In terms of marketing budgets, participating at a trade show or exhibition is probably the single most expensive item in the yearly calendar. Especially if this is your first trade show, and you have little experience in exhibiting, it can be a daunting (and time consuming) task to organise, with little support. In my time as a Head of Marketing I have managed many exhibitions, and there are some top tips to help make the most of your money at these events.
If this is your first show, and you have a small area, then it may be worth making use of the “shell scheme” set up that most exhibition organisers offer. This means that instead of just paying for stand space, you pay a slightly higher fee per square metre of space, but that the exhibition organisers will provide you with a modular backdrop for which to at least showcase your products or brand.
Typically included in a shell scheme layout are a back board, carpet, spot lights, an electrical socket, and sometimes a small amount of furniture, such as a reception counter. Shell scheme stands are often a much cheaper alternative to hiring a private company to erect a stand, however you do still need to furnish the stand with any graphics, banners, and provide areas for which to show your product if needed for which you may require extra investment.
Idea #1: Take advantage of free publicity and the exhibitor’s area
The show organisers usually have an online system called the “exhibitor zone” where you can log in and update your information, such as add your brand names, write a short description of your product and/or service, and add your logo and news etc. Make sure you get access to this area early and make use of your free listing. People visiting the show use this to see who is exhibiting, and map who they see at the show, so providing an accurate and well written description means they may just drop by and see how intriguing you are!
Press kits, or media kits, are used to shout to press about your company news, for example a new product launch, company re-structure or your latest developments. They are perfect for exhibitions, as they are a great way of getting your name out to a large number of press contacts that will visit the show. Typical components of a press kit are:
- Brief background on company
- Biographies of key company personnel
- A press release with your current news or developments
- Any photos or relevant interesting information, such as past advertising campaigns, any other press coverage or testimonials/product reviews.
You can hire a public relations agency to put together your press kit for you, but if you are on a tight budget you can submit your press kit either prior to the show (ask the organisers where to send this to) or drop your press kit into the press room on the first day. Collate your information in a folder with a clearly marked label on the front, and be sure to make lots of copies as the press may wish to take these away with them.
Idea #2: Can you enter any show awards?
Often there are awards ceremonies in conjunction with the exhibition, for example, innovation awards. Make a note of any that you may wish to participate in and make sure you submit your entry well in advance of the exhibition. In fact, some shows ask for these nearly six months prior to the exhibition so make a calendar note to get this done. Even if you don’t win, being nominated for an award can make for great free press coverage!
Idea #3: Can you offer to speak in one of the show slots?
A lot of shows have key speakers on industry topics, such as innovation, sustainability, manufacturing processes or social media. Do you have a passion for anything in your industry that you might be able to speak about at one of the show conferences? If so, contact the organisers and offer your services. If they don’t accept they may still be able to pass you in the direction of a press contact that would be interested to write about you skill or story.
Idea #4: Invite key clients or prospects to your stand
Ok, so perhaps attending a trade show is about gaining new clients or getting new leads for your business. However, don’t forget that a trade show can be the ideal opportunity to catch up with existing clients or prospects that may be already at the show or in the local vicinity. Make a list of those you think may wish to meet with you and set aside some time on your stand or coffee shop nearby. However, make sure you take their contact telephone number at the show in case you get caught on your stand talking to a new prospect – there is nothing worse from past experience than having people turn up for a meeting and you have disappeared.
Even better, if you have the staff members available, nominate a stand manager to manage a stand diary and make sure the area is manned correctly at all times. They can also help to make sure everything is kept neat and tidy and that all leads are properly recorded and safely kept!
Idea #5: Utilising “free” marketing opportunities
There are plenty of other free ways to get people to notice you. These include spreading the word through social media, adding a label to your invoices or sales materials prior to the show with your stand number, or downloading the show logos or buttons and adding them to your email signatures. Remember to email all leads you gain after the show with a courtesy email to thank them for visiting, and prioritize your leads. And do not forget to take a photo of your stand to use in future marketing materials such as newsletters, magazine articles and even biographies.
One piece of advice I would offer to those of you thinking whether to book space at an exhibition is to do your research before you book. Is this the right show to choose? What other exhibitors are there exhibiting? What quality of visitors do they get through their doors – are these buyers or students?
A good tool I have found is EventsEye https://eventseye.com/, which lists over 9,503 trade shows in different countries, and can be useful when choosing which exhibitions there are available. You can sort by location, industry type, organiser, date or keyword.
If you still don’t know whether an exhibition is the right one for you, then a good way to test the water is to walk the show before you go and see what the response is like! Above all, exhibitions can be expensive to participate in, but they can provide a sales outlet and stage for your business like no other, so all that’s left to say if you do take the leap of faith is most of all good luck!