Keeping watch: How important is security in your exhibition planning?

June 20, 2018

Theft. Violent protests. Cyber-crime. A terrorist event. The list of security threats for your next exhibition can seem overwhelming. You may be imagining panic, injury, anger and escalating brand damage as the world’s eyes fall on you.

But don’t let it put you off.

Exhibitions do have their risks, but they also have great benefits – increased brand exposure, creating important contacts, increasing sales. And the threats can be prepared for, even protected against, if you follow the tactics below.

5 biggest security threats for exhibitions – and how to handle them

You can’t completely insure against disaster, but you can make sure you’re as well prepared as possible to handle the worst-case scenario. Here’s how.

1. Petty crime: With thousands of attendees, you can generally bank on some undesirable characters slipping through. This could impact your attendees – having wallets, phones or similar stolen; or your business – products vanishing into the crowd.

Ultimately, though, both of these impact your business, because attendees who have a negative experience aren’t likely to engage with or buy from you. And if something happened involving your booth – the phone left on your stand disappeared, for instance – they might always have a negative association with your business.

Ultimately, though, both of these impact your business, because attendees who have a negative experience aren’t likely to engage with or buy from you.

What to do

How do you mitigate the risk of petty crime, then? First, prevention. If you’re displaying high-value products, consider physically preventing their removal by wiring them to your stand. And take on additional security staff dedicated to guarding your products. Uniforms can act as a deterrent but make attendees feel on-guard and uncomfortable – plain clothes and subtlety are worth considering.

If you do catch someone stealing, handle it with the minimum of fuss. Drama can draw eyeballs to your stand but you don’t want the wrong sort of drama, because that won’t convert to leads.

Then think about how you can help protect attendees. A simple visual prompt – reminding attendees to keep purses zipped and valuables out-of-sight – can go far. Think about adding a poster to your stand, for example.

Lastly, the most important thing is being well-prepared to handle these eventualities. Help victims as much as possible, even if it’s only offering somewhere to sit, a mobile to borrow and a free coffee. A ray of kindness can earn you a brand evangelist for life – and it’s the decent thing to do. After all, the goal for any event is to show the ‘human’ face of your company. According to a study by the Center for Exhibition Research in 2016, 48% of event attendees said that face-to-face interactions were more valuable than they had been since the previous study.

2. Cyber-attacks: As exhibition technology becomes ubiquitous, the threat of cyber-attack grows – and the bigger the event profile, the bigger the risk, as the recent South Korea Winter Olympics cyber-attacks prove. And going back a few years, the 2008 Beijing Olympics reported 12 million cyber-attacks per day were directed towards organisers. 12 million. Not something to underestimate.

Cyber-crime can take many forms. There’s the large-scale destructive attack associated with terrorism or protest, of course, but attacks such as stolen financial or personal data can be equally damaging. Then there’s the threat of corporate espionage, where your proprietary data is hacked or stolen.

In any case, the damage to your brand can be huge. Imagine attackers leaking all your customers’ data. Or your exhibition app providing the hunting ground for customers’ credit card details. Or you’ve got the dollar-value damage if your intellectual property is stolen. Worst-case scenario, an entire product line is invalidated before you go to market.

Protecting against cyber-attack is imperative – even though it can feel like an insurmountably huge challenge. Especially when every attendee is logging into your network through their own, potentially insecure, devices. And the use of event apps continues to increase, by an average 3.05% globally from 2016 to 2017.

What to do

You can’t avoid hiring an expert here, because cyber-security isn’t about common sense. You need people who deeply understand the cyber-landscape, so they can develop controls to mitigate every threat scenario.

Plus you would do well to consider adding specific cyber-crime insurance too, to help protect your company from losses. That’s true generally, not just at your next exhibition.

3. Violence: Your biggest threats of violence come from protesters or lone individuals with a grudge – either against your people, against other attendees or the show itself. An argument that gets out of hand; a misunderstanding due to different cultural norms; perceived grudges against your company or the event as a whole. There is a lot to consider.

