“Stephan Murtagh, The Exhibition Guy – Author of “Before You Hit The Venue”, gets up close and personal with TFT in an Exclusive one on one. He shares his thoughts about the changes he’s witnessed in the Exhibition Industry and where he believes changes are to be made.”
TFT – Greetings, Stephan! Hope you are doing well? Tell us about your early years. What activities and habits are a part of your daily routine?
SM – Yes doing really well and loving the TFT so keep up the great work. Well for me my early years were always about striving to be successful at what I do both in business and in life. From selling Christmas trees on the side of the road through to being a postman for Microsoft campuses in Dublin it was always about just working hard but enjoying it. Born and bred in Dublin, Ireland and very proud to be Irish and see how our small country can be world class at things. For me it was and is always about people. Building relationships with people that would be lasting and enjoyable. Having now been in the Exhibition Industry for the past 25 years, it is the one thing I love about what we do…Being face to face with people and that’s what Exhibitions are all about. On a personal note, my passions are My Family, Reading 2-3 books per week! (Business Books and Sports – In particular Rugby!) and just helping people be an even better version of themselves.
My daily routines involve creating new ideas that will help companies and I do this through face to face meetings, webinars and LinkedIn… I am always looking for new and creative ways to add value to people’s lives.
TFT – What inspired or encouraged you to write a book like “Before You Hit The Venue”? Tell us about your career and your journey into the world of Trade Fairs?
SM – Having sold Exhibition space for 20+ years, it always frustrated me when companies didn’t do as well from shows as they had hoped and to be honest very often blamed the Organisers for a bad show (Sometimes they were right) but a lot of the time it was down to the Exhibitor just arriving at an Exhibition without a plan or having any real tangible objectives and then just “throw” together a stand and hope it worked. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work if you approach it that way. As we say to all our clients, if you go into battle you need a plan! Exhibitions are no different. I wrote the book to really help people and companies see that if they put this work in beforehand, they would reap great and much better results from exhibiting. It is just a simple little book that focusses on what you need to do so as you are successful when you exhibit.
Ah well for me my journey into the Exhibition world was more about a chance meeting with someone 25 years ago and not knowing anything about Exhibitions, I decided to take the plunge into the industry as always love a challenge. I can honestly say it was the best business decision in my life as I absolutely love Exhibitions and the real power that we have as an industry and how we can help our client’s businesses grow and be a small part of that success. It absolutely motivates me to see companies do well from Exhibitions…For a young person, it is a career I would highly recommend in Exhibitions as you are part of not only your own success but also other peoples.
TFT – How is the trade fair industry in Ireland? What difference do you see in terms of growth and quality?
SM – The Trade Fair sector in Ireland is good but as a small country it can be challenging as we don’t have the economies of scale that larger countries do in terms of putting shows on at more affordable levels. We also only have a limited number of quality venues and this can be really challenging as the costs for these venues are very high. Our nearest neighbour, the UK, have much greater opportunities on a scale level and Ryanair being so cheap, Irish companies can often visit a show in the UK before they go to an Irish one and I find this disappointing but also totally understandable. Having said that, in Ireland we have a lot to offer the visitors to shows in our beautiful country, so we need to package this better to sell to International companies. In reality the fundamental difference with Ireland and abroad is the cost to put shows on here. As a dynamic economy we are changing this, and many big international conferences are locating in Ireland as they see what can be achieved here with our skilled workforce and amenities being developed so actually there are some negatives, but we are definitely going in the right direction.
TFT – How did you end up getting known as ‘The Exhibition Guy’?
SM – Well, that is an interesting question! For many years (20!) I sold Exhibition space at shows and every time I would make a call, the receptionist would shout across to the person I was looking to speak to and say “…That Exhibition Guy is on the phone again….” I always found this amusing and it was really a natural name for our company as we are all about exhibitions. It’s a name that really has started to get traction globally and just says what we do. Its funny I go to Exhibitions all over the world and people tap me on the shoulder and say… Are you The Exhibition Guy…? Of course, I am always delighted! I think it`s getting to the stage now where people don’t even know my real name Stephan but just call me The Exhibition Guy… I am totally okay with that! Maybe I will get it changed on my passport!
TFT – As an Exhibition Thought Leader what questions do you get asked the most and what are your suggestions?
SM – Interesting question, for me I always get asked about how to really sell at exhibitions and stand design. As regards the selling at Exhibitions…Companies tend to fall down at the selling piece by not remembering the golden rule… “People come to Exhibitions to buy not to be sold” – The way you approach selling at exhibitions is by softly softly approach…Asking lots of open questions and getting your visitor to talk. Engaging with visitors in a more friendly not more salesy way. Finding out about them is the sure-fire way to succeed at sales. I see Exhibitors talking “AT” their visitors… You need to talk “WITH” your visitors.
