Exhibition Showcase February 2023: Questions for Projeni Pather, Managing Director, Exposure Marketing, South Africa
You have elaborate & diverse experience in the Exhibition industry. Please tell us about your professional journey, including the challenges you’ve faced and the milestones you’ve reached over the years.
I started my career in marketing, communication, and advertising, which laid the foundation for my future in exhibitions. During the early years, I relied extensively on the exhibition and events platform to deliver successful campaigns for many clients. Having seen the impact on my clients’ businesses and the target audience, I found it to be the most effective marketing platform to achieve results. When I had my children, I found no exhibitions to assist me as a new parent. After much research into the market, I established my company, Exposure Marketing, in 2004 to launch the first baby and parenting exhibition, MamaMagic, in South Africa. MamaMagic became the continent’s biggest baby and parenting exhibition, with four shows, an average of 800 exhibitors and over 100 000 visitors in attendance annually. Since its inception, Exposure Marketing has received many awards for Best Exhibition in its category and Excellence in PR and Marketing. Our innovative nature as a business also earned the Exhibition a Guinness World Record for the Largest Gathering of Pregnant women under one roof, plus a vast amount of worldwide media coverage for a record that had never been set before.
As exhibition organisers, we have a captive audience that considers us the conduit for relevant information and news on new products and services. We help our audience work more effectively by doing the research for them, linking them with a vetted audience, and positioning these businesses as leaders at the forefront of their sectors. Organisers can extend the marketing opportunities outside of the exhibition floor, apart from the 3- or 4- exhibition days; after all, business goes on all year long, so how can we extend our services to the markets we provide platforms to and establish an always-on business relationship that ensures our exhibition is the culmination of the year-long campaign strategies we offer. We must strategically utilise the data and insights we obtain to establish additional platforms for these sectors. The opportunities are abundant.
In line with this strategy, Exposure Marketing established the MamaMagic Baby Expo as a sought-after community for parents searching for products and services and for businesses who want to launch new products, gain valuable insights, or grow their relationships with the parenting market and find new buyers and agents. Over the past 18 years, the MamaMagic brand has expanded into additional platforms to serve an engaged audience. These platforms range from a magazine, a blog space, an awards programme, a baby registry, a trade conference, an online healthcare professionals directory and an online video parenting programme. The list is endless, but MamaMagic has become so much more than an expo to the parenting community and businesses within this market; it is the go-to space for all things parenting in South Africa, highly recommended by health professionals and the community at large.
Collaboration, education, crisis management and advocacy are at the core of industry associations. Hence, I have always played a key role in the relevant associations in our sector. Exposure Marketing, since its inception, has been a member of EXSA; in 2015, we were a founding member and board director to AAXO, the Association of African Exhibition Organisers; then, I was elected Vice-Chair in 2017 and Chair from 2018 – 2022. During the pandemic, I was instrumental in forming the SA Events Councils, a collaboration of over 14 relevant associations, that drove the narrative of exhibitions and events as economic enablers to reopen the industry. As the spokesperson for the council, I have played a key role on national media channels and in government advocacy to represent the full impact of the pandemic on the industry and the importance of being allowed to reopen exhibitions and events. Through this collaboration of minds, we successfully got exhibitions and events back to business safely.
My passion for exhibitions has propelled me to share my expertise through my writing and speaking opportunities. It is an honour to work with local and international organisations and professionals, which has expanded my knowledge base. As a teacher at heart, I love the opportunity to create learning opportunities and share thought leadership for the professional and personal growth of the industry at large. I am a charismatic keynote speaker who connects with audiences beyond the content and truly enjoys the engagement from the podiums on which I present my knowledge and expertise.
My vast knowledge as an advocate of the exhibition industry and my priceless experience has laid the foundation for Exposure Marketings’ new business offering as an exhibition and marketing management agency. We now offer exhibition organisers searching for a professional, trustworthy agency to partner with in South Africa the opportunity to work with us and enjoy the benefit of our experience to replicate our successful formula for their local activation.
Company’s USP defines the differences between you and your competitors. Please tell us how Exposure Marketing sets itself apart from the competition by offering unmatched services to clients.
Exposure Marketing has been recognised for our excellent services more than once! We have won multiple marketing and exhibition management awards and are proud of our track record. We offer unmatched services to clients with a team of professionals who can be relied on to deliver consistently.
