Interview with Mark Sykes

Name: Mark Sykes

Company: GES

Job Title: Executive Creative Director


What are the big trends in exhibition stand design?

Sustainability, global consistency and brand activation throughout the entire customer journey – before, during and after an event.


How international is the exhibition industry becoming?

Very – the need for our clients to attend globally connected exhibitions is ever more pressing, and becoming more and more challenging due to back to back events. With marketers working in different continents from week to week, organisers need to work harder to justify why companies/brands should exhibit at their event.


What is driving this internationalisation?

Global competitiveness is driving internationalisation. Our customers are from diverse global locations and they operate in global markets – they go where the business is. For them, exhibiting globally as well as locally demonstrates a commitment to the region.


What has been the best innovation of the past 5 years?

An exhibition is now far more than just the physical architecture of the stands and features. Engagement technologies, such as our own tool, Poken by GES, have revolutionised how visitors interact with brands on the show floor, empowering them to take control of their own experiences.


What are clients currently asking for in stand and experience design?

Personalisation – clients are increasingly concerned with the customer journey. They want to make sure that each touchpoint during an exhibition campaign is relevant to the visitor they are engaging with.


How are exhibitions and stand design staying relevant in a digital world?

We shouldn’t underestimate the physical and personal experience when engaging with customers. The digital world is another tool that helps clients get the best out of an event. In combination with the physical experience, it allows visitors to have more meaningful and memorable experiences.


What do you expect the next 5 years will hold for exhibition stand design?

I think the next five years will be even more exciting than the last. Designers and marketers will have more tools to engage with event visitors. The challenge is to not over complicate and overwhelm visitors – simplicity, be it digital or physical, is in my experience the best way to engage with your customer. A designer’s job is now part designer, part marketer, part digital creative… and part magician!


Do exhibitions get the status they deserve versus other marketing channels?

The exhibition industry is relatively underused in comparison with other marketing channels, but the face-to-face experience in an exhibition or event environment can be far more powerful and memorable.


What’s the best exhibition stand or event you’ve seen in the last year?

The best event I’ve seen in the last year by far has to be Farnborough Airshow – the largest global event that brings the aerospace and defence industry together. The event is enormous: attracting over 80,000 visitors and facilitating over $190bn in deals in just one short week. The big players in the industry exhibit on a huge scale and the attention to detail in relation to visitor experience and hospitality is second to none.


If you could change one thing about the world of exhibitions what would it be?

The perception that design is free. Good design has a real value and there are some fantastic exhibition designers that bring magic to every show.


Does stand size matter?

Exhibitions and events are no longer about which company is the biggest and spends the most, although it does help! Visitors expect to be entertained with a memorable, personalised experience unique to them. It’s all about engagement, measurement and how we utilise the latest technologies and trends to achieve this.


What are the biggest challenges for exhibition stand design and build currently?

Staying human in a world of technology. We are absorbing more information than ever before and increasingly becoming dependent on technology and automation, be it self-service checkouts, cars, machines making machines, news, social media… the list goes on. An exhibition is an opportunity to embrace the physical experience, meet, interact and engage, as well as an opportunity to disconnect! We need to be careful we don’t become over reliant on technology, which could turn visitors off if over used.


What does the future look like for exhibition stand design?

The future looks bright. Keep it simple, yet playful. Create curiosity to engage the visitor before they even participate.