As for the stand design, it’s about keeping the stand nice and simple…Not too many things on the stand, making it comfortable for visitors to walk on and really engage. You need to 1. Keep 60% of the floorspace free for visitor access 2. Make your message on the walls/graphics – visible and readable from 15-20 ft away and 3. Use strong colours that catch the eye.
TFT – What is that one quality Exhibitors need to change for optimum trade fair success?
SM – Stop sitting down on the stand reading your newspaper or texting your mates! – Stand Up and REALLY ENGAGE with your audience!
TFT – Tell us about ‘Your Sales Coach’?
SM – Your Sales Coach is a sister company of The Exhibition Guy and this focuses on training people how to sell and make sales plans, target and forecasting. It’s not specifically for Exhibitions but brings the sales skills we have learned over the past 25 years to other industries. We coach 28 new entrepreneurs each month on how to sell (not necessarily for exhibitions) but general business.
TFT – You were recently approached by IEIA for the Open Seminar. Can you tell us about your experience?
SM – Yes, it was a real honour to be approached to do a webinar for the IEIA and really enjoyed working with Nidhi and the team in IEIA on it. It was a webinar for GED19 where we looked at how the industry is and the developments in the industry that we all need to be aware of and how we can develop our industry to allow for these changes. Exhibitors in this day and age are becoming more demanding and rightly so. We as an industry need to be at the forefront of delivering the change that will make them re-exhibit every year.
TFT – Kindly tell our readers about the Exhibition Masterclass course?
SM – The “7 Steps to Exhibition Success” focuses on the 7 key areas you need to consider before you exhibit at any show. We have delivered this course to in excess of 2,000 companies and the real benefit for them is they walk away knowing exactly what they have to do. This takes a lot of stress away from them so they can concentrate on exactly what they want to achieve at the show. It covers:
- Planning for Exhibition Success
- Setting Your 3 Key Objectives
- Pre-Show Marketing Strategy
- Delivering Results with The Right Team
- Effective Stand Design That Works
- Creating A “WOW” with your visitors
- The Post Show Follow Up Strategy
TFT – Where do you see India when it comes to Trade Fairs? Can you share with us your perspective on the shortcomings or plus points of the Industry here?
SM – I think the Indian market is becoming more and more powerful, particularly as your government seem to increase their spend on the sector and your venues become even more high tech. You also have an incredibly skilled workforce on the digital side, and this is a huge advantage as digital promotion becomes even more important for show promotion. You also have such a big population, and this offers many many more visitors to shows. On the plus points, because your country is so vast and cultures are slightly different across different regions, your organisers have the opportunity of doing the same shows but in different regions, we don’t have that scalability in Ireland. On the shortcomings side, its hard to say but I think the competition in your market is very diverse. There are many organisers who think putting on shows is a licence to print money! Unfortunately, some of these companies don’t do shows right and they give everyone else a bad name. This is not solely an Indian thing, it’s a global problem but with the size of your market, you probably see this more than most.
TFT – Life in the Trade Fair Industry can be hard. What is that one mantra you live by to overcome difficulties and obstacles?
SM – An old expression I like to think of when times are tough is “They say that the last thing to grow on a tree is the fruit” sometimes working for yourself can be hard but you have to persevere and have real belief. At The Exhibition Guy we absolutely believe in what we do because it adds value to Exhibitors (They do better) and Organisers (They get more re-booking of exhibitors) by working with us. That’s BELIEF!
TFT – What will be your advice for a successful and sustainable trade show?
SM – Focus on what your visitors want…Not what your exhibitors want. If your visitors are happy then your Exhibitors will be. It doesn’t work the other way around!
TFT – What are your future plans? Any future events or conferences where people can see you talk as a Speaker?
SM – Well for me it’s to do more work with Exhibition Organisers in India and UAE and deliver more courses that will help both organisers and Exhibitors. I have just developed an online course for Exhibitors that is being launched later today that will really help them do better from Exhibitions and can be a cost-effective alternative to me being there in person. I am also looking at strategic partnerships with Exhibition industry companies where we can add value with joint offerings. Spend more time in India! In fact, I am delivering a multi city “7 Steps Masterclass Session” during early December, in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore that I am really looking forward to. It’s with a pretty big name in the industry so really looking forward to that and going back to India! Hopefully I will get to meet some of you guys when I am there!