Career Path

The mission of organizing exhibitions

by Ella Lee

Exhibition Organizer
Annie Chu
General Manager
Administration and Marketing Support Adsale Exhibition Services Ltd.

You may have been at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Wanchai recently visiting a major event, such as the International Travel Expo; or you may be planning to go to the IT Expo 2002 coming up next week. As a visitor, have you ever thought of what effort an exhibition organizer has to put in to make things happen?

Organizing exhibitions is not only a challenging job but also a mission. It is to create a platform that brings together exhibitors and visitors, and allows face-to-face interaction, explains Annie Chu, General Manager of Administration and Marketing Support of Adsale Exhibition Services Ltd.

"It facilitates communication, the exchange of ideas and sharing of knowledge, and is beneficial to all parties involved," Ms Chu says, remarking that the involved parties are not limited to the exhibitors and visitors. There are many other players such as stand-fitters, freight forwarders, hotels, travel agents, caterers, PR firms and audio and video equipment suppliers who all have a role in supporting an exhibition directly or indirectly.

Moreover, the economic benefit resulting from an international exhibition is enormous. In addition to promoting a particular industry, it supports tourism. It brings in more visitors providing business to airlines, hotels and retailers, boosting the local economy.

Ms Chu has been organizing exhibitions and conferences for over twelve years, with even longer experience in economic research and trade promotion. Although she started her career as a teacher of economics, she joined the business world four years later in a bid for broader exposure and personal growth. "The industry has so much variety that I find learning opportunities every day, in spite of having been here for many years."

"The industry has so much variety that I find learning opportunities every day, in spite of having been here for many years"

What's the work about?

Exhibition organizing is a kind of marketing service that assists companies and organizations to promote their products and services to a targeted audience.

There are four major kinds of work at a typical professional exhibition organizer (PEO): sales, marketing, public relations and operation/customer service. Sales and marketing are responsible for exhibitor recruitment, and public relations for visitor promotion and publicity. Adsale's project department is the marketing arm, which serves as the central unit for planning, organizing and scheduling the whole event. It is in charge of promotion of an exhibition and recruitment of overseas exhibitors. The sales department, on the other hand, focuses on local clients.

Organizing an exhibition requires many supporting facilities and services available for exhibitors and visitors: booth set-up, logistics, reserving air tickets and accommodation (for overseas participants), supplying audio and video equipment, registration systems, as well as translation and catering services. Operation is the core unit for on-site management. It coordinates with the above suppliers and makes sure the event runs smoothly.

Are you qualified?

According to Ms Chu, entry positions are open to university graduates of any discipline as it is the candidates' communications ability and character, rather than the specific subjects they studied which makes them suitable for the work.

Organizing exhibitions is all about good market sense and teamwork; good communications and interpersonal skills are essential. Coordination and organizational abilities are necessary while high standards of language proficiency and foreign languages are important.

Scheduling and time management is another concern, though it can be learnt through on-the-job training. In general, it takes 12 months to prepare for a yearly recurring exhibition; for a new exhibition, it may take anything between 18 to 24 months. "As organizers, we need to be sensitive to deadlines and work well under pressure," points out Ms Chu.

As for fresh graduates, Ms Chu believes there are two important attributes that will lead them to success. They are a sense of responsibility and initiative. "As long as you are responsible and have the initiative to learn and contribute, you can pick up everything and learn very fast."

Last but not least, customer orientation is required of all staff, regardless of seniority and nature of work. "While all industries talk about being market oriented and customer oriented, it is particularly true to organizing exhibitions. It is the only way to succeed: by following market demands and customer needs," says Ms Chu.

China Opportunities

The exhibition industry continues to grow robustly in China, although the development in Hong Kong is slower and has been affected by the recent economic recession. Since its establishment in 1978, Adsale has been focusing on the China market. Of the over 20 exhibitions it organizes every year, 70 per cent are held in mainland China, 20 per cent in Hong Kong and 10 per cent in Vietnam.

Since the importance of the China market keeps growing, additional skills are necessary to work there, including a good command of Putonghua. "It is not a must to speak [Putonghua] fluently like your Mainland counterparts, but at least you have to be willing to talk and gradually improve. Also, dealing with Mainlanders you have to give up the sense of superiority of being a Hong Kong citizen and respect others," says Ms Chu. She adds that understanding the overall development of Mainland China - economically, socially and politically - will also help.

Figures for reference only   K='000

Taken from Career Times 13 September 2002, p. 30
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