The A to Z of Exhibiting

Whether your company sells tangible products such as widgets or cheese or intangible services such as web hosting or financial planning, the process of exhibiting is much the same. Exhibitors everywhere need to market their companies to targeted audiences both on and off the show floor. It seems obvious that every exhibitor should have a stand, but it may not be as obvious that every exhibitor also needs an exhibit marketing plan.

Exhibitors who expect to arrive at a show, unfold a pretty booth and make money may find they have lost money instead. Those who take the time to learn their ABCs, however, will have built a solid foundation for success. Our building blocks follow.

A plan is the first thing you will need. It should encompass pre-show preparations, at-show performance and post-show follow up as well as the budget. Allocating percentages of available funds to each step in the plan will help to assure that one aspect does not exhaust your resources.

Begin with your marketing objectives. These should be similar to corporate objectives and specific to the tradeshow. Will you be introducing new products? Will you be reinforcing the brand? These goals should be integrated into all of the exhibit marketing efforts.

Consider who the audience is for these objectives. Knowing the audience will guide you in developing successful marketing programs.

Determine which shows provide the best reach to this audience. Research the shows, obtain any available audits and if possible, attend them. Ask current exhibitors about their experiences. For a great list of shows in your industry, visit our web site at

Educate yourself about the shows you have chosen to participate in. Read your exhibitor kit. Note important deadlines.

Formulate a marketing theme that encompasses your objectives and excites attendees. Think about creating an experience on the show floor that will support the company message and stimulate the five senses. Tie all elements of the event into this experience, including pre-show promotions, giveaways and taglines.

Generate an exhibit booth that will enhance the experience. Many options exist, including pop-ups, modulars, systems, custom exhibits, rentals and hybrids. However, be cautious of making a custom exhibit too specific. Consider your objectives for the exhibit: Will it be used in more than one show? Will the configuration need to change? How will it be transported? Your exhibit house can assist you in creating an exhibit design that meets your objectives and your budget.

Highlight your message with clear, attention-grabbing graphics. Don’t overwhelm with too much copy. Words such as “new” and “latest” draw the interest of attendees, many of whom are present to learn about innovations in the industry.

Invite guests into your booth with an open, non-intimidating space, but control their movement within the booth through placement of walls, counters and tables. Directing traffic flow through different areas of the exhibit can expose current customers and prospects to your entire line of products and/or services and help to increase customer share.

Juxtapose your company message with a presentation or product demonstration that will increase attendees’ memorability. Remember to educate while you entertain. Attendees may remember the death-defying trapeze artists you featured in your exhibit until their own death, but unless the performance is tied into your message, they are not likely to remember your company.

Keeping your company in attendees’ minds may be a little easier if you offer a giveaway that will jog their memory as they use it. Like all aspects of your exhibit program, this promotional product will generate a greater Return On Investment (ROI) if it supports the company message. Creative and useful giveaways generally result in greater memorability.

Literature may also serve to jog a prospect’s memory, but only if it is kept and read. Much of the literature handed out at tradeshows becomes hotel room trash. Mailing your literature to prospects after the show increases your exposure as well as reduces your costs of shipping the material to and from the show. Of course, you will need to have some on hand to satisfy those who enjoy collecting collateral, but careful planning can reduce waste.

Marketing efforts should start before the show. Research has shown that a pre-show promotion can increase the number of visitors to your booth. If targeted properly, it could also result in more leads generated and increased ROI. Whether the promotion is distributed via direct mail, e-mail or some other method, it should tie into the theme of the exhibit to increase memorability of the company message and brand.

New opportunities for marketing your company at the show site are always being created. Sponsorships offered by show management provide a popular way to get your company name into the limelight. Options may include the convention lobby, show floor aisles and sections, seminars, breaks and networking events. You can have your company name placed on banners, cups, napkins, signage, and even stairway and floor carpeting.

Other opportunities exist through show suppliers. Literature stands, electronic kiosks, and shuttle and bus advertising are just some of the available options. You may even be able to buy advertising space on television broadcasts to the tradeshow floor, shuttle monitors or hotel channels.

Positive press can boost your credibility and exposure at minimal expense. Develop a strong media kit and newsworthy releases and send them to the appropriate media channels, particularly the trade press covering the show. Designate someone in the booth to handle press inquiries.

Quenching attendees’ thirst may also result in memorability and exposure. Hosting an event to which you have invited customers and prospects allows delivery of the company message in a relaxed setting. The ability to network with attendees in a comfortable, controlled atmosphere can help build a business relationship with the potential to last for years. The event’s theme, like all other aspects of the tradeshow program, should tie into the company message.

Recognize that your staff will also create an impression of your company. Whether at a private event or in the booth, you will want to staff members who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Share the show objectives with them and provide clear goals so they know what is expected of them.

Schooling staff on how to sell at a tradeshow may increase their performance in the booth. Selling on the show floor is a much different experience than selling in the field or over the phone. Knowing those differences and how to handle them will empower your booth staff. You may want to train them yourself, if qualified, or there are a number of professional trainers available who offer services as varied as on-site training and Internet sessions. Even experienced personnel will benefit from a refresher course on tradeshow behavior.

The pre-show meeting is good time to review these lessons as well as the expectations for the show one last time. Whether it occurs in the office or on the show floor, the presence of top executives may generate additional excitement and stress the importance of the event to staff.

Unless you enjoy the sinking feeling of having lost something very important, you will want to use a shipping company that is familiar with tradeshows. Your exhibit booth may have to arrive within a certain window of time to assure that it is unloaded from the truck and delivered to your exhibit space (the step known as drayage) to be set up in time for the show start. Carriers who handle exhibit transportation understand the importance of safe and timely delivery. In addition, they may offer preferred pricing for large volume clients.

Verify your plans for the Installation and Dismantle (I&D) of your exhibit. You may choose to have your exhibit house handle it, or go through an independent contractor, or use the union labor supplied by the general service contractor. Pre-planning may help avoid overtime charges through scheduling or more efficient setup and teardown. Be sure to follow local labor restrictions and rules as errors can be costly.

While leads are not gathered until the show begins, you will want to think beforehand about what information should be collected. Creating a lead card for the staff to refer to will help assure that they gather all of this necessary information. The lead card should also include a classification system for the lead’s urgency, i.e. ready to buy, ready in six months, etc.

eXpedite the lead follow-up process by making arrangements beforehand. Some exhibitors employ electronic systems that automatically e-mail the leads to headquarters or a fulfillment company which then sends out requested materials immediately. Others bring hard copies of the leads back and enter them into the database for follow-up. Some turn over a list of names to the sales staff. Obviously this last approach is the least effective, but surprisingly it is also quite common. Avoid throwing away the money invested in tradeshows by following up your leads.

Your job as an exhibitor doesn’t end after the leads are followed-up. Exhibitors should measure the results of the show to determine whether the objectives were met. Examples include: How many leads were generated? How many press mentions did the company receive? How many people brought their mailer to the booth? You can then adjust your tradeshow program according to the results.

Zap the information to your management in a brief, bulleted report reviewing the tradeshow program’s objectives and results. Put it in terms relative to the company objectives so management understands the strategic value of exhibiting. This will make both you and your tradeshow program look good.


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