Monday Mornings with Madison



Economic downturns hit trade shows hard.  After 9/11, for example, trade shows struggled to make a comeback.  With the current recession, trade shows are again struggling with attendance and booth sales.  Many businesses dial down their participation in industry conferences when times are tough.  Companies deem it hard to justify trade show attendance or participation while cutting staff, slashing hours and benefits, and re-examining every expense. 

However, savvy companies recognize that this is precisely the time to step up trade show efforts.  Trade show organizers, desperate to sell empty booth spaces, are more willing than ever to negotiate their exhibitor fees.  More importantly, ideal booth locations on show floors – that had once been locked up by seasoned exhibitors – are available to up-and-comers.  Right now, smaller companies – who once-upon-a-time hadn’t a chance to land a good location in a major trade show – can secure enviable positioning.  Afterward, many shows offer exhibitors the ‘first right of refusal’ to keep that booth space for the next show, thus locking in that ideal location long-term. 

The goal, though, is to make the money and staff invested in a show pay off in stronger customer relationships and profitable sales leads. Too often, busy small companies prepare for shows at the last minute.  That leaves too much to chance.  Any company engaging in trade show marketing should develop a trade show strategy that dovetails with the rest of the company’s marketing efforts.  How this is accomplished — and whether time was well spent — is the key.

So go the extra mile with your trade show efforts.  Here are some strategies to help increase your ROI in choosing and preparing to attend select trade shows.

Step 1
Evaluate which shows over the year are worth your while. You want audiences ripe for your marketing and products. Set specific trade show goals with quantifiable objectives,  You might, for instance, set a goal of meeting 10 new customers on each show day in order to generate a specified volume of post-show sales.  Identify early-bird deadlines for the shows you want to attend and register prior to the early-bird deadline to get the best rates, and secure the best location.

Step 2
Look into opportunities to become a speaker or a panelist.  This affords you a level of recognition and credibility that exhibiting alone seldom achieves.  Keep in mind that this process starts roughly a year in advance for national shows, and two years in advance for the powerhouse shows.

Step 3
Check for ways to cut costs. For instance, if you plan a significant amount of travel, you might rate preferred-vendor status at a hotel chain.  If you have booth materials that are expensive to store, ship, set up and tear down, consider either not using it for the time being or getting rid of it altogether.  Many show vendors have modular displays and furniture that can be rented often less expensively than the cost to ship a big booth with all of its component parts. 

Step 4
Do research.  Exhibitor handbooks and staffers are a rich and often overlooked resource. Before a show, identify people you want to meet and events or activities that will be profitable for you to attend.  

Step 5
Call the show PR staff about a week before opening day. If the show’s PR staff is pitching a story idea that fits your product or service, ask if they would include your company’s name as an example in their pitch. 

Step 6
Do advance introductions. Don’t wait until the show to contact your targets. Develop a show mailer, letter or eblast (which is most cost-effective) to attract traffic to your booth. 
Have salespeople set one-on-one meetings with as many current and potential customers as possible.  It is better to think of the show as one-to-one selling during an intense time frame, rather than group selling.  Each day is a series of get-togethers with pre-selected, targeted customers in an environment where the focus is on what you offer.  

Step 7
Court industry media. Shows are an excellent opportunity to meet face-to-face with industry editors and reporters to present story ideas, introduce your executives or spokespeople, and to establish ongoing relationships.  Prepare a Media Kit and distribute printed packets to the Media Room at the show as well as via email.  Ensure that printed packets have a disk or flash drive with the Press Releases, Fact Sheet, story pitches, and photos of anyone being quoted.  Done correctly, businesses walk away having made a connection with industry media as well as their customers.

By taking these steps in advance, you are sure to head into a trade show ready to reap the most rewards for your trade show dollars.  In this economy, that is really the only way to go.

Stay tuned.  Next week, we’ll look at strategies to use to get the most out of trade shows while at the show. 

“Do more than is required. What is the distance between someone who achieves their goals consistently and those who spend their lives and careers merely following? The extra mile.” Gary Ryan Blair

© 2010 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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