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small exhibits
iny. Wee. Diminutive. Puny. No matter what synonym you substitute for it, the word "small" usually carries a negative connotation. After all, nobody wants to be small-minded, small-talk is little more than idle chatter, and being called a "small fry" is only acceptable if you're still wearing Dora The Explorer underpants.

It's no wonder, then, that small exhibits get a bad rap. Particularly on a show floor bursting with behemoth booths, one might think that small spaces (i.e., in-lines fewer than 300 square feet) are less important, less potent, and less powerful than their bulky brethren. Well think again.

Small exhibits can also be mighty lead-generating tools, capable of scoring just as many badge scans and as much awareness as exhibits several times their size. And when it comes to driving traffic, success is less about the size of your booth, and all about what you do with it. If you can find something, anything, to make your small exhibit stand out from the crowd - be it a unique activity, a can't-miss giveaway strategy, or a truly fascinating exhibit design - a little-league booth can generate some major-league results.

To prove that bigger isn't always better, EXHIBITOR found five successful small exhibits, each one of which has some kind of "it"-factor element that exponentially increased its show-floor presence. These baby booths also prove that you don't need a biggie-sized budget to score super-sized results. You just need a little space - and a big idea.

1. Good Eats

It's no secret that all exhibitors want to leave a good taste in attendees' mouths. So at several trade shows serving the exhibit and event industry, Global Experience Specialists Inc. crafted an in-booth activity around a colorful, sweet treat: jelly beans.

Prior to each show, GES identified four attributes that describe its exhibitions, events, and experiences: imaginative, immersive, smart, and transparent. Next, the marketing firm devised corresponding flavors for each of those attributes, comprising various combinations of jelly beans. The idea was that attendees would select and eat these flavor combinations to create a taste sensation representative of one of the attributes - and that GES would make a lasting impression with each show's seen-it, done-it-five-times-myself attendees. For example, the "immersive explosion" flavor would be created by combining one green-apple jelly bean with two chocolate beans and a cinnamon one.

GES also sent attendees a pre-show email inviting them to get a taste of the new GES while outlining some of its expanded capabilities and luring attendees to explore delectable flavor combinations for a chance at a tasty prize.

When attendees arrived on the show floor, they found GES' 10-by-20-foot booth featuring the jelly-bean activity.

Staffers asked passing attendees if they'd like to sample some jelly beans and suggested they select one of four recipe cards. Each GES-branded, 3-by-5-inch card featured a description of a GES attribute on one side, and a recipe to create that unique flavor on the other. For example, the "transparent" attribute card offered the recipe on one side - namely three green-apple beans and one lemon-lime bean - while the reverse side read, "Engaging with GES means complete transparency. Working as your partner, we set clear expectations and regularly update progress so that there are no surprises along the way."

Staffers quickly explained all four attributes and asked attendees if they'd like to try one of the jelly-bean flavor combinations, or if they would rather mix and match the colorful beans to come up with their own clever concoctions. Eager to try a little something different, curious attendees stepped up to sample GES' combinations. In addition, many attendees got creative and came up with their own jelly-bean recipe. Booth staffers asked them to name their flavor and write it, along with the recipe and their contact information, onto a 3-by-5-inch card.

Attendees then guessed the number of jelly beans in a nearby jar and wrote down their guess on their card. (Those attendees that didn't develop their own flavor could also provide their guess and contact information on one of the cards.) Each day, the best attendee recipe (as judged by the GES team) and the person whose guess came closest to the actual number of beans won their choice of various GES prizes, including branded iPods and a prize pack from GES' own Harry Potter: The Exhibition (which was on exhibit at Boston's Museum of Science at the time). Nobody left the booth empty-handed, as staffers distributed small, white, branded tins of jelly beans to everyone that stopped by.

GES also sent attendees post-show emails thanking them for visiting and informing them of some of the unique flavors GES could add to their programs. The e-mail invited recipients to a microsite where they could sample recent GES projects.

The jelly-bean activity certainly left a memorable impression with the exhibit-warrior crowd - most of which are used to candy giveaways but not entire activities centered around the tasty treats. However, the activity also drew hordes of visitors to the booth. GES estimates its promotion generated a 33-percent increase in the number of attendees who were inclined to stop and talk shop. Pretty sweet, don't you think?

2. Lights! Camera! Aha!

With its design tentacles touching everything from the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL, to the Dubai International Financial Center, the Hok Group Inc. isn't exactly itching for awareness. The design, build, and strategic-management firm with 25 worldwide offices is a well-known force in myriad design arenas.

