out with the client, you can’t begin to tell them how much space they need, or what the trade show booth/exhibition stand will look like.
Then we’ll start to look at the pitches available and help them negotiate their pitch with the convention/exhibition organizers—if that’s what they want us to do, some clients prefer to negotiate with the venue directly.
Once we’ve got the pitch size, let’s say it’s a 60ft x 60ft stand, then we’ll get together our team of marketing strategists, designers, and project managers, sit them around the table, and look at what the strategy is for the event. Then we’ll start the design process, where we lay out elements and produce some mood boards. Then, step-by-step, we’ll progress this and touch base on a weekly basis to roll it out.
Then we’d start to evolve a critical path. For a convention/exhibition, you take the event date and work backwards. So if the event is in February, we know that we’ll be working on it in October and making sure everything is prepped up until the point where we have to fabricate the architecture and graphic production. Then we’ll set deadlines for all the different design phases.
Once you’ve got your initial floor plan agreed with the client, we then start to bring in a 3D render—so you’re basically developing it from something 2D on the page, into more of a physical 3D visual. Then we get that approved by the client and signed off.
Conventions/exhibitions can be very creative. For example, we were recently tasked with creating an entire city inside a convention center/exhibition hall in Barcelona for GSMA’s Mobile World Congress—the world’s largest exhibition, conference, and networking event for mobile operators, device manufacturers, and technology providers, with around 60,000 attendees.
Working with a number of different partners such as AT&T, Ericsson, and Samsung we’re building 1,400 square meters of cityscape complete with streets, cars, street lamps, shop fronts, department stores, and mobile shops—all under the concept of ‘Connected City’.
It certainly isn’t your traditional trade show stand; it’s very design-led. The initial phase involved lots of different sketches and concepts for GSMA to approve. They then had to sell it into their partners, such as AT&T and Deutsche Telekom, because they’re responsible for selling space at the exhibition. The partners were then given the opportunity to become part of the ‘Connected City’. Once they’d bought in, we then had to liaise not only with the main client, GSMA, for the overall concept, but also with all the individual clients who’d signed up to Connected City.
This is making it much more complicated because it adds another level to the approval process—which can be quite time consuming if you’re liaising with 10 different partners. At the moment, we’ve just got all the building facades of the city approved. Now we’re working on the interiors of each one, for example there’s a department store so we have to design a realistic interior for that.”
“While the design is underway we’ll start investigating costs, but it’s not until we have final approval of the design that we can really nail down accurate costs.
The client will have given us an indication of budget at the beginning, but its constantly evolving. As a planner, I’ll be in contact with my production manager and I’ll give them an indication of budget, so that as we design it, we keep in mind roughly how much it’s going to cost.
You’re constantly liaising with different contractors to get costs in, but the design goes through so many different stages and is constantly changing, that you can’t really get your final costs until the design has been signed off.
Once we’ve got the preliminary costs in and the client has given final approval, that’s when we start negotiating with our suppliers to get the best price for our client. Your original costs should always be your worst-case scenario, so the negotiations start once you know which supplier has won the pitch. We always put the brief out to pitch to ascertain the best supplier to provide that service at the best quality.
Sometimes the client may need us to bring the budget down so we might have to look at redesigning elements—it’s a constant evolution from the original design to where you end up.”
“Once everything is confirmed; your estimate and your design, that’s when the logistics kick in. You have to respect all the different order deadlines, plus you have the exhibitor manual to consider; which means you have to submit drawings to the stand-planning people to make sure they approve it.
Once that’s approved you then start ordering your Internet supply and delving into more detail with the client about what IT specifications they have; what sort of bandwidth they need, do they want cabled or wireless, any particular power requirements, and if the clients are from the United States, whether you’ll need adaptors for all their equipment. Sometimes clients might have very specific requests, such as allowing for double underlay carpet because their feet can often hurt after a day on the exhibition stand. All those things have to be factored in before you build.
Once you’ve got the IT requirements, the floor gets laid first, followed by the overhead rig, IT, AV, and lighting. Then you can start building out the rest of it, in terms of the furnishings and other details. Onsite, you’ll be liaising with your exhibition stand builders, the lighting crew, AV crew for screens and laptops, and the team that will apply all the printed graphics.
The final piece of the puzzle is catering, because if you’re going to be entertaining people on the stand you‘ve got to think about what type of people they’re going to be; things like, ‘are we serving alcohol, or not?’ In some countries, you wouldn’t dare to serve alcohol on an exhibition stand. So it’s all about understanding your audience in that particular location.”