21st July 2022
Steve Martin, Creative Director, KVA

A side of extra virgin olive oil mashed potato with my exhibition stand please

When I started working in advertising all I wanted to create was print ads. Not because I didn’t have the opportunity to work on TV and radio commercials, but because I felt there was something ‘pure’ about a print ad. Being able to communicate all the clients’ goals, grab someone's attention and hold it, create something visually appealing while summing it all up in an amazingly simple but witty headline is thrilling and a true art; if you can get it right.

Sometimes I feel like the magic of the print ad has been lost. We all now work across so many different mediums, many of them now digital, making interactive videos and virtual realities, that sometimes the art of communicating the whole of your idea on one single sheet of A4 paper seems to have been forgotten. 

I’m old school, no matter what the brief or the medium we are using I always start formulating my ideas around what an A4 print ad may look like, because I know that if I can get this right then everything else is easy. This way of working might not be right for everyone, but it works for me.

When it comes to designing an exhibition stand, I use the same principles, the advert or core visual and messaging should be the basis that all the creative originates from. However, I would argue that the last thing your exhibition stand should look like is an enlarged version of your print campaign.

An exhibition stand should be an experience, not an advert. 

It is an opportunity to truly bring to life the product, to create an environment that truly brings to life its key benefits in ways that go beyond a printed piece; whether that is through VR, interactive videos, models, games, patient stories, actors, 360-degree immersive domes, keynote speakers on the stand or good free coffee.

You need to stand out and say something different. Give delegates a reason to visit the stand, engage with your product and your salesforce, surprise them with something they haven't seen or heard before so that they stay on the stand, come back for more information, and tell their peers about you, plus you want the experience to stay with them long after they've left.

An analogy (although maybe not a very good one) to how you want a delegate to feel when visiting your stand could be how you feel when you go out for a meal, and you want to try something new. Certain things help you decide on the restaurant you’re going to eat at and whether you’ll go back. 

The first thing that will catch your eye is the shopfront and signage. This restaurant might have stood out because it was a little different to all the others on the high street, it’s a little quirky, or has a certain elegance about it that screamed that the food will taste great, or maybe it will offer you a dish you’ve heard about but never tried before. Whatever the reason it looks like a place where you want to spend your evening, so you pause a little longer and peruse the menu in the window, where the mouth-watering options available, (all nicely laid out and using a pretty font) tempt you to go inside to see if it's as good as it sounds and looks. 

Once inside the restaurant you are greeted at the door in such a professional manner that you are already reassured about the quality of both the food and the service. An attentive waiter has shown you to your table, produced an even better looking set of menus, asked us about our dietary requirements and if we have any preference we may have. You’ve been taken through the dish of day menu (which sounds even better than the regular menu), you’ve ordered a bottle of Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge, Domaine Marc More that was recommended by the waiter and you’re now patiently waiting for your starter, Asparagus with Truffle Hollandaise, and taking in the ambience (decorations, paint colours, furniture and decorative accents are all part of one cohesive and unique theme) while making idle chit-chat. 

When it arrives, the starter looks excellent and tastes even better. This is followed by Blackened Cod Fillet baked in a banana leaf (which you’ve never had before) with a side order of Parmesan and Truffle chips and then for desert Rum Baba, each dish looking better than the other and each providing you with a culinary experience you’ve never had before. Finally, you order an espresso to finish off the meal and the waiter brings you a complimentary aperitif. On the way home you give the restaurant a 5-star review on Google, you’re going to tell all your friends about the experience and are already planning a return visit because you now want to try the Monkfish and Prawn Curry.

This is the experience you want the delegates to have, not the one like the last time you were waiting in line for a Kebab that ultimately didn’t look anything like its photo on the neon sign menu and the only thing you remember about it is the lingering bad taste in your mouth the next day.

Some will argue that I can’t afford Michelin star dining and that's fair, but it doesn't mean you can't have the best street food stall in the whole market, the one with the best ingredients, witty menu and the one with the longest queue, it just takes a little imagination, hard work and a clever way of bringing your brand story to life so that the messaging reinforces and expands on your core campaign. 

As you can tell, I love a good restaurant experience almost as much as I love designing both virtual and physical stands; something I would never imagine I would say at the start of my career when all I wanted to do was create printed ads. Personally, I believe no matter what the size of the stand, the product, or the size of the budget we should always be aiming for a Michelin star.