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Exhibitor: MG Design Associates
Design Associates, Pleasant Prairie, WI, 262-947-8890,

Budget: $238,000
 Increase the number of badges swiped in the booth compared to the previous year.
 Entice 30 prospects, clients, and members of the press to attend an off-site VIP dinner event.
 Generate press mentions.
 Secure two RFPs.

Increased the number of badges swiped by 26 percent over the previous year's exhibit.
Lured 41 prospects, clients, and members of the press to the off-site VIP dinner.
Garnered five press mentions, including the front page of the business section in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Secured six RFPs as a direct result of the integrated program.

hampagne-infused chocolate-covered strawberries. Bruschetta á la Toscana. Tiramisu parfaits with mascarpone mousse and Frangelico-scented espresso. No, these aren't items off the menu at Chef Mario Batali's Manhattan restaurant, Esca. They are the items MG Design Associates served booth visitors during EXHIBITOR2008, the world conference and exhibition for trade show and corporate event marketers, held each year at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

Far beyond typical trade show fare, these culinary creations weren't only meant to satisfy passing attendees' sweet tooths. They were an essential component of an integrated exhibit-marketing program designed to increase booth traffic, generate press coverage, and secure a minimum of two requests for proposal (RFPs).

With those goals in mind, MG Design developed a delectable promotion to show attendees that it was a veritable idea pantry stocked with the exact "ingredients" required to pull off a blue-ribbon-worthy trade show program that would make even Gordon Ramsay proud.

Come and Get It

MG Design figured attendees would likely encounter a range of marketing tactics - not to mention a barrage of sales pitches - on the show floor, so it decided to go for a soft-sell approach and focus more on casual, face-to-face conversation. But MG Design didn't want casual conversation to mean boring meeting rooms and blasé brochure stands, so it began thinking about the one place notorious for gathering people for light conversation in a casual setting - the kitchen.

"Bringing a kitchen onto the show floor made perfect sense to us," says Marci Banks, director of marketing at MG Design. "At any party, the kitchen is often where the liveliest conversations happen."

With the kitchen theme at the core of its program, MG Design got to work developing the booth - coined the Idea Kitchen - and other elements, including pre- and post-show mailers, in-booth kitchen and cooking demonstrations, and an off-site VIP event at the Creative Cooking School of Las Vegas.

Recipe For Success

The appetizing experience all began with a multi-part pre-show campaign that stood out amid the smorgasbord of other pre-show collateral like a wedge of Camembert on a tray full of Kraft singles.

Kitchen Confidential
MG Design Associates' kitchen-inspired theme wasn't just show. It featured a working refrigerator, stove top, sink, and microwave. The Idea Kitchen provided everything the three chefs from the Creative Cooking School of Las Vegas needed to whip up tasty snacks for attendees - served with a side of MG Design's key brand messages.

For starters, MG Design sent a 5-by-7-inch tri-fold mailer, designed to look like a stainless-steel refrigerator, to 1,500 pre-registered attendees. An image of a bright yellow Post-it Note was on one of the panels, "attached" to the fridge door with a strawberry magnet. The note read, "Come see what we are whipping up at EXHIBITOR2008."

The inside center panel of the mailer gave recipients their just desserts - a scratch-and-sniff image of tiramisu. MG Design hoped the tasty-smelling appe-teaser would entice attendees to waft over to its booth when they arrived on site.

In addition to the refrigerator mailer, MG Design sent an e-mail to the same pre-registered attendees approximately 11 days before the show with the subject line: Success is all in the seasoning. The text of the e-mail read, "The right combination of ingredients expertly combined makes all the difference. Come see the creative recipes we're cooking up. Visit MG Design in Space 445 for a sweet experience." The e-mail also contained a link that recipients could click if they wanted to set up a meet and greet - or in this case, meet and eat - with MG Design account executives, nicknamed MG Design Idea Chefs, during the show.

MG Design then sent a final pre-show e-mail a week later to remind attendees to visit the MG Design Idea Kitchen, and once again provided the link to schedule an appointment with one of the company's Idea Chefs.

What's Cooking?

