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Effective trade show planning.

This series covers all the basics needed to maximize your trade show investment--and turn it into your best sales tool.

Exhibiting at a trade show is one of the largest marketing investments a company makes. If companies plan properly, trade shows can be an excellent marketing tool. Failing to make the most out of your trade show investment, however, wastes valuable time and money. It could even hurt your company's credibility with potential buyers if you have a poorly executed exhibit.

This series has been developed to help make sure your next trade show is successful. It details what to do before, during and after the show. This article covers the steps that need to be taken several months before the show to help attract qualified prospects to your booth.

Pre-Show Planning

To have a successful trade show exhibit, you must first determine what you want to achieve by exhibiting.

Do you want to obtain leads? Do you want to make prospects aware of a new product or process? Do you want to monitor the industry's purchasing needs?

It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the success of your exhibit without establishing objectives beforehand. Objectives should be written down and made clear to everyone involved. If possible, goals should be expressed in numbers like "$100,000 in sales" or "50 new prospects."

Trade show consultant Robert Konikow, author of How to Participate Profitably in Trade Shows, lists several marketing objectives that can be achieved through exhibiting at trade shows:

* making sales;

* maintaining an image and continuing contact with customers;

* creating an image and initiating contact with new customers;

* introducing a new product or service;

* demonstrating equipment;

* giving customers an opportunity to meet with engineers and ask technical questions;

* building morale of sales force and dealers;

* recruiting new personnel or dealers;

* conducting market research.

All are worthy goals, but it's impossible to achieve maximum results in every category. Select one or two of these items as primary objectives and plan your exhibit accordingly.

To achieve your goals, it's vital to get the target audience to visit your booth.

Research by the Trade Show Bureau indicates that, during a trade show, people seek out exhibits featuring the products they are most interested in. It also found that attendees are attracted to an exhibit by its design or color, unique demonstration or attention-getting presentation, or pre-show incentives.

Companies must make an organized effort to be among the exhibits that attendees plan to visit. Exhibitors who don't take specific, positive action to attract prospects to their booth prior to the show may let up to 40% of their target audience slip by.

Customer Invitations

One of the easiest and most effective techniques is to send a letter to customers inviting them to visit to booth. The letter should be brief and should highlight the benefits of stopping at your booth. And if a staff member is giving a presentation during the show, get the word out.

Send this letter to current customers, prospects and people who have stopped at your booth at previous shows. Also, contact the sponsoring organization of the trade show to see if there is a list of people who attended the last show. This list often is available to exhibitors.

The letter should be sent about two weeks before the show and could include some type of incentive to encourage visiting the exhibit. If your company is offering a special premium to people visiting your booth, let them know about it.

News Releases

At least two months before the show, send a news release about a product or service that you will be featuring at the show to all applicable trade publications. Most magazines offer show issues in conjunction with a major trade show. Obtaining editorial exposure in these special editions can help ensure trade show attendees are aware of products or services.

Advertising in a show issue can also be effective, as long as the ad is part of an entire marketing campaign aimed at creating awareness of your companies or products. Running an ad in the trade show program is also very useful, since attendees are reminded of your booth every time they page through the program.

News kits should be sent to the show organizers well in advance of the starting date to be sure the kits are placed in the show's press room. Ask about these deadlines so your company doesn't miss this valuable opportunity. Also, keep some news kits at the exhibit.

Media Contact

If firms have information that is genuinely newsworthy, they should contact editors of major trade publications by phone to elicit interest in writing a brief article.

If you secure appointments with editors to meet with your staff at the booth, make sure they're prepared for the interviews and able to answer all possible questions.

Booth Planning

If this is the first trade show at which your company will be exhibiting and you don't already have a booth, contact a booth display company far ahead of the show date. You'll need to look at various booth styles so you can select the model that will work most effectively for your company.

After the booth style is selected, photographs, signs, logos and graphic elements must be designed and created. A few well-chosen, high-quality graphics convey a much better image than many lesser-quality graphics.

Once the booth has been selected, you must contact the trade show planning company to obtain carpeting, electricity, plants and other items that need to be purchased through that company. You must also establish set-up and take-down schedules, since assistance from exhibit company employees is needed.

Make the Booth Stand Out

Trade show exhibits constantly compete with each other for the limited attention spans of attendees. Graphics--photographs, words, charts and other visual items--are a company's first contact with trade show attendees and can create a powerful first impression.

The primary objective of graphics is to quickly attract attendees' attention and convey important information about your company and its products and/or services. Your company will benefit tremendously by creating an exhibit that is informative, visually appealing and simple.

At the very least, your exhibit should inform all attendees about who you are and what you do. The description of your company and its products or services should be brief. This will help screen attendees so your sales staff can spend time with those most interested in your products.

Simplicity, not only in terms of message content but also in number of graphics, is the best rule to follow when designing an exhibit.

Defining the Exhibit's Goals

The exhibit's design should help a company reach its trade show objectives. For example, companies that attend a trade show to generate leads may design an exhibit differently than if the goal is to fill orders. A company filling orders may want to list prices on its display. You also need to have a sufficient supply of order forms, contracts and personnel available to calculate and write deals.

