Teasing the Most Out of Trade Shows
Teasing the Most Out of Trade Shows
By Jon Bell, August 23, 2011
A few years ago, Leatherman Tool Group trade-show manager Vickie Anderson decided it was time to reevaluate the program.
Not only did some of the Portland, Oregon, knife and tool company’s trade-show displays need updating, but skyrocketing fuel prices made the heavy panel booths and hard-wall displays costly to ship, a huge expense for a company that exhibits at 60 to 70 shows a year.
Anderson and her team switched to lightweight pop-up booths and banner stands and replaced the hard-wall display with a lighter one made of chipboard, changes that cut shipping costs in half.
“Just by doing that we’re more efficient and cost effective,” says Anderson, who has overseen Leatherman’s $750,000 annual trade-show budget for 12 years.
Trade shows still play a huge role in many mid-sized companies’ sales and marketing efforts. But the tight economy caused many to cut costs. According to a survey, conducted by Champion Exposition Services, more than 80 percent of companies that exhibit at trade shows trimmed budgets in 2010. While spending seems to have stabilized, it’s not predicted to increase substantially this year, according to a separate survey by Red 7 Media, a marketing and event company.
Yet reduced budgets don’t have to mean diminished returns. Companies can use numerous strategies to wring the most out of trade-show spending.
Tips and Tricks
For starters, Linda Musgrove, owner of TradeShow Teacher, a Miami consultancy, says that many companies that exhibit at trade shows don’t take advantage of public relations opportunities available to them there. Most shows offer a list of media attending the show. Exhibitors may have to specifically request it, but it’s free and can point to outlets that could help spread the word about their products or company. “The media’s always looking for good products and stories and angles to write about and that doesn’t cost anything,” Musgrove says.
Companies also can get extra exposure by giving a presentation at a breakout session or educational meeting, says Susan Friedmann, a Lake Placid, New York, industry consultant known as the Tradeshow Coach. “I encourage them to have something new to present since (a majority) of attendees come to a show to see and experience what’s new in their industry,” she says.
Companies need to make sure they’re exhibiting at the right shows, says Friedmann, who advises mid-sized companies and professional associations. They can save money by nixing events that don’t target their primary customers and focusing resources on shows that do – with one caveat. Don’t ever skip the major shows in your industry, she says. “It’s better to take a smaller booth space than not attend at all. Out of sight, out of mind can equal the kiss of death,” she says.
To maximize budgets, companies should track capital and expense spending in all categories for all shows, says trade-show consultant Candace Adams, a former Intel Corp. event manager who currently consults with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. “It’s integral to computing accurate return on investment,” she says.
It’s possible to save money on displays and still attract attention and generate qualified leads. As Leatherman learned, portable displays like banner stands and pop-up booths cost less and are lighter and easier to ship.
According to Musgrove, companies that usually pay for a 10’ by 10’ or 10’ by 20’ foot booth can fill the space with banner stands and pop-up displays. Companies can swap out graphics on such displays for different shows, and larger pop-up booths can be printed with company logos and taglines that don’t need to be updated all the time.
“It’s better to take a smaller booth space than not attend at all. Out of sight, out of mind can equal the kiss of death.”Susan Friedmann, industry consultant, Tradeshow Coach
For a larger space, companies usually purchase more substantial displays from professional display companies. For most shows, Leatherman uses a 10’ by 10’ or 10’ by 20’ space, but for two big industry shows a year, the company pays for larger exhibit space that requires bigger, custom displays.
To save on those and other exhibits, Anderson rents flooring, tables, chairs and other components. Renting items that are only used occasionally can save money on shipping and storage costs. “Almost every show has a rental program, which is a good way to keep costs down,” she says.
Some companies rent their entire displays, an option Leatherman is considering for larger shows it attends.
The rule of thumb, according to Adams, is “if you aren’t going to use it three times, don’t bother buying, since the cost of a rental is approximately one-third of the cost of purchasing.”
For larger trade shows, companies can hire a professional representation group to provide booth staff with industry specific knowledge so they don’t have to pay to send their own employees. Leatherman uses up to five of its own employees to staff smaller booths and uses rep groups for bigger shows that require a booth staff of up to 70. “It saves a lot of money and really helps us service the people who come to our exhibit,” Anderson says.
More Ways to Spend Less
Here some other suggestions from experts for getting the most from a trade-show budget:
- Tap into social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other sites are great for sharing photos, videos and other useful information during a show. Just make sure that booth staffers aren’t tweeting instead of helping prospects who need assistance.
- Cut back on print literature. Email brochures, spec sheets and other literature instead of printing it.
- Cut hidden corners. Don’t spend on things that customers don’t care about, such as premium booth space or a booth made from sustainable materials. “Most attendees don’t care about what you paid for your booth space or whether your exhibit is more expensive because it’s green,” Adams says. “They care about being able to identify the personal benefit of your product or service.”
- Chuck the tchotchke. Rather than hand out trinkets, offer a white paper or tip sheet. It will save money, and prospects will walk away with something valuable.
- Train, train, train. Make sure your booth staff is prepped to meet the needs of anyone who stops by. “The booth staff plays the most important role at a show,” Musgrove says. “If they’re not effective, the company is basically wasting money being there.”
- Grab a guest list. Most shows offer the prior year’s list of attendees. Use it to invite target prospects to stop by.
- Follow that lead. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, up to 80 percent of trade-show leads are never followed up on. Put a system in place to touch base with all qualified leads within a few weeks of the show.
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