Exhibiting in the UK

By Phil Ross

As a project manager for DSA, I’ve had the opportunity to manage exhibition stand builds around the world.  Our clients rely on our industry knowledge and experience to make sure their installations run smoothly.  However, I’ve learnt that a bit of local knowledge goes a long way!  That’s why we wanted to share some hints and tips for exhibiting in different parts of the world with you.  First stop – home turf – and my top 10 tips for exhibiting in the UK.

Be data aware

Ensuring event ROI is a measurable figure and managing lead generation means data capture is required. However, it also means you have personal responsibility for the information gathered, and you are governed by UK laws as well as those of your own country if you are from outside the UK.  The Information Commissioners Office state: “Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the EEA unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data”.  If you are gathering data on new prospects and leads, you should to consider where and how you will store the data. This is particularly important if you or your data storage facilities are outside of the UK.

It’s in the bag

An astounding 57,000 tonnes of single use plastic bags were handed out in the UK in 2013. In an attempt to reduce this number, the British government introduced laws to help reduce the numbers of plastic bags distributed.  With effect from October 2015, a charge of 5 pence per bag will need to be levied on every bag issued.  This will also apply to events and exhibitions too. Charging visitors to take your promotional materials in a bag is impractical.  So if handing out bags of promotional materials is usually part of your plan, you need to consider how you will manage this change.  Take the opportunity to consider whether you need to use bags as part of your promotional activities, and if so, whether more environmentally friendly paper or re-useable fabric bags are a better choice? Although they are more costly, they are also more likely to be retained and used by your visitors post event.

Imperial vs. metric

The UK uses a confusing combination of both.  Fortunately, in a business context, generally we tend to stick to metric.  However both play their role when communicating with British companies and their staff.  Invariably, design and construct companies will operate in metric for the purposes of design and build and commercially.  However, British people often speak and think in imperial measurements; so don’t be surprised if at the end of the event, a colleague offers to buy you pint in the pub a couple of miles from the venue!

CDM – what is it and what does it mean?

From April 2015, new health and safety regulations have been introduced in the UK.  They are known as CDM (Construction, Design and Management).  The Health and Safety Executive has stated that many activities involved in the design and build of exhibition stands such as the installation/rigging of production equipment, including audio, lighting, video scenery is a ‘construction’ activity, and therefore is governed by CDM.

CDM has numerous implications, but there are two key factors that you should be aware of:

  • CDM law is written under criminal law rather than civil law. This means that individuals, including company directors and officers can be held individually criminally liable in the eventuality of a claim being brought.
  • Secondly, it’s important to choose a contractor who is fluent in CDM regulations, and if multiple contractors are used – Principle contractors and designers are appointed. Read more detailed information here. 

Food and drink

When exhibiting in the UK, it’s important to remember that British food hygiene regulations are strict and still apply to samples and complimentary snacks served at exhibitions.  Whether serving canapés or food samples you need to ensure that they are either bitesize or individually wrapped for starters. You also should select the kinds of foods you serve carefully. For example, crumbly pastry or cookies might not be a good choice as under UK regulations you have a responsibility to ensure that your visitors don’t touch and cross contaminate samples, for example if an item of food crumbles and breaks and then needs to be retrieved by hand.  Alternatively, you could take it easy on yourself and choose and partner, (like DSA), who have IOSH (Institute of Health and Safety) qualified staff as standard and be reassured that all of the catering show services are safe and in line with the law.

Divided by a common language

The Oxford Dictionary has listed nearly 300 variations in spelling and terminology between British English and American English.  Some are simple, such as the use of an extra ‘U’ in the word Labour/Labor and Colour/Color – however, there are some fundamental differences which are important when dealing with events for an international audience.  For example, in the UK, a building has a ground floor and then a first floor. However, in American parlance, there is a first floor (ground floor) and a second floor. This could be important when directing prospects to your stand or meeting room!

“Where there’s tea, there’s hope.”*

We Brits have a dry sense of humour, and generally like to find the funny side of most situations. However, Tea – and more importantly, the right way to make it – is something we take VERY seriously!  Most British Tea drinkers are passionate about the ‘correct’ way to make and take tea. Your British colleague might ask for “builder’s with one”. Don’t worry. They aren’t asking for a tradesman to deliver their beverage; rather a strongly brewed cup of tea with one sugar.  The ‘correct’ way to make a tea, or ‘brew’, is also the cause of fierce debate. Milk first, or milk last has been the source of many an argument, and allegedly was a contributory factor in the British Civil War**  Thankfully, The British Standard’s Institution has released a guide called preparation of a liquor of tea for use in sensory tests” which claims to definitively settle the matter once and for all. Sadly, the milk last contingent does not accept their findings, so the battle rumbles on…

A different kind of royalty

According to the Performance Rights Society (PRS), 79% of exhibition and trade fair organisers we asked agree music adds to the presentational power of their event. A further 73% say music is an important factor in creating the ideal atmosphere.  If you use music on your booth, stand or installation – even if it’s just the soundtrack to your video content – you need to ensure you’re correctly licenced for its use, to ensure the artist receives any royalty payments earned.  The UK has a maximum level of 80 decibels continuous noise before employers must provide staff and contractors with ear defenders.  This is particularly relevant if your stand or booth has music or live demos of AV equipment.  Download an app (Like Decibel 10th) on your smartphone to assess the noise situation on your stand to make sure you comply and are providing a considerate space to work in for your staff.

Use a professional

The UK has 3 professional bodies/trade associations in the event and exhibition sector.  The AEO (Association of Event Organisers), AEV (Association of Event Venues) and ESSA (Event Supplier and Services Association). All are managed by the EIA secretariat.  EIA advocates that members of all three associations work within or beyond the requirements of UK law.  Additionally, many of contractors (e.g. electrical) need to be qualified to City and Guilds standard (a UK standard qualification).  Often, international qualifications do not match up with City & Guilds and so it will be up to the individual electrical contractor at an event to ascertain the competence of international stand builders on a case by case basis.

Importing samples and display items

If you are coming to exhibit in the UK from outside the EU, it’s important to consider the import export regulations. In the UK, there are two ways to temporarily import and export goods and display items without excessive red tape and paperwork – the ATA Carnet and the Duplicate List.  The ATA Carnet is a customs document which allows items to come into the country temporarily. The benefit of this is that items can be sent unaccompanied, especially if they are large or bulky. Find out which countries accept the ATA Carnet here.  The Duplicate list is designed for items that will be accompanying you in your baggage and as such, there is no charge for using. However, any prohibitions, restrictions or licensing rules – either when goods are exported from the UK or when they’re imported into another country – still apply.

* Quote from Arthur Wing Pinero
** This is not 100% true. See ‘British dry sense of humour’