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Don't confuse exhibiting with marketing!
Although your trade show exhibition goals should be a major component of your overall marketing strategy, don't make the mistake of substituting marketing planning for exhibit-specific planning. Creating and executing a strategy for your trade show exhibits is different in a number of crucial ways from general marketing strategy, and if possible you should consult with a trade show professional to be sure you're building the best possible exhibit. Think long and hard about your specific goals - the more detailed the better. Everyone wants to increase sales and generate more leads, but vague plans aren't going to get you where you want to go.

Don't get in a rut!
Just because your company has always attended a certain trade show doesn't mean that you have to go this year. Ask yourself if participating has really been generating good leads for your company. Perhaps there's a different direction you could go with the same marketing dollars that would provide a greater impact. You should always be evaluating and analyzing your objectives and outcomes to determine where adjustments need to be made. Don't ever get lazy or fall in a rut. Industries are forever changing - therefore regular updates to your exhibits and overall marketing strategies are always a good idea.

Don't forget to spread the word!
The last thing you want to hear one of your existing clients say is, "I didn't know you would be here." Before any trade show, be sure to develop a plan for contacting all of your current clients and letting them know you'll be in attendance. They may provide insightful suggestions on specific areas of your business to focus on. You can do something as basic as emails or press releases, or as complicated as contests or raffles, to build excitement for your exhibit.

Exhibit Design
Don't super-size it!

It's easy to get too excited and throw your entire budget into the next big show. Instead, be sure to plan carefully and allow your exhibit to grow and change as you get more comfortable with the process. If your company goes to lots of trade shows each year, make sure you're scaling your exhibits accordingly to get the most bang for your buck. You don't want to spend your entire budget on an event with low attendance - there may be a bigger and better trade show just around the corner. If you're new to trade show exhibits, start small and grow according to your comfort level as you learn what works. A small display may be all you need at first to get your message across to potential clients. Before investing in a larger exhibit, learn what is most effective for your company and tailor your exhibit accordingly - bigger isn't always better! Be honest with yourself about your objectives - you don't need to be the biggest kid on the block overnight. Is your exhibit big enough to effectively communicate your message? If so, then extra wasted space doesn’t impress anyone. Designing a huge exhibit for its own sake just makes your company look insecure rather than confident. Buying up extra floor space just to match your competitors' square footage does you little good if you don't have interesting information to communicate to your audience.

Don't sell yourself short!
Creating the right size exhibit is a skill that you'll develop over time. Although you don't want to blow your budget by making your exhibit too big, you also don't want to get lost in a sea of competitors by designing it too small. It will take some trial and error to determine just what's right for your exhibit. Remember that finding the right balance takes time, so don't beat yourself up if it's not perfect the very first time. Another advantage to starting small is that it puts a lot less pressure on your budget!

Exhibit Graphics
Don't make a mess!

Your potential clients will spend an average of just 3 or 4 seconds glancing at your exhibit before deciding if they want to learn more. It's essential to ensure the graphic design and overall layout of your exhibit isn't cluttered, messy or distracting in any way. It's vitally important to deliver a straightforward message at this point - it may be the only chance you get! An eye-catching display will draw clients towards you, whereas a clumsy jumble of pictures and words will only give them a headache and send them straight into the arms of your competitors.

Don't slack off!
This probably goes without saying, but make sure your booth is sparkling clean each day before you open. It's easy for dust to accumulate, and vigilance to slacken, as the trade show goes on. Stay a step ahead of the competition by keeping that "day one" shine on your exhibit all throughout the show. Make sure your booth staff knows who is responsible for each housekeeping job. This way your booth will look professional and dignified throughout the length of the show.

Don't wing it!

Exhibiting at a trade show is a different skill than anything else you'll do, so don't make the mistake of "winging it" when it comes to training the people manning your booth. They may work for you and know the company inside out, but do they know how to engage potential clients in this specific environment? Have they anticipated the likely questions coming from people who've spent the day analyzing your competition? Can they put themselves in the clients' shoes and see the industry from their perspective? Can they anticipate client needs before even being asked? It's not enough simply to know the company - your booth staff must be trained and rehearsed to make the most out of each potential client crossing their path.

Don't be shy!
You can't just wait for clients to come to you. Now that everyone is gathered together in one place, it's essential to gather up your courage and go introduce yourself! You need to be very familiar with your competition as well as the suppliers and strategic partners that may also be attending. Take this opportunity to size up your competitor's exhibits and jot down some ideas for how to improve your own space next time. Check out their products - perhaps there's an idea for a new product or direction for your own company. There's nothing wrong with introducing yourself to your competition and talking about their products. As long as you're upfront and honest they'll usually be happy to meet you and talk about their business. This is a perfect place for networking! There may even be a new potential partner in the building.

Don't let your guard down!
Everyone looks forward to socializing at the end of a long day. Be sure to remember that you're still representing your company, and loose gossip makes everyone look bad. You don't need to be told to avoid drama, drunkenness or hangovers, but we'll say it here anyway! If you're socializing with clients after hours, think of potential conversation topics ahead of time so you don't wing it and end up in a controversial discussion - this isn't the place for political debates! Keep things professional but light and everyone will go home smiling.

Promotions and Traffic Builders
Don't give away junk!

Everyone loves free stuff. However, tying promotional items to your specific products or marketing themes makes it more relevant to your clients and gives them a reason to remember you in the long run. Giving away promo items that have nothing to do with your company doesn't do much to drive actual business towards you. Use your imagination and give away items that are different from what everyone else is offering. A potential client with twenty-five new pens at the end of the weekend isn't likely to remember yours in particular. Do something memorable to set yourselves apart and your clients will notice the difference.

Don't get lazy!
At the end of a long trade show you probably can't wait to get home and relax. However, carefully packing and organizing your display will save you loads of hassle and frustration when it's time to unpack for the next show. Instead of rushing through the process, take a little time to ensure you're making it easy on yourself for next time. Don't end up being mad at yourself by getting to the next show and realizing that all of your materials are disorganized and in a state of chaos.

Don't squander opportunities!
Trade show exhibits are hard work, but it's all worth it if you generate useful leads that help your business grow. Be sure to have a plan for how to promptly and effectively contact your new leads immediately after the show. The last thing you want to do at this point is wait too long to contact them and have them forget all about you. If they were interested enough in your company to provide their contact information then they'll appreciate hearing from you right away with more details. Be sure to make the most of this new opportunity!

If you follow these tips, and remember to always think outside the box, you'll be virtually guaranteed to have a successful trade show exhibition.
There are many common pitfalls with running an exhibition that can be easily avoided.
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