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exhibiting 101
A Dozen Promo No-nos
Avoid these 12 common giveaway mistakes and establish a purpose for your promotional items. By Candy Adams
ift giving during trade shows happens for many reasons. It can promote goodwill, create awareness, communicate your key message, enhance your brand, thank visitors for their time, and stimulate memorability. Regardless of your reason for handing out gifts, tchotchkes, premiums, promotional items, or whatever you call them, giveaways should support your integrated marketing goals. So how do you ensure that you're gifting correctly and efficiently to obtain the maximum return on investment? You simply avoid the following 12 mistakes exhibitors make when it comes to giveaways.

1. Choosing your giveaway before setting objectives. Your exhibit theme or message should be supported by your premium, not driven by it. So set goals and objectives first; then, if appropriate, choose a giveaway to meet that goal, such as reinforcing a recent ad campaign or introducing your company's latest product offering.

For example, if your objective is to increase awareness, you might use an inexpensive branded item like a bag with a catchy slogan to generate buzz. However, if your goal is to connect with VIPs, then use a higher-quality item, such as a leather portfolio.

2. Ignoring your target audience. When choosing a promotional item, select something that will attract your target market. Pick things that your clients and prospects would keep on top of their desks.

To help you select an appropriate item for your market, consult your sales department. Salespeople work directly with your target audience and have insight into what they might like.

3. Selecting giveaways in a vacuum. Finding the right giveaway for your program can be a daunting task, but you shouldn't bear the burden alone. Use the collective brainpower of your staff and promotional-products vendor to devise message-supporting ideas for your exhibit theme and relevant giveaways. Meet with your creative department to brainstorm theme ideas. Scan the Internet for promotional items.

After coming up with some possible themes, share your requirements with your vendor. It can provide pre-, at-, and post-show tie-ins to reinforce your marketing message, and will identify promotional items that fit within your budget and objectives.

4. Miscalculating costs. In order to accurately compute total costs, you have to account for the per-item price in addition to the real cost of your giveaways, including setup, printing, shipping, and material-handling and storage costs at the trade show. To maximize your budget, take advantage of the quantity discounts offered by most promotional-products suppliers.

Vendors will identify the various "break points" for ordering, where the price drops based on the quantity of items ordered. Review the number of scheduled shows with the same theme or message, and then add up the total number of giveaways you'll need for all those shows combined. Not only will you have your giveaways for the year, but also you'll save a few bucks.

5. Using one-size-fits-all swag. Not all attendees are created equal in the eyes of the exhibitor, and not all gifts have to be the same for everyone who stops by your booth. Take into consideration the amount of business you might get from customers and prospects at a show, and tier the giveaways accordingly. For example, one of my clients hands out branded gift cards of varying denominations (between $5 and $20) based on the value of past and future business.

6. Giving everyone a promotional item. Whether or not you employ a tiered system for your giveaways, there's no rule that says you have to give everybody who visits your exhibit a branded premium. So unless your goal is purely name recognition, your swag doesn't need to be tossed out to every trick-or-treater or booth beggar who comes by with an open bag.

7. Breaking show rules. Believe it or not, there are rules on the distribution and reception of gifts at trade shows. Attendees' employers or industry regulations mandate some of the rules, while show management, the venue, and the venue's subcontractors dictate others. Don't ignore show management's list of prohibited giveaways in the rules and regulations section of the exhibitor services manual. These no-nos can include everything from helium balloons to messy foods. They also often forbid raffles, which may be considered lotteries or games of chance and, as such, are regulated by state gambling laws.

In the health-care industry, there are stringent regulations on gifts given to medical professionals at trade shows. Government employees attending shows may also be restricted in the value of items they're allowed to receive.

8. Distributing low-quality items. Tacky trinkets of little value won't foster a favorable impression of your company's quality standards. I've received everything from pens that leak to flashlights that don't work. And even though the exhibitors that gave me those items didn't make them, the poorly made gifts made a bad impression.

What's worse, cheap, low-quality tchotchkes will likely end up in the trash, rendering your investment obsolete. So rather than distribute items that are likely to reflect negatively on your brand, you'd be better off axing the giveaways altogether in the event you're unable to afford something better.

9. Failing to train staff on giveaway distribution. Include policies in your staff-training sessions so people know the gifts and quantities available, as well as the booth visitors eligible to receive the giveaways (especially if you are using a tiered system). One of my clients invited the 50 most valued customers to the exhibit to pick up leather portfolios as a gift. The portfolios were wrapped and stacked on a shelf in the storage room where exhibit staff stored their briefcases and laptop bags. Shortly after the show started, about half of the portfolios had already disappeared, presumably into the briefcases of the exhibit staff who were the only people with access to the closet.

By the time the customers arrived, there was a gift shortage. With a little education, the staff could have been made aware that these giveaways were for VIPs, and the company could have avoided the embarrassment.

10. Omitting your message or logo. I've seen companies use promotional items that have nothing printed on them. Others have the company logo, tagline, or URL in tiny illegible font. Neither option reminds recipients of who you are or what you offer, so identify the best way for attendees to get in touch with you (e.g., email, phone, website, social media, etc.), and print that info on your giveaways.

And make sure the channels of communication will work for all attendees. One of my clients printed an 800 number on a promotional item for an international trade show, and later realized the number didn't work when dialed from inside that country.

11. Piling up giveaway items on the reception desk. Setting out stacks of swag on the counter completely devalues it. It also limits interaction between customers and prospects and exhibit staff, defeating the purpose of giving them out in the first place.

Instead, devise a system for distributing items that allows staffers to qualify attendees. For example, you could display a branded giveaway in a locked Lucite box, and then require attendees to "earn" the item by watching an in-booth presentation.

12. Making your promotion a one-time shot. Exhibitors have three opportunities to reach out to their clients and prospects: before, during, and after the show. Mention your giveaway in pre-show mailers to entice attendees to visit your exhibit. Use your giveaways at the show to thank attendees for stopping by. Then, consider tying post-show communications to your giveaways to remind attendees where they got the coveted item in the first place. For example, let's say an accounting firm handed out branded erasable pens at a show. The follow-up communication could include the text: "Thanks for visiting us at the show. We hope the branded erasable pen is helping you cope with tax season!"

In addition to these 12 promo no-nos, remember a premium's purpose isn't to pad the show bags of attendees with branded baubles. Giveaways are powerful tools that, when executed correctly, can reinforce numerous marketing objectives. Now that's a gift worth giving (and receiving).



Candy Adams, CTSM, CME, CEM, CMP, CMM,
"The Booth Mom," is an independent exhibit project manager, trainer, speaker, consultant, and an Exhibitor Conference faculty member. CandyAdams@BoothMom.com

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