So going into the Greenbuild show in Phoenix, Hok wasn't looking to generate awareness, and given the dial-up-slow sales cycle on most architectural-design projects, it wasn't even hoping to gather leads. Rather, the firm wanted to show support for the Green movement gaining traction in the U.S. architectural community - a cause very near and dear to the company's heart. In fact, the firm has been heavily involved in environmentally friendly design and build processes for more than 20 years, and back in 1993, sustainable design was added to the company's list of core values. Thus, the company's presence at Greenbuild was an effort to promote Green design in general and brand Hok as a sustainable-design firm.

To that end, the company devised an ingenious interactive strategy for its teeny 10-by-10-foot booth. The space featured little more than carpet, a black pipe-and-drape back wall, a couple of black director's chairs, and a video camera. A logo-adorned banner across the top of the back wall offered the phrase "Share your green Aha!" along with the URL of Hok's YouTube channel dedicated to its at-show activity.

The main exhibit element, however, appeared along the side of the booth. Here, a roughly 4-by-8-foot graphic-and-monitor combo featured the tagline across the top and a roughly 32-inch monitor in the center. Text across the bottom of the lime-green graphic offered the Hok logo and its key service offerings, i.e., planning, design, and consulting.

During the show, staffers clad in lime-green shirts with the company's booth number and "Share your green Aha!" tagline invited passersby to hop into one of the chairs and share the "aha!" moment when they realized that going Green was important. Meanwhile, a staffer recorded their recollections via the video camera. The resulting videos were then offered throughout the show on the aisle-side monitor and later uploaded to Hok's show-specific YouTube channel.

After attendees had their 15 minutes of fame, staffers gave them a notecard with the URL of the Green Aha Moment YouTube channel, and those of five other Hok sites, ranging from the company's corporate website to its Facebook and Twitter pages. In addition, staffers explained Hok's commitment to the industry and to sustainability.

Throughout the show, more than 100 environmentally conscious attendees shared their "Aha" moments in Hok's 100-square-foot booth, whose entire budget was only a few thousand dollars. In addition, the videos are still live on the site today, along with a highlights reel featuring a compilation of some of the most interesting moments and a blooper reel of some of the funniest attempts.

While Hok didn't track leads or sales related to the show, its YouTube channel has since garnered more than 6,000 views, generating awareness for the Green movement and supporting sustainable design far beyond the confines of Hok's tiny booth.

3. Doodle Me Effective

For Zig Zibit, increasing exhibit traffic wasn't as much about an in-booth activity as it was about the exhibit design itself. At EXHIBITOR2011, the world conference and exhibition for trade show and corporate event marketing, the Raleigh, NC, exhibit house covered its 10-by-20-foot booth with a white-board-like material, upon which attendees, staffers, and an artist could doodle, draw, sketch, and communicate.

The white-board booth was crafted to help Zig Zibit communicate its creative capabilities and generate a much bigger presence than its 200-square-foot-space would otherwise afford. Plus, the company wanted to convey that every conversation it has with a new client starts with a blank slate. That is, rather than just tweaking past projects into workable designs for new clients, the company crafts custom exhibits from scratch for each individual client, taking the customer's parameters and unique needs into account.

On day one of the show, visitors to the Zig Zibit booth found a multitude of eye-catching elements. While the Zig Zibit logo and name appeared in green and black letters across the upper-right corner of the wall, a 42-inch monitor featuring images of Zig Zibit's work was imbedded in the center of the back wall. In addition, prior to the show's opening, artist Dan Nelson had drawn illustrations and accompanying text on the back wall.

Images included a cow/dog hybrid with the words "Hybrid Displays" on it, and a grumpy-looking gorilla in a cap and overalls with a "Material Handler" nametag hanging around his neck. Text included everything from factual messages such as "We design, build, rent." to clever definitions, including "min*i*mul*izm; n. 1. A sophisticated and esoteric art movement of the mid-20th century. 2. A good way for us to show that we are serious about your creative ideas." Interactive activities, such as a drawing space that instructed attendees to "Leave Your Mark Here," encouraged visitors to add their own unique touch to the existing artwork.

Prior to the show's opening on the second day, Nelson erased the previous day's work and started from scratch, this time creating images of traditional trade show and event scenes, with some of Zig Zibit's exhibit designs drawn into the artwork. Featuring everything from orange aisle carpet filled with attendees to an in-booth bar serving a host of visitors, the art spoke to the company's creative talents and trade show expertise. In addition, the show-floor masterpiece, which remained on the wall for day three of the show as well, included a hangman game that gave staffers a fun and interactive way to break the ice with attendees.

