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I realize that trade shows are all about sales, but given the economy, I need to extract every ounce of effectiveness each trade show has to offer. So aside from generating leads, sales, and brand awareness, what benefits can trade shows provide?

Trade shows put your company and its products face to face with customers and prospects, and 99.9 percent of the time, your main objectives are to generate awareness and ultimately, to make a sale. But if you only approach trade shows with sales and awareness goals in mind, you're likely missing out on countless opportunities.

Granted, you don't want to go into a show with a list of 100 objectives, as myriad goals can split your focus and ultimately limit your program's effectiveness. But to maximize your investment, consider adding some of the following non-sales-related objectives to your marketing plan. And of course, document any measurable results in your post-show report to management, to show the brass that your program delivers far more than a stack of leads.

Here, then, are seven things you can accomplish at a show - most of which are relatively easy and inexpensive to execute - over and above your typical objectives.

 Obtain customer feedback. Trade shows offer the perfect opportunity to query attendees on countless topics. Could your research and development team use some customer input for a new product in development? Are salespeople wondering what customers think of your company's recent product upgrade or how they rank its customer-service skills? Or maybe you'd like to know what attendees think of your new exhibit or why they're drawn to other in-exhibit product demos over your own.

You can answer these questions and others via in-exhibit surveys, informal polls, in-booth focus groups, product comparisons, etc. With very little additional effort, you could come home from a show with valuable data about some of your company's most puzzling problems.

 Gather competitive intelligence. There's no better place than a trade show to gather competitive and overall industry intelligence. By walking the show floor, attending seminars, and simply networking with customers and industry peers, you can assemble valuable data about everything from new competitive threats and industry trends to clever marketing strategies and up-and-coming leaders.

Attend seminars to see what challenges your customers are facing and what products and services are available to solve them. Walk the show floor in search of inventive marketing strategies you can apply to your own program. While you're at it, examine how your company's products stack up to competitors' and determine how they're comparing their products to yours. You can also make time to network with other exhibit managers to help solve your most perplexing exhibit-marketing challenges.

 Introduce employees to the industry. Most jobs require that employees have at least a baseline understanding of the market as a whole and your competitors in particular. And since trade shows are a microcosm of your industry, they're the perfect place to bring new employees up to speed and to introduce key individuals to the industry.

Exhibits, educational sessions, and after-hours events offer employees endless opportunities to meet key individuals within your industry, to build relationships with existing customers and prospects, and to soak up valuable information. So if possible, incorporate new company employees into your booth-staff roster, but place them in roles that don't require expert knowledge of the industry or your company and its products.

 Meet the press. While hosting a press event is a great way to meet journalists and relay information about your new products or brand image, simply initiating a conversation with them can give you an "in" with the publication long after the show - potentially resulting in significant media coverage for years to come. If you aren't planning a press event, make sure someone is available to talk with journalists who stop by the booth, and be on the lookout for press badges as you walk the show floor or attend networking events. Don't overlook a single opportunity to meet industry journalists, as it's likely the only time all year that you can talk with them face to face.

 Find partners and form strategic alliances. Not all opportunities initiate from exhibitor/attendee interactions, as some of the most valuable contacts you make can be with other exhibitors. By talking with exhibitors, you might discover opportunities for valuable product-related partnerships and strategic marketing alliances.

Make time during the show to talk to other exhibitors, either at networking events or by simply stopping by their booths, and you could come away with invaluable business opportunities that might have otherwise gone undiscovered.

 Provide customer service. Many attendees want to ask exhibitors about their product-related problems and concerns. Being available and eager to answer user-related queries at the booth - and having the right people on staff to do so - can go a long way to building your organization's credibility, satisfying your customers, and promoting future sales.

Consider having a "customer-service" area in your booth and/or assigning specific staffers to handle these types of customer questions or complaints. And as with all of your added activities, document your actions and include this information in your post-show report.

 Identify potential employees. Some shows are brimming with potential employees that just might fill your company's hard-to-fill positions, so consider adding "recruit employees" to your to-do list. But be sure you have an adequate plan in place to meet these recruiting goals as well as the rest of your marketing objectives. Unless head hunting is your No. 1 goal, you don't want it to distract staffers from their other priorities.

No matter what state the economy is in, you no doubt want to make the most of every trade show you attend. While you certainly don't want to add all of these objectives to your trade show to-do list, adding even one or two can dramatically increase the number of deliverables your program offers, not to mention its perceived value with management.

- Barry Siskind, president, International Training and Management Co., Toronto


I know exhibit houses mark up various materials and services purchased from other suppliers, but I feel like I'm being gouged with these fees. Are there any industry averages against which I can compare my exhibit house's markups?

The Exhibit Designers & Producers Association's 2009 Economic Survey provides average markups for the following six categories of materials and services.

 Raw materials used in construction/ fabrication - 82%
 Subcontracted materials and special purchases - 59%
 Subcontracted labor - 50%
 Install/dismantle labor - 29%
 Show services - 28%
 Transportation - 27%


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