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trade show bob

Bob Milam, independent industry consultant, is a former EXHIBITOR Editorial Advisory Board member and a past All-Star Award winner, and a current EXHIBITOR Conference advisory board and faculty member. tradeshowbob@gmail.com


xhibiting at a trade show is a lot like throwing a party. When you plan a bash, you need to set up the space, organize the activities, and make sure your guests have a good time. But before you blow up the balloons, stock refreshments in the fridge, and welcome all those guests to your soiree, you need to do three things: Decide what kind of party you want, set your guest list, and send out the invitations.

The first step is always deciding what kind of party you plan to have, which - in the context of exhibit marketing - will depend on your objectives for the show. If you are looking for quality time with a few clients, your party will resemble a quiet affair among a few good friends. If you plan to celebrate your brand with a big bash on the show floor, your party may resemble the kind of bacchanal often reserved for bachelors.

So, with your next trade show on the horizon, don't think of it as just another exhibit. Plan yourself a party. To help you select the right style of soiree, here are three different types to pick from - each appropriate for a unique set of objectives.

The Dinner Party

A client of mine who will be exhibiting at the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo is planning to woo attendees one at a time with targeted sales pitches. When just one prospect converted to a client is worth anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million, it only takes a few deals to make the show worthwhile. Rather than dust off the welcome mat for the masses, this client is planning a series of intimate meetings.

If one-on-one conversations with targeted attendees sounds appealing, then you're planning the equivalent of a dinner party. You're not interested in tire kickers or casual acquaintances. This is a party for your top clients and prospects. Select your guests based on who you want to spend time with, and then invite them personally via mail sent directly to the C-level attendees or decision makers you want to meet. Include the promise of something of value (a premium gift or donation made to each attendee's favorite charity). Then confirm one-on-one meetings with those people before the show.

When attendees arrive, call them by name and invite those VIPs to a quiet place in the booth where you can have a conversation about their needs and your solutions. And focus on establishing a relationship, not just extolling your products' virtues. After all, this is a dinner party.

The Birthday Party

At the 2010 Pack Expo, held at McCormick Place in Chicago, label maker CCL Label Inc. of Framingham, MA, wanted to wrap up a slew of leads. So to get attendees to its booth, the company promoted its exhibit via an e-mail newsletter sent weekly to clients and prospects, along with a list of pre-registered attendees (obtained from show management). Attendees who stopped by the exhibit during the show were treated to various in-booth activities, giveaways in the form of personalized photos, and prizes, ranging from Starbucks gift cards to iPods and even an iPad.

In many ways, the approach resembled a kid's birthday party. The guest list was targeted without being too exclusive. There were games and prizes, and everyone got a goodie or two to take home. Some attendees even got special prizes.

If you're looking to collect a bushel of relatively well-qualified leads, following the birthday-party template may be your best bet. Sending out invitations can be as targeted as e-mailing your prospect list or as broad as placing ads in industry publications before the show. The key is to give attendees a reason to come to your exhibit so you can run them through the qualifying mill. In this case, the reasons generally include picking up a gift or two, and simply having a good time.

The Bachelor Party

During the 2010 International Vision Expo in Las Vegas, Revolution Eyewear
Inc. of Simi Valley, CA, threw a three-day party in its exhibit. There were multiple fashion shows each day featuring sexy models and nonstop techno music. And each afternoon featured a celebrity appearance complete with autographs and photos. Camera and video crews hired by the company worked like paparazzi, shooting the runway and celebrity events, and attendees' reactions to the spectacle. Booth staffers handed out fliers, and good old-fashioned buzz on the show floor drew attendees to the exhibit like moths to a flamethrower.

In a sense, the exhibit was a lot like a Vegas bachelor party. While you want your best buddies to show up, the reality is that everyone is invited to this bash - from the bald guy at the craps table whose head you rub before throwing the dice to the showgirls who kiss the groom on the cheek at 3 a.m. in the hotel bar.

The bachelor party is a great idea if you want attendees to celebrate your brand. The invitations are sent in the broadest ways possible: ads in industry magazines, banners outside the exhibit hall, or e-mails to the show's entire attendee list. Perhaps the biggest invitation is the buzz in the show hall. And while there's no need to hand out gifts - the party itself is the present to attendees - your booth needs to entertain all who come, giving them a memorable experience. Sure, you'll swipe badges, but this party isn't the place for long conversations; everything is done as fast as a tequila shot.

There are plenty of different types of parties, but before your next trade show, figure out which type of party you're planning, based on the objectives you hope to meet. Whether it's a quiet affair, an activity-filled shindig, or a blowout bash, setting the right tone and inviting the right guests will help ensure a successful soiree - and not a pity party.e

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