In Advance of the Show

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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the July

25, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Trade Show Success: Pre-Planning, Follow-Up

Trade shows aren’t just for making sales. Not anymore.

And especially not for new companies and for companies in emerging

industries. "We see trade shows as a vital piece of promotion,

but they are so much more," says Wendy Meyer, a marketing

consultant with 20 years experience in working with health care and

technology companies. Through trade shows, she says, companies can

strut their stuff before venture capitalists, gather competitive


recruit new employees, and find distributors and strategic partners.

Meyer moderates a New Jersey Technology Council seminar, "Trade

Show ROI: How to Maximize the Impact of Your Exhibiting Effort,"

on Tuesday, July 31, at 4 p.m. at the offices of Frontier Systems

in Raritan Plaza III in Edison. Cost: $40. Call 856-787-9700. Other

speakers at the seminar include Paul Holland of Jersey Skyline,

speaking on how to craft a successful physical presence; and Dick

Swandy of Exhibit Surveys, offering advice on deciding which shows

to attend.

Meyer, who holds a marketing degree from the University of Georgia

(Class of 1983), is a senior consultant with Pegasys Consulting in

Cherry Hill and owns Wendy H. Meyer Consulting in Philadelphia.


the smallest company can have a presence at carefully selected


she says. "It’s amazing the things that can be done with a small

amount of money." Small companies without trade show experience

might want to start out by exhibiting at a Chamber of Commerce event.

"It could be a good training ground," she says. For companies

of all sizes, the most important element in a successful trade show

outing is advance planning.

A central element needing careful thought is the exhibit booth itself.

Holland offers advice on choosing a booth that will deliver maximum

return for a trade show investment. He is an exhibit marketing


at Jersey Skyline in Pine Brook, one of 132 outlet and distribution

points for Skyline Products and Services, a Minnesota company that

has been making trade show exhibit booths for 20 years. "Before

that, it was just make-it-yourself or custom," he says. Many big

companies still order custom booths, he says, and spend up to $1


on them. A more economical route is a pre-built structure that is

then customized with your company’s graphics.

Holland earned a degree in marketing and literature at Ramapo College

in stages after serving in the Navy for four years and while holding

marketing jobs. Now consulting with companies on the best exhibit

for the trade show goals they want to achieve, he worked on trade

shows for previous employers at a series of high tech companies. He

says companies can either rent or buy a trade show exhibit.

"If someone who does 10 shows, 9 out of 10 with a tabletop, and

one with a 20-foot by 20-foot, it wouldn’t make sense to own, store,

and maintain the 20 by 20," he says. Other reasons for renting

could include a desire to have different kinds of booths for different

products, markets, or types of trade shows, as well as the fact that,

in many industries, "the market pace is incredibly fast."

An exhibit that was perfect yesterday, in other words, may look like

a dinosaur tomorrow.

Final cost for an exhibit booth is hard to figure, Holland says,


"it’s a custom world." It is not unusual, he says, for the

graphics on the booth to cost more than the booth itself. "A


recently spent $5,000 just to license a graphic image to use


he says.

"A commercial in three dimensions," an exhibit booth needs

to capture what is different about your company. The size of the booth

pales in importance next to a good expression of what your company

is about. "I’d rather see a killer tabletop than a lackluster

10 by 10," Holland says. A big mistake, and a common one, is


competitors’ booths. Instead, Holland advises, think hard about your

own company. Are you known for having the lowest prices? Then go for

a no-frills booth.

One client of Holland’s, a manufacturer of security uniforms, asked

for a booth carrying pictures of individuals wearing the uniforms.

Weak idea, Holland says. "Their competitors buy uniforms; they

make them," he explains. That was the company’s main point of

distinction, and the attribute the exhibit booth needed to highlight.

For that client, he put together a booth that looked like a garment

factory floor, not only highlighting a competitive advantage, but

also adding an element of novelty to draw interest.

Advising clients on more than the design of the booth, Holland says

that novelty, that "grabber," is vital. "The most


booth is the one no one stops at," he says. During one of his

marketing jobs, his employer was a biotech working with two different

platforms — "one expanding molecular structures, and one


molecular structures." On a visit to the Liberty Science Center

with a Scout troop, Holland was stopped in his tracks by the museum’s

Hoberman Sphere, a 700 pound globe that swings open, enlarging its

diameter from 4 1/2 feet to 18 feet.

"For the first time, I beat the kids to the gift shop," he

says. Prepared to pay any amount, he walked away with two miniatures

of the sphere, which expand from nine inches to about three feet.

He took them to his next trade show. He says, "I used them to

engage and attract people, and as a platform to explain how our


worked." The device worked so well that he was hired to train

booth staff.

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In Advance of the Show

The kind of thought that Holland put into an attention

grabber to take to trade shows is just the kind of advance effort

that is necessary, says Cynthia Nelson, co-founder of Ellipsis

Communications, a 14-person Moorestown marketing company. Nelson,

another speaker at the NJTC trade show seminar on Tuesday, July 31,


trade show exhibitors often put the emphasis in the wrong place.

"Most people assume being at the show is the most important


she says, "but in reality, when you get to the event everything

should be on autopilot. The only thing to do on-site should be damage

control." damage control can be minimized

if companies plan carefully well before the trade show begins

— preferably three or four months ahead. This pre-show

planning, Nelson says, must include not only what will happen on the

trade show floor, but also what will happen after the carpets are

rolled up and the lights are turned off. "Post-show planning has

to be done before the show," says Nelson.

