If there is one subject that many people in the trade show exhibit business see as a necessary evil, it is the need to provide design concepts and strategy free of charge to prospective clients. This trend was born in the days of the ad agencies pitching large corporate accounts for their business. Over the years businesses got used to that idea and now it is routine to ask 3-5 firms to bid on exhibit projects, with an expectation that the proposals be provided free of charge.
Conventional thinking wonders why would anyone pay for exhibit design when they can get it for free? In many cases this is facilitated through the RFP (Request for Proposal) process. The problem with this approach is that not only does the skill set of the vendor need to encompass a high degree of brand awareness and experiential design, they need to be able to produce and fabricate as well as manage and maintain exhibit programs. When viewed up close these are often conflicting and limiting factors when done “all under one roof.” In reality, only design/build firms, not independent design firms, would respond to a RFP with no compensation offered.
The results speak for themselves.
In contrast, when looking at the design awards from Exhibitor Magazine over the past five years, the overwhelming majority in the top categories are European “stands”. So much so, that this year the magazine introduced a separate category for International Exhibits. It seems to be no coincidence that the U.S. firms are being dominated by European entries.
The European model is based on separate designer/contractor relationships. Just as in home building, after vetting firms in the field, the client hires a design firm to provide a comprehensive design with strategy, clear documentation and specifications so any qualified builder can provide a price quotation to produce. The production is where the bulk of the money is spent and the documents provide the baseline. Maintaining the designer under contract to supervise until project completion ensures that the vision is realized. The designer is the client’s advocate, and that may not always be the case when the designer is the fabricator.
For the elevator version of, ‘Why should I pay for design,?’ see the bullet points below.
• Client/vendor relationships are about trust and respect. Requesting free design services does not promote either. Contracting for design service shows a high degree of respect and trust while implying a true commitment from all parties involved. This is the most important aspect in getting the best design possible and the one that you deserve.
• Paying for design means you own it. You can shop it to as many builders as you like. That is the easiest way to compare “apples to apples” prices.
• Separating design and production means you can choose the best creative talent separate from the best long- term service vendor, even when they are not in the same location. A designer will propose the best solution for a client’s need and the creative should not be hindered by what one particular facility can produce.
• Paying for design is the most efficient use of your time, once you’ve chosen the designer. You can focus on one process, one set of emails, one source for the project’s development schedule rather than fielding inquiries from multiple RFP vendors.
In terms of cost, I would bet that in most cases the costs are comparable using either process, but the results are almost always superior when design is developed separately. We are routinely expected to manage and supervise our designs thru completion as well as service them long term, but welcome clients who want to contract design services and then bid out for production. The essential point is to be flexible towards the client’s need and responsible for the designs we produce.
For more information on the design process and how we can help you to engage your audience click here or the contact page.