How to get the most out of hosting and exhibiting at events: Lessons from the Yorkshire Dales Food & Drink Festival

As a Skipton local with a love of all things food and supporter of indie businesses, The Yorkshire Dales Food & Drink Festival was definitely a key date in my social calendar this summer. But as a newbie in a very crowded marketplace at a jam-packed time of year for events, it was a big risk for the organisers.

Standing out from the crowd

With so many food and drink festivals going on across Yorkshire, the key to standing out from the crowd is a clear and unique brand proposition. Booking celebrity chefs the Hairy Bikers and James Martin obviously helped but what made it really iconic and memorable for me was the spot on branding and tone of voice that was consistent across all channels. When I first saw a tweet about it, I immediately joined up the dots with posters I had seen around town and the video a friend had shared on Facebook.

Yorkshire Dales Food fest header

Staying front of mind

The organisers did an amazing job of creating a big buzz around the initial announcement of the event, with hundreds taking to Facebook to say they were interested in or going to the event on the first day and ticket sales booming. However, often with events like this the initial excitement can dwindle once you’ve seen the first batch of posts on social media. Not for the Yorkshire Dales Food & Drink Festival. Tapping into the fan bases of exhibitors by sharing a continuous stream of their gorgeously scrummy looking content in the lead up to the festival was the ideal to whet the appetite of those that had not yet signed up (and was pure torture during those peckish afternoons in the office!)

Yorkshire Dales Food fest exhibitors

Rather than just tweeting boring salesy updates, the organisers interspersed their retweets with eye-catching branded graphics to not only remind people where and when the event was, but create strong brand recognition, which for a new event is tough. Big thumbs up from me on the consistency and visibility front!

Going beyond the footfall

On the day, it would have been easy for the organisers to sit back knowing they’d sold enough tickets and just do the usual ‘fire fighting’ approach to delivering a great event. But this would have missed a serious trick when it comes to thinking ahead about maximising exposure for next year.

I went during prime-time lunchtime. Yes, the crowds made it nearly impossible to get down some aisles but it just meant more time lingering at stands, having testers and chatting to the exhibitors. I went with the pure intention of having an amazing Instagram-worthy lunch, but my friend had different game plan for the day – looking for street food stalls that offered catering for a big 21st birthday party he was helping to organise. What seemed to be the perfect opportunity to find three amazing caterers for the party (big party, and hopefully big appetites!), turned into quite a frustrating day thanks to either the lack of enthusiasm from some stall holders or lack of printed materials to take away. Having paid a fee to exhibit at such an amazing event, and being given the opportunity from the organisers to put their brand in front of so many new faces online and on the street, it’s a shame that some stallholders didn’t maximise this as a long-term investment with a goal of building relationships for the future. Some didn’t even have business cards with them and few were encouraging customers to follow them and share pictures of their food on social media. Luckily for them, the festival’s overall strong online presence meant they still got plenty of exposure but it was a missed opportunity for securing further business in the medium to long term as a result of exhibiting at the event.

One of my favourite stands was called ‘Fro by Joy’, serving up delicious frozen gluten free, dairy free, soya free and vegan friendly yoghurt with superfood toppings. Currently only available for events and private hire, their stand was branded to the max and those running the stand were so passionate about their business.

Yorkshire Dales Food fest ice cream

I really do think that no matter how scrumptious the food is, the experience you get as a customer at a stand can be the make or break as to whether you would remember and seek them out again in the future. At festivals like this, it’s too easy for customers (like me) to eagerly stuff our faces and then totally forget where the food was from. With so much competition, how are you supposed to remember if you had a Tarte and Berry brownie or a Yummy Yank brownie? (I had a Tarte and Berry brownie, I’m basically their no.1 fan girl!)

Our advice for anyone thinking of exhibiting at an event for the first time would be to think in advance about all the opportunities to initiate and then build long term relationships with attendees so that they become loyal fans rather than one-trick ponies. Make sure you have printed materials and branded goods to hand out and signage highlighting your social media channels and website so that smart-phone wielding customers can follow you on the spot before walking away and forgetting who you are.

As ever, content is king when it comes to getting the biggest return on investment at events so make sure that both you and your customers have plenty to share before, during and after.

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comments:

  1. Andy Higgins says:

    Spot on Chloe, you have picked up on everything we tried to do. I also agree with you view on exhibitors, it is not just about selling your products over the days of the festival but more about the strategic growth of your business, the marketing potential for emergent opportunities like birthday parties etc, the networking opportunity and learning lessons to ensure you get a consistent return on your investment at all future events and festivals.

    A great summary and many thanks YDF&DF

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