A graduate of Flagler College (Class of 1991), where she studied


Nelson worked in marketing, and wrote for the Washington Post and

for a now-defunct tech magazine before founding Ellipsis with David

Weiss, a former colleague. The two-year-old company specializes

in marketing for technology companies. Here are Nelson’s tips to


at trade shows by nailing the details beforehand, and following up

on leads afterward:

Why go? "What is your goal? Why are you going to the

event?" says Nelson. These are baseline questions every company

should be able to answer before signing up for space. If you want

visibility, find out who will be attending. If you don’t want


find out if all your competitors will be at the show. If it’s sales

leads you are looking for, decide how many you want to reap, and then

plan for adequate staffing to pull them in. If you want to put your

company on the map, find out what news outlets will be covering the

event. Only by setting goals will your company know whether the show

has been worth the money — and the time — that went into


Contain costs. "Look at the costs. Prepare a


Nelson advises. "Track it from year to year to see where you went

over budget." Doing so is a real possibility, but can be minimized

by careful planning. The costs associated with a trade show run from

drinks for potential customers to last-minute replacements for laptops

lost in transit. "A lot of companies forget about travel costs

for staff," Nelson finds. "Airline tickets, food,


In addition, money often must be spent for giveaways, booth graphics,

upgraded show floor carpeting, set-up (possibly with a requirement

it be done by union workers), Internet connections, taxis back and

forth from the convention center, parking, and rental of business

card scanners. All of this, of course, is on top on the cost of


or buying the company’s booth.

Beyond budgeting realistically, companies would do well to have a

sit down with the personnel who will be staffing the booth before

the event. "Identify one person who will be responsible,"

she says. Not only will this person coordinate the others, but,


he or she will be the only person with authority to sign on behalf

of the company. "You hear horror stories," says Nelson.


invite 500 of their closest friends and relatives to dinner."

Make a schedule. "Look at the program, schedule, and

layout of the booth," says Nelson. "How many people do you

need?" Even in a 10 x 10 booth, "you can’t have just one


she says. "He needs to take breaks." While too few people

can be a problem, so can too many, particularly if the company has

no schedule. "You don’t need eight people standing around,"

she says. Often, however, that is the case. There is no one around,

or company personnel are elbowing one another. Make a plan, says


"If it’s a three-day event, maybe you want five people. Two on

for three hours."

"You don’t want it to be a free-for-all," says Nelson.


has to coordinate on-site." Just recently, Nelson accompanied

a client to a trade fair, and as she was speaking to a reporter, one

of the two people staffing the booth went out to lunch and the other

went off to find a replacement battery for the business card scanner.

Then the fellow on lunch break returned, but not before his co-worker,

having loaded in a new battery, took off. The second worker grabbed

the scanner, not knowing the battery had been replaced, and started

to head out to get a new one. "If I hadn’t been there to tell

him it had been replaced already, they would have lost all the data

they had collected," says Nelson.

Get out the word. It is important to let clients —

and potential clients — know you will be at the trade fair.


have to decide how you will let them know," says Nelson. Ways

to do this include a mailer, phone calls, and a press release.

Make them work for the giveaway. T-shirts, cool pens,

balls that light up when you bounce them; giveaways are a staple of

trade show floors. Think about what you will pass out to booth


says Nelson. Try to make the goodie relevant to your company, and

to what it does. "Something people will remember." Then, make

booth visitors fork over some information in exchange for the loot.

"Maybe they need to drop off a business card, or answer a couple

of qualifying questions," she suggests.

Get heard in the crowd. At the annual Comdex computer

industry trade fair in Las Vegas, Nelson saw the Spice Girls


at one company’s booth. Would the Spice Girls strain your budget?

No matter. Nelson says there are a number of ways to drive traffic

to your booth. Some companies hold game-show like contests, have


drawings, or send employees roaming the floor to entice visitors to

drop by. Others send out postcards and invite recipients to come to

the booth to get a stamp that will qualify them for a prize. Whatever

the method, Nelson says you can’t assume that the very fact of your

presence is enough.

Use those leads. After a show, says Nelson, most leads

are often just dropped. "Salespeople take away the best five or

six leads," she says, "and the rest are forgotten." This,

in her view, is the biggest faux pas. Decide on a strategy for making

the most of those leads well before the show, she says. Scanners,

which are often available for rent at the show, store information

about booth visitors who run their trade show tags through them.


cards, of course, are another means of collecting contact information.

After the show, this data can be "the source of leads for


says Nelson. Prospects should be contacted soon after the show, and

queried about their interest and the timeline they have for making

a purchase.

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Donate Please

The Ivy Inn in Princeton is seeking sponsors for its annual

Dickey McCluskey Memorial Golf Tourney on Friday, August 3, at the

Cranbury Golf Club. Donations go to Angel’s Wings, a non-profit


that provides short term care for DYFS-involved children. Staffed

by volunteers working four hour shifts, Angel’s Wings provides a


to stabilize children physically and emotionally until they can be

returned home or placed in foster homes.

Contact Doug Watson at 609-430-9788 about sponsorship opportunities.

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