My fair lady in the wings

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 January, 2005, 12:00am

Anna Cheung, manager of sales (exhibitions) for the TDC, is ready to raise the curtain on a hectic year of big events

IF THERE'S ONE thing I know already, it is that this will be a busy year. I was recently promoted to sales manager and I now have to look after six exhibitions a year, with a specialist team working on each one.

The job involves planning and designing the layout of the fair and selling exhibition booths. There are several distinct stages in the organisation of an event. At any one time, you are working on the preparation, staging or follow-up for all of them.

Planning usually begins about 10 or 12 months in advance. This is when you decide which areas will be used for which products. You have to estimate how many exhibitors you will get for each category or zone, and think about the sales packages and special promotions.

It is also important to consider how much space to allocate to new products and companies. In most fairs, it is not that much, but we place a lot of emphasis on this aspect in the promotional material. The aim is to organise a separate fair if things go well and those products get bigger. The lighting fair grew out of the electronics event. That's usually how an exhibition evolves.

We keep a close eye on the repeat rate of exhibitors. Normally these will have priority if they want to continue participating and keep the same location.

Obviously, some fairs are more popular than others. With the gifts and premium events, there are more than 3,500 exhibitors and 2,000 on the waiting list. In the case of a smaller industry, we do a lot more promotion and send out up to 10,000 direct mailings with information, brochures and prices.

The Trade Development Council has a business-matching department and an excellent database, which helps to target customers. The database is regularly updated by our overseas offices. I saw the other side of the operation in 2001, when I was given the chance to work in the trade promotion office in Milan. I learned Italian and took part in seminars and roadshows to promote Hong Kong companies and strengthen the network with associations and clients there.

The busiest time is just before the fair. You have meetings with exhibitors to finalise the design of booths and discuss how to incorporate any special features. Often, they will ask for more chairs, a different location or an earlier move-in time.

Once the event opens, everything you handle is ad hoc. There are always last-minute requests, but the biggest challenge is dealing with complaints. Even when people are rude, you have to be prepared to listen and explain in a professional manner what could be done. We take a strong line only if the complaints are completely unreasonable.

It is not unusual to work 12-hour days. During a fair we could be on duty until 10pm every night. The satisfaction comes from seeing so many people coming together to do business and knowing you had a hand in it.

After the show, we process feedback for about two months. The idea is to evaluate the event, decide what to continue and where to improve, and analyse the mix of buyers and exhibitors. Most comments we receive are about dates, channels for promotion and additional services people want.

This year, I plan to visit more small and medium-sized businesses to get them involved in the fairs. I always wanted a job that involved marketing, and working for the TDC means I am marketing the best Hong Kong has to offer.