CeBIT is the world's largest show of its kind, bigger even than the Comdex shows in the US. The numbers are mind-boggling: 700,000 visitors and 7,400 exhibitors. For UK manufacturers and exporters, that represents major business opportunities. But for every opportunity, CeBIT presents its own challenges. Here's a brief list, especially for the first-time visitor and exhibitor. Get here if you can The first challenge is getting there. Hannover is marooned in northern Germany, an hour's flight from Frankfurt or Berlin. For an equivalent, think of the Motor Show being staged in Lincoln. Flights in and out get booked far in advance. The second, pretty well impossible challenge is finding a hotel. Europe's best-known tourism guide lists just 4,816 hotel bedrooms in and near Hannover. Exhibitors with established bookings guard them like heirlooms. This means many visitors to CeBIT are forced to choose between a long journey and renting private accommodation locally - many Hannoverians take a subsidised spring break somewhere sunny, thanks to CeBIT. I recall a friend finding the nearest hotel bedroom to Hannover was in East Berlin. All the flights were booked solid, so he commuted by rail. He spent six hours a day travelling. Putting those hazards aside, let's start a typical day at the airport or the centre of Hannover. There might be a direct tram link open to the showground in time for CeBIT 2000, but until now there's only been a shuttle bus running every 20 to 30 minutes. There are long queues and it can be cold and wet, so take a warm coat. As for the town centre, the tram system out to the show is efficient, but it gets monumentally crowded in the morning and late afternoon. Several trams can pass by before one stops and opens its doors. Think ... BIG Having survived the pitfalls of getting to Hannover, finding a bed and moving across town, be prepared for the sheer physical scale of CeBIT. It's five times the size of the NEC, 15 times the size of Earls Court 1 and 2 combined. Its fleet of 400 shuttle buses covers 250 acres and 26 halls. During the week of CeBIT, hundreds of millions of pounds worth of sales are transacted or initiated - from staplers to filing cabinets, from enterprise software to complete computer networks. CeBIT is a phenomenal business opportunity. It's also an unsurpassed opportunity to build reputation and gain media endorsement, because journalists from many countries visit the show. In 1999, the press office logged in over 10,000 reporters, 311 of them from the UK. The major German daily papers and news agencies have their own on-site editorial offices in the press centre. There's a Press Cafe, with access limited strictly to media and exhibitors. There are rooms for exhibitor press conferences; ISDN and Internet links; and racks of pigeonholes for exhibitors' press kits. CeBIT Dos and Don'ts There's great potential for a UK company wanting to make headlines at CeBIT. But you compete against 7,400 other exhibitors for share of voice. Here are some ground rules: - Do book your pigeonhole in the press centre. Unless you register in advance, you won't get space for your precious press kits. Note that the exhibitor's form has a tiny, easily overlooked box to tick for a pigeonhole - Don't even think about holding a press conference at CeBIT unless, first, you've checked out competing events with the press office organisers; and second, you have something earthshaking to announce. You'll be competing for attention with the world's office and IT giants - Do place your announcements before the show with CeBIT News. It's published daily, goes to every stand at the show, and is in English. Most of its content is written in advance. Its editors are avid for good photos - Don't assume that because CeBIT News is in English you can get away with English-only press kits. Over 70 countries are represented in the press centre. At a minimum you must translate into German - Do fix press meetings in advance. It won't be easy. Journalists resist being tied down. They suffer, before and during CeBIT, from information overkill. If the word spreads that Bill Gates has arrived at one of CeBIT's helipads for a media audience, forget the pre-planning. But there are 311 UK journalists on site, plus all the German and other media, so you have to give it a go. Improve your chances by collecting journalists' mobile phone numbers, and start scheduling on-stand meetings with target press, three to four weeks in advance - Do use CeBIT to sniff out what your competitors are doing. Equally, ensure that your own people are discreet. Every competitor is on the showground - the walls have ears - Do throw a drinks party at day's end on your stand - the press appreciate the chance to unwind and socialise. It's a great networking opportunity. Throw in a gimmick or two - a cartoonist to do guest caricatures? a magician? - and you'll be top of the press diaries for next year. Big exhibitors ship in high-quality bands to entertain. My own agency, an hour's flight away in Munich, has learned to approach CeBIT in the spirit of simultaneously moving home, running a marathon and manning a call centre. In 1999 we sent 15 staff to Hannover to handle media contact for 10 clients. We spread over several town-centre apartments within 20 minutes of the messe. We were preceded by a van that shipped 3,000 press packs to the show for us. The pre-planning translated into three client press conferences and 120 one-to-one press interviews. Other agencies and big-company press offices must have recorded similar activity levels. The experience confirms that the PR opportunity is there for those who approach it energetically, methodically and well in advance. To sum up: take a coat; take comfortable shoes; book early. See you in Hannover on 24 February 2000! Judith Huss is managing director of Munich high-tech PR agency Herald Communications and a survivor of several CeBITs. Email her at: [email protected] WHAT THE EXHIBITOR SAID ... "CeBIT is an absolute must for any major international IT company - a chance to see and to be seen, to establish our position in our market. "CeBIT attracts massive media coverage from many different countries, as well as an opportunity to consolidate our home reputation. "At CeBIT 99, for example, we promoted our new products - PNotePro, Powerstack and Smart UPS 5000. We used the show to explain how these products work and exactly what benefits they offer. "We also took the opportunity to present APC's new corporate profile after the Silcon takeover. "CeBIT enables journalists to see the faces behind the names they quote. It generates a high number of contacts and business opportunities. "No other trade fair matches the importance of CeBIT and there is no way we can afford to miss it!" Emmanuel Bompy, APC marketing director, EMEA.
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