We take the time to understand clients’ needs and make sure that the deliverables are successfully met for each project undertaken. Our team of professionals is dedicated to your success, and we work hard to ensure that you get exactly what you need from us. Our innovative approach helps us stay ahead of the curve in this dynamic industry. Our full-service 360-degree exhibition management offering ensures that your exhibition consistently grows from strength to strength —from creative strategy, timeous service delivery, invaluable insights, and more. We’re dedicated to delivering on our client’s goals for their events—and we’ve built our company around that commitment.
We are a medium-sized agency that ensures a hands-on approach to our clients’ projects, ensuring they get what they need when they need it most. Our professional and ethical ethos precedes our reputation; hence we are well respected by exhibition industry stakeholders. In addition, we have a national footprint in South Africa and are proudly a 100% black female-owned business with a Level one Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment BBEEE rating!
What was your experience at your recent visit to the IEIA Open Seminar in Mumbai? Can you share with us the highlight of your session conducted at the event on “Maximising ROI for Exhibition Stakeholders?
It was truly inspiring to see the fast pace at which the Indian Exhibition Industry is building back. I was fortunate to meet and engage with thought leaders, business owners and young professionals from many member organisations. It was also wonderful to be part of the conversation on empowering women and the youth, who have the agility and skillset to organise and strategise core business activities to drive long-term business growth. More importantly, we need to see more women in the driving seat at the board level and ensure businesses follow through on the foundation that is laid at these open seminars.
As presented in my session “Maximising ROI”, the world has emerged from the shadow of COVID, and exhibitions have become an important part of many companies’ marketing strategies. Exhibitions offer a unique opportunity to interact with customers and prospects in a face-to-face setting, which had been wiped out during the pandemic and thus the reliance on other marketing channels to fill the massive gap in human engagement. However, post-pandemic, stakeholders want more value for less investment. To achieve this, you must be able to measure your ROO (return on objectives) and ROT (return on time) invested at exhibitions—not just your return on investment. Despite India being able to catapult business on the exhibition floor post-pandemic, the reality is that the market has changed. As organisers, we must be cognisant of our customers’ new expectations. We need to incorporate consistent research to gain strategic insights, embrace technology to bridge the physical and digital, show commitment to sustainability as the world shudders from the impact of climate change, and encourage customer engagement beyond the confines of the highly desired stellar exhibition booth.
Could you share with us how AAXO is dedicated to promoting the African exhibitions industry? What were some contributions you made as AAXO’s chairperson?
African Association of Exhibition Organisers (AAXO) is committed to promoting the African exhibitions industry, encouraging businesses to invest and participate in exhibitions, affording our members the tools and resources for successful exhibition management, and encouraging world-class industry standards. AAXO’s commitment is evident in its determination to connect organisers to a network of suppliers and create opportunities for growth and collaboration continentally. AAXO is a non-profit organisation that serves as a platform for African exhibition organisers. It provides its members with opportunities to learn from one another, share best practices for improving their events, and connect with exhibitors and suppliers interested in working with them.
Some of the highlights of my contributions as Chair of AAXO included successfully launching a mentorship programme, a career resource portal, and the student internship programme. In addition, it was inspiring to learn again as I joined ten industry professionals in the first intake for the IAEE CEM programme on the continent. The crisis the pandemic brought onto the exhibition industry forced us to collaborate to find solutions; I was instrumental in forming strategic alliances with 14 other event associations and founding the SA Events Council. The pandemic also allowed me to showcase the wealth of knowledge and information in the AAXO Agile Leadership interview series and opportunities for our members to work together and continue professional development through resourceful webinars. I have stood strong as the spokesperson for government advocacy and on national media during this trying time to ensure that the exhibition industry’s contribution to the GDP as an essential economic enabler was lobbied.
According to you, what would be the Top Marketing Trends of 2023 & how have marketing trends changed since the outbreak of the pandemic Covid 19?
There have been major shifts in consumer behaviour and expectations during the past two years. To keep up with this dynamic environment, brands must adapt their strategies and tactics. Whatever the marketing goals, you need to be cognisant of the following:
Customers want their experiences tailored specifically to them, so personalise the content. Mass emails or generic social media ads are no longer enough to grab attention. Use artificial intelligence to gather data about each user so that the content is relevant to the individual.
