I visited the Ambiente in Frankfurt, Germany. It´s a huge trade fair, leading in its kind. More than 4,000 participants from 90 countries gathered there to present the world´s finest in consumer goods. A lot of individual stands, but quite a few country pavilions as well. Those country pavilions are what I want to consider for a moment. You may have exhibited in one of those group stands yourself – or organised a collective trade fair participation. At Ambiente I was painfully reminded that many group exhibitions are fundamentally wrong – and therefore fail to deliver.
Let me take an Asian country pavilion I saw at Ambiente as an example. Nowhere in the entire set-up did I find even the simplest reference to the nation represented by the exhibitors in that pavilion. There wasn´t the slightest indication of some shared proposition. No sign of commercial consistency or cohesion – except perhaps in the uniform ugliness of the rows of box-like stands carrying only the name of the participant on the frieze frame. And nobody distinguished him- or herself by individual creativity, either. Can you imagine? Nothing but white boxes with a single name printed on the frieze in black, a couple of lamps inside and an unprofessional assembly of products. If I hadn´t known better, I´d have thought these were all individual stand holders using some standard set-up – and embarking on a hopeless mission. It was all but the worst country pavilion I´ve ever seen.
When a country pavilion fails at a trade fair, the problem all too often can be traced back to the earliest beginnings. In many cases, the focus of pavilion coordinators is on operational and logistic smoothness. Or they put the promotion of the country, the sector or even their own association at the heart of the pavilion. But all of that is peripheral: no one but the individual exhibitors should have centre stage! And there´s only one thing that matters to them: achieving their own commercial targets.
The key question facing anyone organising a country pavilion therefore is this: who are the participants, what is their common proposition and what does each of them need to succeed? An established exhibitor may have need of a private meeting room, whereas a newcomer may need lots of space for displays and texts to introduce his business to the market and to evoke contacts. And what about individual exhibitors ´branding´ their particular stand according to their own corporate identity? A successful pavilion is not some standardised mass, but a strong blend of customised work.
As a trade fair participant, the issue you face is this: how can the pavilion and its coordinator support me in achieving my goals? If that support fails to add enough value, you may be better off exhibiting on your own. A collective exhibition can place the exhibitors, their sector, their country and their coordinator on the map in one fell swoop – but it can just as easily wipe all of you right off the map.