Planning and Working a Trade Show

Trade ShowTrade shows like TV zombies are re-appearing from the dead. A few years ago many marketing specialists were predicting the demise of the trade show in an age of YouTube, expensive websites and webinars, which they saw as the trading booths of the 21st. Century.

But instead they’ve flourished, in spite of the cost of travel, accommodation and out-of-town per-diems for staff. It would appear that people still long for personal contact in an age of digital detachment.

However, it is a significant financial commitment and one that calls for serious consideration along with some creative thinking and guerrilla marketing to gain the most advantage.

A Checklist Before the Commitment

  • The most important criteria of all is one that’s often overlooked; are attendees likely to be your market?
  • Will other exhibitors be potential leads and prospects? If not, it’s the wrong show for you, no matter how attractive the venue.
  • Check out the seminar list. What are the topics? Ideally the subject and the speaker should both be in your purview.
  • Review the speaker list. Are these thought leaders you respect? Pick the ones you would love to spend time with one-on-one. Are any of the speakers among your businesses prospect hit list?
  • Schedule appointments in advance. If there are important people to see, don’t wait until you get to the tradeshow. Contact them ahead of time.
  • Portable display booths are horrendously expensive to buy or rent. Ask colleagues if any has a portable one to loan you. Check with your Chamber of Commerce to see if they have a booth rental program for members.

At the Show

Remember you’re never off duty. Work the lunchroom and any hospitality suites you can get invited to. While the seminar room is filling up, start conversations with the people around you.

Spot the trade media and go armed with a 60-second ‘stump speech’ that will get them interested in your story. Keep in mind that’s why they’re in attendance and your tale just might intrigue them.

If you book a booth a whole new set of considerations kick in. First go in person, rather than just sending an employee. Nobody can show the passion for your business the way you can. Secondly take as much stuff as you can; things like tables, fold-up chairs are charged out at ridiculous rates. Use your laptop to show your video and have it running on a continuous loop.

Tell People What You Do – Take along a banner stand or a sign – and on it make sure it tells people what your company offers. It’s amazing how many booths think it’s cool just to show a logo and nothing else. How many attendees do you think will take the trouble to ask you what you do in a room full of a hundred booths?

Never, never, stand behind a table or a counter. Don’t have a barrier between you and a prospective customer.

Follow up and connect. Every business card you collect deserves a follow-up contact with a small personal note that shows you remember them. Make notes on each person you meet as soon as you can – and before you forget those valuable tidbits of information that will be so useful when you reconnect with them after the show.

What tips do you have for working a trade show? Leave a comment below. 

Mike Wicks

Mike Wicks is the co-owner of Blue Beetle Books Inc. a custom publishing house, and Blue Beetle Creative Media, a one-stop shop for small business print and digital creative output.

He writes a regular sales and marketing column, along with small business feature stories, for Douglas magazine and contributes food, wine, and travel articles to YAM and Salt magazines.



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