For the main course of MG Design's integrated program - the in-booth Idea Kitchen - the company fabricated a fully functional kitchen with all the fixin's for its exhibit, starting with a 19-by-16-foot back wall that featured a refrigerator, sink, cabinets, and microwave. Three shelves to the right side of the microwave held 18 clear-glass jars containing various dry goods and cooking oils. All of the jars were labeled with tongue-in-cheek buzz words that were just as likely to come out of the mouth of Rachel Ray as they were any exhibit manager sending out an RFP. MG Design chose words it associated with innovation and idea generation, such as "creative juice" on a bottle of cooking oil, "kernel of an idea" for a jar of dried corn kernels, and "deal sweetener" on a canister of powdered sugar.

Running parallel to the back wall was a 16-foot-long counter complete with a two-burner range on one end and three stationary bar stools on the other. Two virtual grill stations - counter tops with 42-inch plasma screens on the surface playing looping video of burning coals - filled out the booth space, each with a second, vertical 42-inch plasma screen and set of two stationary bar stools. The vertical plasma screens, which were housed inside a tower fashioned to look like an oven, displayed MG Design's capabilities and portfolio.

The hip kitchen, with its plasma screens, stainless-steel appliances, and robin's-egg blue and brown color scheme, looked like something straight out of the pages of Food & Wine magazine. But MG Design knew it would take more than a beautiful exhibit to wow the discriminating palate of attendees at EXHIBITOR2008. It needed to figure out a way to get attendees to stay in its booth. So it decided to emulate the format of the wildly popular cooking shows such as "Emeril Live" on the Food Network, and create that interactive, casual atmosphere in its booth. "When you have an interactive exhibit, people stop, watch, listen, and participate," Banks says. "It's all about creating a meaningful connection that people will remember after the show."

SWF content goes here.

You Got Served

Figuring it couldn't get the likes of Emeril Lagasse - and wanting to keep the focus on MG Design's capabilities as an exhibit house rather than create a foodie frenzy on the show floor - the company hired three chefs from the Creative Cooking School of Las Vegas to cook up a storm in the Idea Kitchen. MG Design worked with the chefs and the school to come up with three food items that exemplified the Idea Kitchen tagline, which appeared in press releases and pre-show mailers: unique ingredients creatively combined to deliver tasty results. They came up with a menu of champagne-infused chocolate-covered strawberries, bruschetta, and tiramisu, because all three items contained seemingly disparate ingredients (such as alcohol and chocolate, tomatoes and crostini, and rum and mascarpone) that come together to produce a delicious result.

But it wasn't enough to quietly whip up the dishes, simply set the food on a tray, and lazily serve it to passersby. MG Design wanted to create a more sensorial and experiential cooking experience and incorporate its key messages into the cooking demonstrations, so it provided the chefs with a script to follow while they demonstrated how to make the three items. For example, after crowd gatherers ushered attendees into the booth to watch the demonstrations, one of the chefs said, "A truly great recipe creates an experience to be remembered. The team at MG Design starts by combining creative inspiration and unconventional solutions to deliver exceptional exhibits from spicy and sassy to smooth and sweet."

While the chefs cooked, they solicited help from the audience with certain tasks and encouraged them to taste test works in progress. This back-and-forth bantering, a la Emeril and his audience during his live cooking show, kept the audience engaged - and out of other exhibitors' booths - for the duration of the demos. Two cameras positioned throughout the booth added to the live cooking-show ambiance, as they captured footage displayed in real time on a 42-by-172-inch fabric scrim on the back wall so everyone in the Idea Kitchen could see the appetizing action.

As each demonstration was nearing its end, the chefs handed out samples of the strawberries, bruschetta, or tiramisu, and told attendees to "meet with your MG Design Idea Chef to learn how MG Design can cook up creative solutions for you." At that point, MG Design account executives escorted interested attendees to one of the virtual grill stations, where they could grab a recipe card for the food they were sampling, and view the company's capabilities and portfolio on one of the plasma-screen ovens. The account executives, which were decked out in MG Design-branded black polo shirts and aprons, took down notes on lead forms that looked like order pads straight out of a diner. And just five to 10 minutes later, the next cooking demonstration fired up.

