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Exhibitor: West, a Thomson Reuters business Creative/Production: West, a Thomson Reuters business, Eagan, MN, 651-687-7000, www.thomsonreuters.com; Concord Promotions, Chicago, 630-893-6453, www.concordpromotions.com; GES Exposition Services, Chula Vista, CA, 702-515-5500, www.gesexpo.com; Corporate Edge, New York, 212-279-7200, www.thecorporateedge.com Show: American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting and Conference, 2008 Budget: $475,700 Goals: Increase in-booth product demos by 10 percent compared to 2007 results. Drive 15 percent more booth visitors through the presentation theater compared to 2007. Attract more than 1,000 attendees to an off-site event.
Convince 700 booth visitors to complete an Activities Card, which required them to participate in a series of in-booth product-information and product-demo activities. Results:
Conducted 4,081 in-booth product demos, an increase of nearly 18 percent over 2007.
Lured 296 people to the theater presentations, 20 percent more than 2007 totals.
Hosted 1,500 attendees at the off-site customer event.
Persuaded 752 attendees to complete an Activities Card.
s the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be bad. And that's true whether you're referring to chocolate cake, time on your hands, or even company and product awareness. Just ask the folks at West, a Thomson Reuters business, and a provider of myriad legal-information solutions.
Based in Eagan, MN, West is a direct descendent of three companies that are practically royalty in each of their respective industries: West Publishing, which began publishing law books in 1872; Reuters, the news and information giant originally founded as a telegram company in 1865; and information-provider Thomson, first launched as Thomson Publication in 1961. Between 1996 and 2008, these three companies merged, morphed, and realigned into a single parent company, Thomson Reuters, with several other industry-specific companies under its large umbrella, including West.
So given the royal triumvirate comprising its parent company, West inherited worldwide awareness practically from birth. Plus, West's products - and particularly Westlaw, its subscription-based online law-research tool - are as engrained in the legal-research field as Adobe Photoshop is in the graphic-design world. "We've been part of the legal community for so long and we have such longstanding products, that almost every law firm, law department, school, or agency in America already uses
some West product or service," says Kathy Granger, West's trade show director.
But therein lies the rub for West - especially at shows such as the 2008 American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting and Conference (AALL) in Portland, OR. According to Granger, "West's well-known brand can be like a double-edged sword when it comes to trade shows. Since almost all attendees already use our product, they think they know us inside and out, so there's no reason for them to visit our booth." But for Granger, getting these same been-there-know-that attendees to West's exhibit is key to continued sales.
Law librarians, typically employed by legal firms,
government agencies, and academic institutions, usually don't purchase West's products; their managers or CEOs do. However, librarians use West's products day in and day out to perform legal research, and to help co-workers perform their research, which makes them key influencers come buying time. "When it's time for companies to sign or renew a contract with West, the librarians can help swing the agreement in our direction," Granger says.
For West, then, educating librarians on its newest products or its enhancements or upgrades to existing products is key to maintaining its top-shelf status - and is the prime directive for its presence at shows like AALL. "For us, AALL is not really about closing sales on the show floor or increasing brand awareness," Granger says. "AALL is about making sure librarians know about our upgrades and changes to existing products and understand new products and services. If a law librarian embraces a product or service, he or she can recommend it to purchasers and then drive usage."
So going into the 2008 AALL show where West planned to launch Westlaw Tax, its new tax-law research tool, Granger knew she couldn't just build an exhibit and assume librarians would come. Rather, she had to create an engaging, entertaining experience that would give librarians a reason to stop by the booth and stay long enough to participate in one-on-one, staffer-aided demonstrations and large-group presentations - two time-tested tactics West feels are necessary to prompt this near-expert group to recommend its products. Plus, compared to 2007 results, Granger hoped to increase attendee participation in demos and presentations by 10 and 15 percent, respectively.
Always be Prepared
If this yet undefined experience was going to capture these elusive attendees' attention, Granger knew she'd need something other than her company's admittedly "very corporate" booth, a mainstay at AALL for the last several years. Problem was, management wouldn't give her a penny more than last year, and a new booth and likely added promotions aren't free.
Luckily for Granger's budget, inspiration for West's booth concept came via her internal creative team, which presented several thematic options. One concept, however, immediately stuck out like a world atlas crammed into the fiction section: Summer Camp for Law Librarians.
"A trade show is really a lot like summer camp," Granger says. "You go there once a year and talk to old friends you never see otherwise. People are eager to learn and do new things. Plus, summer camp is all about the campers, which meant the theme would help us engage attendees personally and take the focus off a hard-core product pitch. It also would allow West to present its products and services under the guise of survival skills every librarian must have, and with the 2008 AALL show in Portland, which is all about the outdoors, the theme was a perfect fit."
Working with her internal creative team, along with GES Exposition Services of Chula Vista, CA (which designed and produced a camp-themed rental booth), and promotional firms Concord Promotions of Chicago and Corporate Edge of New York (which provided creative inspiration and cost-conscious promotional items), Granger put together an integrated program that screamed "fun and playful" from the first pre-show mailer to the final evening event.
The campaign began when West sent U.S. and Canadian AALL members a pre-show mailer featuring illustrated images of grass, flowers, and pesky insects, along with an enclosed ticket to West's customer-appreciation event on the show's second night. Text on the exterior of the tri-fold mailer invited recipients to "A summer camp for the expert law librarian." Inside the mailer, attendees found a note from West's president and CEO inviting recipients to the booth and event, along with "The Librarian Camp Song," a three-verse ditty set to the tune of "The Happy Wanderer."
Once they arrived at the show, attendees found a summer camp themed door hanger on their hotel room doors. Featuring the same illustrations from the mailer, the door hangers invited attendees to the booth to register to win a $10 coffee-house gift card, 10 of which were given out daily. To enter, attendees needed to bring the door hanger to the booth and participate in a Westlaw Tax demo. After the show, West notified the 30 winners of the daily drawings by e-mail, and later sent the gift cards via mail, providing the opportunity for additional product follow-up between staff and attendees.
Word of West's summer camp also reached attendees via the show daily, which was wrapped with a different West-designed bellyband each day of the three-day show. While all of the bands featured the theme's familiar grass-and-insects illustration, each had a different headline, such as "Hike Over to the West Booth #730" and "Welcome to the Librarian Summer Camp."
The bands on day one and two of the show included a different set of fun, camp-inspired trivia questions. For example, one bellyband asked "How many mosquitoes does it take to keep you up all night?" and "What do you
do when your marshmallow catches on fire?" (The third day's band merely thanked people for attending and included a "see you next year" message.) Additional text on the first two bands instructed attendees to visit the booth and answer the questions to receive a prize, which turned out to be an organic tube of lip balm on day one, and a granola bar on day two.
The Lay of the Land
Once law librarian attendees hit the show floor at AALL, they couldn't help but notice the image of a mountain sticking up out of the far right corner of the exhibit hall. Featuring an image of Oregon's Mount Hood, this 16-foot-tall semi-transparent scrim tied West's theme to the show's Oregon locale, and offered the company's salespeople and on-site staff a clever catchphrase to help attendees find the booth: "Our summer camp is conveniently located at the base of Mount Hood."
As attendees approached the booth, they found a one-of-a-kind summer camp environment, rather than the dry corporate booth they'd come to expect from West. Comprising two adjacent booth spaces, West's exhibit included a 40-by-50-foot main structure featuring 16 different product/activity stations, and a 30-by-40-foot space covered by a canvas tent, called the Tech Tent, which acted as West's presentation theater.
The main exhibit included artificial turf-like flooring, a picnic table (complete with a cooler and checkered tablecloth), a totem pole, and various faux furnishings including an outhouse (used for storage), a fire pit, and a wooden bridge crossing a brilliant-blue fabric river. Sixteen kiosks, each staffed by a West employee, continued the rugged outdoor theme. At each one, traditional laminate counters were accompanied by natural-wood posts, each pair of which supported product identifiers whose letters were crafted with a wood-burning technique. To complement the theme, GES scattered the main exhibit with live pine trees that gave off an instantly recognizable great outdoors aroma.
Meanwhile, West filled the Tech Tent with long wooden benches, an inoperative wood-burning stove, and hanging lanterns, while a front-and-center presentation stage featured a podium and presentation screen. Illustrated pine tree images appeared on eight fabric banners suspended around the tent's exterior, and a raw wood reception counter served as the check-in point for knowledge-hungry attendees. West offered product presentations every 30 minutes throughout the duration of the three-day show.
Enchanted by the visual and olfactory allure of the booth space, visitors quickly made their way to the information desk in the main exhibit to inquire about camp activities. Staffers, aka camp counselors, handed attendees Tech Tent Schedules and a Summer Camp Activities Card and gave them a thorough overview of the summer camp experience ahead of them.
The Tech Tent Schedule listed a total of 26 education sessions, and each listing also included information about which type of camper would find the content most relevant (e.g. legal, government, academic, corporate, or all librarians). Staffers explained that during each session, presenters would interject questions (some product based and some pure fun) and accept attendee responses via an automated-response system. At the end of each session, the person with the top score (or persons in the case of a tie) would be entered into a raffle to win a $200 gift card from The North Face at the end of the show.
The technology-aided tactic not only kept attendees alert during each presentation, but it also allowed presenters to drive home key messages by quizzing attendees throughout. To keep attendees from wandering off in the middle of presentations, staffers promised branded "souvenirs" - such as a tote bag, flash drive, or $10 gas card - would be handed out to participants at the end of each educational session.
Staffers at the information desk also explained that attendees' Activities Cards would serve as their field guides during the camping experience. One side of each card was printed with the thematic grass-and-insects illustration along with descriptions of the 19 product-related kiosks offered throughout West's adjacent booth spaces. Like the educational-session descriptions, each kiosk description also indicated to which segment - legal, academic, government, corporate, or all of the above - that product demo was most suited. The opposite side of the card featured a whimsical illustrated map of the company's main exhibit, including each kiosk as well as clever landmarks, such as the bonfire pit, the outhouse, and Mount Hood, to help attendees navigate the space.
Before attendees set off on their adventure, staffers explained that to obtain a complimentary multi-tool (a nifty flashlight and road-side warning light paired with a series of utility-tool attachments) campers had to earn seven points. Participating in a product demonstration would earn them one point, and a Tech Tent presentation qualified as two. Campers could choose freely among any of 19 activities, and after completing each one, a staffer would initial that activity's description on their card.
Furthermore, West promised to make a $5 donation to the National Arbor Day Foundation in the name of each AALL attendee that completed his or her Activities Card and exchanged it for a multi-tool. To symbolize this gift - and provide attendees with a parting arts-and-crafts activity - attendees were invited to color in a flower on a black-and-white wall mural beneath the heading "Librarians make the world a little greener," near the redemption station at the back of the booth.
Blazing the Trail
Armed with instructions, an Activities Card, and a Tech Tent Schedule, eager campers set off on their own summer camp experience - each visiting the stations and presentations they personally found most useful.
But attendees didn't just pop around the booths like a bunch of skittish fireflies. Enthralled by the amusing theme, and somewhat perplexed by the amount of information they didn't know about West, they maneuvered more like water-logged toads, moving slowly from one station to the next. In fact, attendees spent at least five to 10 minutes at each kiosk activity and a whopping 20 minutes at each Tech Tent presentation. All told, Granger estimates that attendees spent an average of 70 minutes in the company's booths. Granger also noted that this year's theme had some attendees returning multiple days to complete their cards and obtain a multi-tool - and some attendees completed a second one by participating in entirely different activities.
West's summer camp experience, however, didn't stop with the exhibit space. Rather, it carried over into West's annual at-show hospitality event, to which all pre-registered attendees were invited. West provided tickets via its pre-show mailer, and a limited number were also available in the booth. Held at the nearby Hilton Grand Ballroom from 7 to 9:30 p.m. the second day of the show, the event included a live band and camp-inspired fare, such as hot dogs and s'mores-flavored cheesecake.
Event attendees could have their photo taken at one of three photo stations, complete with outdoor backgrounds and silly props, such as a giant faux fish. Staffers clad in "camp counselor" T-shirts and wearing gym-teacher-style whistles around their necks printed the photos on site and slipped them into custom frames featuring a nature scene and Mount Hood sticking up across the top. And to send AALL attendees away with a reminder of their camping experience, West gave them a battery-operated lantern/flashlight/radio combination as a parting gift.
While the engaging theme prompted hoards of attendees to camp out in West's booth throughout the show, it also produced some seriously successful metrics. A whopping 752 attendees completed their Activities Cards (7 percent over the company's original goal) - prompting West to donate $3,760 to the National Arbor Day Foundation. The company also conducted 4,081 product demos, nearly double its objective.
Similarly, West bypassed its goal for Tech Tent presentations by 5 percent, as 296 people attended at least one of the presentations. Even the hospitality event exceeded expectations. While West hoped 1,000 people would attend, the event drew 1,500 attendees (roughly 75 percent of the conference's total attendance) - an increase Granger attributes to the campy pre-show mailers and the overall jovial atmosphere of the booth.
Although staff and attendee interaction may not have been a driving force behind the theme, it was a valuable secondary effect not lost on Sizzle Awards judges. "Surely this spot-on theme would have lured librarians out of their comfort zone and convinced them to participate in the product demos," judges said. "But it also allowed for a non-threatening conversation between attendees and staff throughout the booth and at the off-site event."
While you might think Granger's thematic program broke the bank, it actually cost less than her 2007 program. "We cut costs by renting a booth from GES instead of shipping our corporate exhibit to the show, thereby saving us shipping, drayage, and some I&D costs, and by using camping fare rather than traditional catered food at our evening event. As a result, despite the fact that we spent more than normal on themed elements (mailers, door hangers, Activities Cards, etc.), we still came out slightly under budget," Granger says.
Cost effective, education driven, and full to bursting with fun skill-building activities, West's exhibit was the perfect summer camp experience. Minus the mosquitoes, the ants, and the sunburn - and given its stellar results on multiple fronts - both attending campers and West staffers couldn't ask for more. E