What to do

Mitigate this by making sure your audience are aware of cultural norms before they arrive. Send an email before the event, not just to promote attendance but to tell attendees everything they need to know.

Send an email before the event, not just to promote attendance but to tell attendees everything they need to know.

If violence does break out, having your own security team means you can handle it quickly and decisively. If something does happen, dealing with it yourself looks better than passively offloading the situation to the organisers – and it means your core staff can focus on achieving your business goals.

According to Klaus Solberg Söilen in his book Exhibit Marketing and Trade Show Intelligence, you should make sure you coordinate the efforts of your own security team with the show’s organisers, so each is aware of the other’s presence. But he also adds a note of caution: when it comes to dealing with a security threat, ‘Whatever you do, never use exaggerated violence, that is more than is absolutely necessary. Just the idea of something like this being recorded will be enough to keep your chief executive awake at night.’

4. Terrorism/political instability: Even though the risk of terrorism impacting your event is minimal, the threat looms large for many exhibitors.

Likewise, political instability. In fact, the Global Meetings Forecast 2018 found that economic and political stability was a major factor in event decision-making for 50% of respondents in Central and South America, 43% in Asia Pacific and 30% in Europe.

Long planning times for large events mean you’ll rarely be caught unaware if instability is an issue but if a situation does reach breaking point, you need to know how you’ll get attendees out safely.

What to do

It’s true that the bulk of defence in both cases falls to the exhibition organiser, who should have comprehensive emergency response protocols. Plus they will have put a huge amount of consideration into choosing a safe, secure venue.

However, that doesn’t mean you can be totally hands-off. Keep an eye on political events or possible local issues in the run-up to the show so you’re prepared. And have your own security team go through the venue’s plans and address any weaknesses. It might seem over-the-top but it will mean you’ve got people specifically tasked with safeguarding your brand. That’s imperative.

5. Protests: It would be unusual for a protest to turn ugly but it can impact attendees’ moods – which can mean they’re less willing to engage, and you lose leads. That’s exacerbated if protests specifically target your products, people or brand.

What to do

So what can you do about protests? Awareness, firstly. Think about anything contentious that might draw protest, so you can get ahead of any threat. Forewarned is forearmed.

Look at other exhibitors as well, because the cumulative impact of protests will affect you even if the initial protest targets another brand. Maybe your sustainable fishing business is innocuous, but if the premium ice cream brand next to you is treating their farmers badly then protest could still be on the cards.

On their part, the exhibition organisers might consider creating a cordoned off (and discreet) protest area, for instance, and ramp up ID- and bag-checks to stop any protesters slipping through. Indeed, according to the UFI Global Exhibition Barometer for 2016, around 18% of trade show organisers in the Middle East had opted to adopt additional screening measures for attendees. Such pre-emptive measures can reduce the risk of violence or clashes later on.

Most protests use social networks to build momentum, so even if something breaking out seems unlikely, it’s best to dedicate someone to monitoring social, so you’re not caught unaware if a protest is rallying.

Most protests use social networks to build momentum, so even if something breaking out seems unlikely, it’s best to dedicate someone to monitoring social, so you’re not caught unaware if a protest is rallying.

Make sure your team are briefed if protests do start. Your treatment of protesters needs to be beyond reproach. Kindness and respect are the biggest weapons in your arsenal here, and makes protesters seem petty if their own behaviour devolves.

Play it safe: Take exhibition security seriously

The way to ensure your next exhibition goes smoothly is to take security seriously. Don’t underestimate potential threats, even though the real risk is minimal and thankfully thousands of events happen annually without incident.

Bring your own security people, don’t just rely on the organisers. While they should have watertight emergency protocols, having your own experts means you’ve got people in your corner – and that’s the best way to safeguard your employees, your business and your brand.

TGP is one of the Middle East’s leading design and production companies, focusing on exhibitions, events, interiors, graphics, and audio-visuals for various industries. For more information or to meet the team, please call +971 50 636 7774, send an email to hello@tgp.aeor click here.