Five ways to make sure you secure a partner, not a supplier

We’re all familiar with procurement processes – RFPs and other tender documents are a standard part of the exhibitions industry, and play a crucial role in maintaining efficiency and fairness while minimising costs to an organisation. But when we’re on the receiving end of filling in the paperwork, it can often feel there’s something missing: and that missing piece can mean the difference between a good exhibition stand and achieving something outstanding.

So, what is this missing element? We know that when we work in true partnership with our clients, we do our best work, and the difference is all about relationships and collaboration. You can’t build a relationship through an RFP, and collaboration involves a synergy of minds as well as the right skills, services and pricing. To give yourself the opportunity of building a collaborative partnership with an agency, your procurement process should go beyond the paperwork.  

So how do you make sure you develop a true partnership, rather than just appointing a supplier? Here’s our top tips:

  1. We would encourage procurement to have their design-buying team to make time to meet prospective agencies face to face for an open conversation to explore the exact requirements in more detail. Some of our most effective work has emerged from a seemingly insignificant question or two in one of these sessions.
  2. Asking for free creative work from many agencies as part of the RFP process undervalue the design process. Nobody asks a lawyer to do a free will before you commission them to do so. Why should the creative industry be any different? Asking agencies to create full designs before appointing them is counter-productive. Not only does the team not yet have all the information they need to do great work, but without the collaborative process you will only ever get what you asked for, rather than what you might really need. A conversation and a sketch outline can move the process forward far faster and more effectively than spending hours on a shiny creative proposal. Any agency can design a beautiful booth, but without it meeting your marketing objectives, it is just style over substance.
  3. Don’t treat events and exhibitions in isolation, it is a vital part of your overall marketing and growth strategy and a brilliant opportunity to get in front of your clients and prospects face to face. We recently stumbled across an interesting statistic that states that 48% of CMOs value brand experiences as unique opportunities to showcase thought leadership at exhibits and events, and 58% feel they deliver strong impact, so make time in the early part of the process to explore the options creatively – and make sure the decision makers are involved.
  4. Tell us what success will look like – to you and to your organisation – and don’t forget the soft measures. We know that footfall is important, but how are you assessing the quality of the interactions on stand, for example? Who are the people who need to be wowed, and what do they care about most? It is surprising how many clients' reason for exhibiting is because their competitors are there. That is a missed opportunity. A good agency should help define client objectives at the outset and measure against it on completion. We’re not happy unless we’ve helped you meet ALL your requirements, across sales and marketing, not just the ones outlined in the RFP.
  5. Finally, be bold. Challenge your agency to push the brief further, and trust them to deliver if you want to stand out from your competitors. We recently ran an Art Challenge on stand at the International Society of Blood Transfusion for our client Roche – not the usual pharmaceutical stand approach, but highly effective in generating buzz and drawing delegates to the stand. 1 out of 3 visitors to ISBT voted in the art challenge, a great level of engagement for a single exhibitor.