Trade Show Management: 10 Lessons Learned
by PD | Posted March 30, 2016 | trade shows
In the thirty-plus years that I’ve worked here at the agency, we have participated in more trade shows and conferences than I can count. Foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, nutritional products, landscape design, construction, finance, chemistry services…pick an industry and chances are we have participated in one or more of its events as an exhibitor, an attendee or both. So naturally, the team and I have been thinking about how these old-school marketing opportunities measure up in today’s world, where digital rules the roost.
While the technologies of digital marketing have made it easier than ever to connect with colleagues around the world, our opinion is that trade shows and conferences will continue to maintain their position as viable marketing tools because of the unique interactivity they provide to buyers and sellers. They deliver a sensorial experience that is difficult to experience virtually. And as long as the buyers continue to participate, the sellers (and the marketers who support them) must, too. But while trade shows are full of opportunity, they are sometimes viewed as poor marketing vehicles with high cost and limited ROI. The truth is that with proper planning and execution, trade shows can be an important part the integrated marketing communications toolbox. Here’s a look at ten important lessons to consider when you are planning trade show participation.
- Plan, plan and then plan some more. Bring your agency in before you talk to the exhibit company – the former is strategic; the latter is tactical. Get your internal and external teams involved early to brainstorm everything from logistics to sponsorships, show traffic builders, booth duty, pre-show marketing and post-show marketing. Schedule regular meetings to cover all bases and refine as needed. The day before the show starts, have a session with your sales and marketing teams to go over details related to what you are promoting, show expectations, logistics, etc.
- Address marketing and communications right from the start. For our clients, we take a three-pronged approach to trade show marketing: pre-show, at-show and post-show. In each stage we look at how to best present the client’s messaging and differentiation across communications disciplines, typically with some emphasis on social media and digital. Pre-show mailings should focus on giving prospects a compelling reason to visit with you at the show. Don’t bring hundreds of copies of all your sales literature since much of it will end up in the trash. Focus on a single teaser piece at show and follow up with personal sales calls or emails after the show ends.
- When it comes time to build a booth, think warm and welcoming. No uninviting fortresses, regardless of booth space size. Be conscious of how and where you have private meetings. Many shows have meeting spaces available off the show floor, which allow privacy and let you use your booth area to concentrate on capturing leads.
- Your booth design should embrace technology and be a cool spot people want to visit, but don’t try to do too much in your booth. At a certain point , a large exhibit can reach a point of diminishing returns.
- Be careful in budgeting trade show expenses. If you can, budget on the high side since some of the soft costs for show services (freight, electrical, drayage, etc.) are tough to forecast and they typically increase year after year. Pay attention to where, when and how you ship your booth and your show materials – shipping to the warehouse is usually more efficient than shipping to the show site and often prevents wasted hours for your labor crew. Cost savings can also be achieved by contracting with your own freight carrier instead of your exhibit company.
- Once the show starts, capture every single lead you can. If it's a large show, dedicate someone to do this. Don’t worry about qualifying them at the show; you can have a team member work on that post-show. And don’t be reluctant to embrace students. They may not be able to help you right now, but they represent future customers and future employees. Welcome them now and you will reap benefits later.
- It’s called a “show” for a reason. Entertainment is a good thing, especially if it supports or defines your message. Your people are part of the show, too. So if your sales team is comprised of technicians, or you don’t have outgoing people to put out front, hire talent. Models and actors can create buzz and deal with low-priority visitors while your sales team focuses on key accounts.
- The show floor is only a part of the full trade show experience. Consider how you will handle hospitality and networking opportunities for your clients and your internal team.
- Don’t forget about the press; an aggressive PR program should be an integral part of your trade show planning. This could be as simple as creating a press release highlighting your show offerings. But when you have a good story to tell, have your agency schedule press interviews at your booth or even plan a press conference for maximum coverage.
- Close the loop! This is extremely important but you would be surprised at how many companies underperform in this area. I’ve seen numerous examples of shows cut from a marketing budget because they were perceived as underperforming on ROI, when in fact it was just the reporting that wasn’t working well. Closing the loop ranges from the simple (post-show debrief and report) to the detailed (lead qualifying and scoring; reporting ROI). Every single sales opportunity that comes from a trade show – be they RFPs, proposals, or orders – needs to be identified and reported. Automation software like Salesforce and Marketo are excellent tools for closing the loop and reporting ROI.
So that’s how we see it. I hope you find this information helpful – personally, I’m still trying to get over the fact that I’ve been here for thirty years.