All in all, the white-board booth, which only rang up a bill of $20,000, not only communicated Zig Zibit's creative talents and illustrated its clean-slate communication strategy with clients, but also attracted 400 attendees to the booth, which was 30 percent more than the company anticipated. What's more, Zig Zibit scored six new clients as a direct result of its small but noteworthy exhibit.

4. A Sticky Situation

At the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association show in Las Vegas, H.B. Stubbs Cos. covered the back wall of its 10-by-10-foot exhibit with colorful Post-its. Hoping to generate attention at a show brimming with little booths - only three of the show's 109 exhibits were more than 200 feet - the Warren, MI-based exhibit- and event-marketing firm created an intriguing booth design that eventually revealed a hidden surprise at show's end.
Along with the company's logo and the words "Exhibits," "Events," and "Environments," the back wall featured 1,200 Post-its in blue, orange, and yellow hues. Each note also offered a printed word, such as "help," "laughter," "trust," "continuity," etc.

Drawn to the unexpected attraction, people were encouraged to select three words that represented things they needed. As attendees pulled off their sticky notes, tiny words were revealed on the wall underneath. Meanwhile, staffers talked with attendees about why they selected each word, opening a friendly conversation about their needs without ever launching into a full-on sale pitch. Staffers also explained that for each booth visitor that pulled off three Post-its, H.B. Stubbs would make a donation to Operation Homefront, which provides financial aid and other assistance to families of military-service members.

Although the company's strategy was more about forging and strengthening relationships than it was gathering a ton of leads, staffers eagerly opened business-based conversations for those attendees that wanted to learn more. Finally, staffers encouraged attendees to stop back near the close of the show, for as more notes were removed, the wall would reveal what H.B. Stubbs thought attendees needed most.

Intrigued by the tiny words already peeking through the bevy of notes on the back wall, myriad attendees stopped by the booth on day three to see what H.B. Stubbs thought they needed. Despite a few still-attached Post-its scattered around the outside of the wall, attendees could make out the word "respect," spelled out via a collage comprising the words from Aretha Franklin's "Respect" song.

Proving to HCEA attendees that H.B. Stubbs understands their needs, the clever campaign attracted 33 percent more visitors than the company collected at the previous year's show. Plus, at only $4,560 (including the booth space and all exhibit accoutrements and services), the Post-it note booth was bargain-basement inexpensive.

5. The More the Merrier

If you're looking for an almost guaranteed way to cram your booth with attendees, take a lesson from FranklinCovey Co.'s exhibit at the 2011 Society for Human Resource Management show. Despite its minimal 10-by-30-foot booth - a pipsqueak next to many other exhibitors at the show - the Salt Lake City-based consulting and training firm literally jammed its space (and the aisles around it) with people via a couldn't-miss giveaway strategy.

Every hour on the hour, FranklinCovey held a drawing for an iPad. However, to be eligible, attendees had to first register to attend an online launch event previewing the company's The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity work session. In addition, attendees were only eligible during the hour in which they registered, and they had to be present to win.

Launched in September 2011, The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity is a personal-improvement and productivity session (with a self-directed five-week follow-up) that is sold to HR professionals. But at the time of SHRM 2011, a course preview was available for free to those who registered. These registrants would become valuable leads for future product sales for Franklin Covey, and as such, the company's booth was solely focused on obtaining as many leads as possible.

FranklinCovey's 300-square-foot booth, then, was a giant registration station. During the show, attendees lined up to input their data into one of the 10 touchscreen iPads attached to a counter running the length of the space. Behind the desk, staffers eagerly assisted attendees in registering for one of the preview events.

Two monitors on the back wall offered digital timers, which continually counted down the minutes and seconds left until the next drawing. Graphics
across the back wall, which featured wood-grain laminate, offered The 5 Choices and FranklinCovey logos along with clear instructions to "Register for a complimentary two-hour overview and a chance to win an iPad every hour."

While staffers assisted attendees with registration, a bull-horn-equipped crowd gatherer offered a continual explanation of what was going on, and urged people to register and stick around for the drawing. At the top of every hour, FranklinCovey stopped the timers on the walls and cut off the registration process for that hour's drawing. The crowd gatherer quickly worked with the registration staffers to randomly select a name from the electronic list of registrants collected during the last 60 minutes.

Assuming the attendee was present for the drawing, the lucky winner walked away with an iPad, and FranklinCovey took home countless attendees' contact information. (If the person whose name was drawn wasn't present, he or she forfeited the prize, and the crowd gatherer kept selecting names until he found a winner.)

Although the cost of the iPads was considerable, FranklinCovey felt the expense was well worth the thousands of valuable leads it gathered at the show.†E
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