While video advertising has been around for a while now, people watch more videos online than ever because it’s more accessible thanks to smartphones, tablets and streaming services. Customers want information fast, and videos allow them to get what they want without scrolling through text. Make the content mobile friendly and easy to access from anywhere.
Social media continues to guide the conversation. There are many different strategies that companies can employ when using social media. Still, to be successful, you need an effective social media strategy that includes regular updates and engagement with your audience.
In addition, customers want transparent communication and are invested in building relationships and forming communities over brands and products they use. Marketers must focus on distributing information to make their audience feel part of a bigger story rather than alone and isolated.
Lastly, after the isolation during the pandemic, participation in exhibitions is a marketing necessity. It will continue to provide companies with a platform to connect face-to-face with customers and allow a full immersion of the human senses, creating experiences for personal engagement that will produce beneficial relationships, connections and communities.
What is your leadership style? What, according to you, are your strong points?
I am an inclusive leader and pride myself on leading by example. I value the people I employ, the industry service providers, and my fellow exhibition organisers; I am always open to their ideas and suggestions, collaborating and working together to find the best solution. The Exposure Marketing office is a warm and comfortable working space that allows our team to thrive and their expertise and skills to flourish; we believe in always celebrating everyone’s milestones, personal and professional. I am also an ardent mentor and thought leader in the industry, with regular contributions to media columns and interviews, keynote industry presentations, and master classes for the youth. I have built a business that has grown from strength to strength and has adapted to changes within the exhibition industry; we strive to remain relevant through innovation at all levels, from client service to digital marketing solutions we offer our clients today. I believe in keeping abreast of trends and developments via continuous learning programmes, conferences, and the knowledge shared by inspiring thought leaders worldwide.
I remain cool, calm and collected in the most challenging situations, and I am confident that there is always a solution to every challenge.
On another note, what do you enjoy the most about your work? Please share your hobbies; what keeps you busy when you are away from work?
Hobbies and past times are essential in making us holistically better equipped to work smarter and creatively and be more innovative in our solutions. I started my career in exhibitions when I saw a gap in the market to create a baby exhibition after the birth of my two children. Running my own business whilst bringing up two children was a challenging task. Still, the advantage of having an inspiring, supportive, entrepreneurial husband has made the journey in business and motherhood so much easier. As a woman in business, it’s always challenging to find the balance; but I’ve discovered that with a good support system in place, anything is possible. It’s never going to be a perfect balance, but it’s about knowing when you need to shift your attention to nurture the pieces of your puzzle that make you uniquely you.
I am an avid reader, and apps like Audible have made it more convenient to consume books quickly and be inspired by the mystical adventures, thought leaders and emotional rollercoasters that the world of books brings to our senses. I also love keeping fit and healthy; exercise is a regular part of my daily routine, either strength training, yoga, or walking. It’s great to manage stress, release tension, and keeps my mental health on track. On the artistic side, I enjoy sketching and pottery which keeps my creative spirit alive.
Ultimately, immersive experiences bring me joy, whether through travel, music concerts, art museums, live sporting matches, wine tasting, gardening, or cooking classes. The delight of the experience resonates with me. I replicate that on the exhibition floor by creating memorable, impactful experiences for the target audience.
How would you summarise the year 2022?
The excitement of getting our shows on the ground this year was palpable. The opportunity to stimulate business in different sectors by reigniting the exhibition industry was a ray of hope for which we all had been waiting. But it has been tough; rebuilding the industry presented organisers with multiple challenges. From securing suitable dates and venues, exhibitors moving budgets to other marketing platforms, upskilling and rehiring personnel, and convincing visitors to leave the comfort of their homes/offices and attend exhibitions, we have had to rebuild the foundation for our industry. The demand for exhibitions still exists, but the value proposition has changed.
What would you say to the industry if you had one message and one piece of advice to give?
Re-educating exhibitors on the opportunities and benefits of exhibitions is vital to get them to invest in them again. Stakeholders’ expectations are changing, and they want more value. The pandemic has significantly changed the landscape; what worked pre-COVID may only sometimes work now. We must engage with our customers to understand their new needs, how their companies have evolved, their new business environment, and the industry challenges they face to provide them with the right solution. We will not retain customers if we adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy.