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exhibiting 101

Candy Adams,
is an independent exhibit-management
consultant, trainer, speaker, writer, and an Exhibitor conference
faculty member.

henever a client asks me to recommend the hottest new trade show giveaways, I shudder. Then I ask a more pertinent question: "What do you want your giveaway to accomplish?" Any giveaway that doesn't have a concrete purpose is a worthless promotion for your company.  

Whatever you call them - swag, promotional items, adcentives, or tchotchkes - giveaways, like everything else in your trade show budget, must prove their worth and produce a concrete return on investment. Before even looking at catalogs or Web sites full of giveaway items, determine your strategy for them and how they fit into your promotional plan. For example, is your goal to thank attendees for their time spent in a presentation or demo, to build industry awareness of your product by having your logo seen all over the show floor, or to be kept on the recipients' desks to remind them of their experience in your exhibit when it comes time to make a buying decision?    

If you decide that giveaways are an important component of your strategy and will help you achieve your objectives at a show, here are eight tips that will help you save money and plan ahead for hidden costs.

1. Order early. Don't wait until the last minute to buy your promotional items and risk paying last-minute shipping charges and production rush charges, which can more than double your cost. I try to place my order about a month before I need the items, which usually gives my vendor adequate time. This goes for everything that you put your corporate logo on, from your exhibit staff's booth attire to press-kit flash drives. Ordering early also gives you time to carefully choose another option if the item you want isn't in stock.

2. Buy in volume. As a general rule, buying a larger volume of promotional products will result in a lower cost per item. For example, ordering 144 long-sleeved, embroidered shirts instead of 24 drops the price from about $38 each to $28. Look at your entire exhibit program for the year, or for an entire marketing campaign, and estimate your giveaway requirements to make volume purchases. Most vendors will provide a price quote on the quantity you request, but be sure to ask at what quantity the price drops and by how much. It might be worth upping your order to get the greater discount.

3. Get multiple quotes. I've found a large variance in promotional-item markups, so before you purchase a specific item, get multiple quotes from different vendors. Let your vendors know that you are getting multiple quotes (which is standard in many companies' purchasing policies), and ask for their best price up front. Bottom line, it's best to shop around a bit and make sure you're getting the best price available.

4. Negotiate fees. It never hurts to ask if the add-on fees, such as production setup fees, digitizing logos for embroidery, or rush charges, can be reduced or eliminated altogether. If you don't ask, you won't receive. I've seen setup fees for embroidered logos as high as $150, and other "administrative" fees for new clients. One vendor even wanted a storage fee to keep my digital logo for future orders. I generally walk away from vendors who are trying to nickel-and-dime me to death. But before you walk away, consider negotiating to see if the vendor is willing to eliminate - or at least discount - those add-on fees in order to win your business.

5. Be generic. Unless you're confident you'll distribute all of your swag at a given show, don't put the logo or name of a specific trade show on it. Keep it generic with your company's name, logo, URL, or phone number. That way, you can buy in bulk and use the leftover items at future trade shows, send them out to VIPs who didn't make it to the show, use them to reward first-time customers, or hand them out at your next corporate event. Whatever you choose to do with them, items that can be repurposed for other marketing efforts are preferable to show-specific items that are outdated - and essentially useless - after the show.

6. Be selective. If your show objective is to meet with customers or a specific group of target prospects, consider buying gifts only for these qualified attendees and not trick-or-treaters looking for free stuff. This can lower your overall costs and allow you to give something of slightly greater value that your target audience will really want to keep.

7. Identify hidden costs. Find out what all the costs associated with your item will be and factor them into a per-item, bottom-line cost. A client of mine gave away insulated coffee mugs in a different color each day of the show, however the company did not have sufficient exhibit space to accommodate the huge boxes in the in-booth storage space. The alternative was to place them in the general services contractor's accessible storage, and have the next day's supply delivered for in-booth storage at the end of each day. The charges incurred as a result of the poor planning significantly increased the company's comprehensive per-item cost.
Other hidden costs exhibitors fail to consider when selecting giveaways are shipping and material-handling fees, postage costs and mailing-list rental fees if you plan to promote your giveaways to attendees before the show, and the cost of additional booth staff that may be required to distribute giveaways in the exhibit.

8. Ship to your hotel. If your vendor is shipping your giveaways to the show via small-package carrier (such as FedEx or UPS), you can expect that the cartons will be unloaded individually. This means they won't be on a single bill of lading, since small-package carriers don't provide them, and you may have to pay a 200- to 300-pound material-handling minimum for each package at an average of $75 per 100 pounds (CWT).

Instead, consider shipping the items to your hotel's business center. Hotels might charge a per-package delivery fee, depending on the size and weight of the packages. But this fee is generally about $15 to $25 per package, which is much cheaper than material-handling fees at most convention centers.

You can also usually lower your shipping rate if you ask your vendor to use your corporate FedEx or UPS account number, if you have one. For even greater savings, simply pack your giveaways inside your crates as part of your larger exhibit shipment.

Although giveaways are often one of the first items to be cut from a trade show budget, promotional items that are targeted to your audience and objectives can be a valuable part of your trade show program. If you plan ahead, shop around, and negotiate with vendors, you should be able to continue giving without losing your shirt.e

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