Companies aiming to generate leads need to decide in advance if they want quantity or quality. To generate quantity, companies may design a general display and shy away from specific product information. On the other hand, companies looking for highly qualified leads may showcase specific products and thoroughly screen attendees. It is common for companies seeking highly qualified prospects at trade shows to achieve the best post-show results in terms of sales.

Booth Demonstrations

To help increase traffic at a trade show exhibit, many companies use product demonstrations, presentations or entertainment. Companies use props to attract people to their booth, to educate attendees about products or services, and to qualify potential customers for the sales staff.

Getting buyers to stop, look, listen--and eventually, buy--is the primary objective of participating at most trade shows. Exhibits often blend together and look alike, instead of jumping out or creating crowd excitement.

Unfortunately, attention-getting techniques often get the least thought when planning an exhibit. Two weeks before the show, the sales manager may ask, "But how are we going to draw a crowd?" Some companies will use models, a magician or ventriloquist, games, contests or shoe-shine booths to attract people to their exhibit.

Whether or not using these "gimmicks" will provide a good return on your investment is determined by the nature and size of your potential audience.

When special techniques or gimmicks are used, they should contribute to your overall show objectives. They should attract attention, be memorable and communicate key messages about your company and its products.

A live product demonstration is always the most effective means of attracting qualified buyers. When this type of demonstration is enhanced through attention-getting techniques, such as models serving as announcers or ventriloquists who educate and entertain the audience, it's even more effective.

When product demonstrations are not practical, however, analyze your special requirements before selecting the best technique to use. And don't forget to inform your sales personnel that the purpose of the attention-getting technique is not to perform their job for them, but to attract visitors to help them keep busy and productive.

These types of attention-getting techniques are growing increasingly popular as a cost-effective means to get a return on their trade show investments. Remember, the objective of the display is to attract attention and create an impression--not to sell your products. That is your exhibit staff's job.


Giveaways, which can make up a significant portion of a company's exhibit budget, are usually popular items at trade shows. These may actually be the least efficient method, however, for creating a memorable booth.

It is much more effective if the item offers value and is directly related to the product or service being sold. For example, an environmental consulting firm may offer short synopses of new regulations. An equipment manufacturer may offer a booklet of tips on how to reduce maintenance costs. A foundry may hand out ornamental paperweights cast in their specific alloy. These are the types of giveaways that show attendees go out of their way to obtain.

Hospitality Suites/Receptions

There is much debate on the success of hosting hospitality suites or receptions, in terms of sales made or leads qualified. Such activities can be very helpful in building relationships with customers--if the events are carefully planned and executed. Again, the key is to make sure the proper people attend these events.

Send special invitations to the decision-makers, and follow up personally with phone calls. Phone calls are crucial to ensuring the target audience attends this event. At trade shows, many people look at invitations to events with the attitude, "If I have time, I'll stop there." The goal is to have people make time for the event you are planning.

It's also helpful if the event is tied into your exhibit and overall marketing objectives. Taking proactive steps to attract people to your booth and/or special event helps ensure that your trade show investment pays big dividends.

Brown & Martin is a marketing communication/public relations firm specializing in environmental and business-to-business services.

Checklist to a Successful Trade Show


* Use trade shows to support your marketing objectives, not just to "hawk" products or services.

* Determine in advance which trade shows deserve a significant marketing effort and which should receive only minimal effort.

* Set trade show objectives.

* Plan show advertising.


* Evaluate your booth. Does it accurately reflect the company's image? Are the graphics adequate? Should new products or services be highlighted?

* Contact the exhibit company regarding carpeting, electricity, water, phone service, set-up, take-down and other special needs.

* Make sure all employees are aware of the trade show objectives, and discuss the most effective methods for achieving these goals.

* Plan the customer mailing. Is a special invitation needed? Who will make the follow-up phone calls to customers? What incentive will be offered?

* Plan booth demonstrations. Is a product or service demonstration viable? Do you need a traffic builder? How can the traffic builder tie into the product line?

* Put together a target list of trade and local business media. Through letters, news releases, feature articles, technical articles, case histories and other vehicles, remind them of your activities.

* Plan strategies for new venues. Should you hold a series of one-on-one news meetings before or during the show? Should you sponsor a unique press breakfast or luncheon? Should you offer private media demonstration in a suite or a booth alcove?

* Plan and begin putting together a tailored, high-quality news kit that contains: a tailored cover for the show (use a stick-on label), a company fact sheet, product releases, artwork, photos, diagrams and customer list/application briefs.

* Carefully plan the presentation to the news media, making sure to convey the key positioning points, the big picture, and the relationship between your company's direction and the industry's.

Complementary Activities

* Investigate ways of getting your products into other booths, into press rooms, at the hotels, etc.

* Consider holding a unique by-invitation-only party.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Trade Show Series; part 1
Author:Bonk, Leslie L.
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:New tests for management: health, safety & environment.
Next Article:Form R reporting requirements.

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