The ongoing presentations meant that, just like the drama-fueled spats between contestants on the television show "Top Chef," something was always cooking in the Idea Kitchen. And because the three food items were on a rotating schedule, MG Design gave attendees a tasty incentive to keep returning to the booth for seconds, thirds, and fourths.

The returning attendees also meant MG Design staffers had an opportunity to make yet another connection. "Guests feel at home and relaxed in the kitchen, and when there is food around for tasting, they enjoy staying to nibble," Banks says. "We wanted to bring attendees into this type of comfortable, familiar environment and then have the opportunity to converse with them for a good amount of time."

To top it off, attendees who visited MG Design's booth received post-show mailers that consisted of a packet of spice along with a "recipe for success." Calling for ingredients such as "1 dedicated team (for best results use whole, not separated)," "2 cups hands-on expertise," and "1 cup unconventional thinking," the recipe card and spice-packet mailer reinforced MG's key messages and tied up the integrated marketing campaign tighter than Julia Child trussed a Thanksgiving turkey.

Savor the Flavor
Chefs served attendees samples of the food they prepared during each demonstration. If you were unable to catch the live cooking-show action at MG Design Associates' Idea Kitchen during EXHIBITOR2008, you can view the cooking demonstrations online at www.ExhibitorWebLinks.com.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

In addition to serving tasty vittles to anyone that visited the Idea Kitchen and watched a cooking demonstration, MG Design hosted an off-site dinner to butter up its top clients, prospects, and various members of the press. Three weeks prior to the show, MG Design sent each VIP a dinner invitation. Accompanied by an MG Design-branded chef's hat, the 9-by-6-inch invitation was fashioned after a café menu.

Two paper inserts placed back to back contained the details of the dinner, which was held at the Creative Cooking School of Las Vegas on the second night of the show. The inserts also contained dinner details, including a menu for the evening's Italian meal and a personalized invitation addressing the attendee as Chef and formally requesting his or her presence at the event.

Upon submitting an R.S.V.P. online, attendees received instructions to meet at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, where shuttle buses waited to take them to the cooking school. There, an MG Design staffer greeted each of them and gave them name badges with not only the attendee's name, but also the name of a spice. The spice names were used to identify which cooking group each attendee belonged to once they arrived at the cooking school.

Because of its focus on idea generation and collaboration, MG Design felt a cooking school could offer the perfect off-site experience to match its Idea Kitchen booth theme to a tea, and the Sizzle Awards judges agreed. "The hospitality event was a really great opportunity to put prospects, customers, and staff together in a fun experience, but the best part is that the event tied to the overall theme," one judge commented. "They could have held an event at the House of Blues and handed out chef's hats. But this activity was spot on."

Cooking classes are usually interactive and educational, which is exactly what MG Design wanted for its 41 VIP attendees. Plus, 14 MG staffers attended the two-and-a-half-hour event, which provided additional face time with each attending VIP in a casual setting. It also gave staffers an opportunity to plug the main course of the integrated program - the Idea Kitchen.

Well Done

After the VIP dinner and three straight days of welcoming people to the Idea Kitchen, MG Design's casual, interactive approach paid off. "Our goal was to draw exhibit managers into our exhibit and demonstrate that if we could capture their attention and entertain them, we could do the same for their target audiences," Banks says. In addition to a packed off-site event, the Idea Kitchen served food to more than 1,500 attendees and generated a 26-percent increase in leads compared to the previous year.

But this was no flash-in-the-pan integrated program, and the results of the Idea Kitchen are still pouring in. The booth received five press mentions during the show in industry publications such as Exhibit Builder, Exhibit City News, and Exhibitors Daily, as well as a mention in Corporate EVENT magazine and front-page coverage in the business section of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In addition to the glowing press, MG Design account executives are currently working on six RFPs it received as a direct result of the show.

At first glance, an exhibit and a kitchen seem to have little in common. But MG successfully combined the two, and as one judge put it, "A booth can and perhaps should be like a kitchen, where people gather for food and friendly conversation, not a hard-core sales pitch."e

Lena Valenty, managing editor; lvalenty@exhibitormagazine.com

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