16 July 2015

Sonja van Praag

Imbibe Show Director

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be in your current role?

Well I’m a bit of a mixed bag as I was born up north in glamorous Stockton-on-Tees to a Dutch father and South African mother, but we moved to Canada when I was 6.

I returned to the UK after University and started working for the Guardian in their advertising department. Travel is a huge part of my life so I only stayed a few years before heading to SE Asia for a year and then on to Australia to work for the Financial Review.

A couple of years later found me getting my dive master qualifications in Honduras before returning to the UK where I started on my hospitality career with Restaurant Magazine.

Once this was sold from the Lilley’s to William Reed I went on to run BBC Good Food Shows through Haymarket, and then Hotelympia at Fresh Montgomery amongst a raft of other things.. finally ending up at my spiritual home Imbibe!

What trends have you seen emerge in your sector in the last six months?

We have definitely seen a major shift towards craft beer, from both small and large brewers in addition to brewing/distilling your own liquids, from vermouth to cider.

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

Luckily we get to be on the forefront of new and emerging global brands which is great to see, constant innovation. Also, I absolutely love attending tastings for brands and regions for new clients and meeting the actual producers themselves.

What's single golden piece of advice would you offer to brands exhibiting at any trade show, and Imbibe in particular?

Follow-up, follow-up and follow-up. I once heard that 80% of clients don’t follow up the leads they get at any trade show which blew my mind so I think you need to get the processes in place to gain leads and then make sure you have a system and the man-power to follow them up.

For Imbibe in particular you need to have the right people on your stand who are passionate about your brand/product, as our visitors are extremely knowledgeable and curious so want to find out every last detail at the show. Also you need to bring your A-game as every year our exhibitors become more and more innovative. We’ve had vodka slushies labs, rooftop wine bars, and a shipping container… so you can’t just show up and expect our visitors to be impressed!

...and finally, after the frenetic rush of a show, where and how do you love to relax?

Always travel… I’ve got a weekend in Lisbon booked for after the show. There’s nothing that a Vinho Verde and a plate of sardines can’t fix!

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