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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
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
speaking on how to craft a successful physical presence; and
Swandy of Exhibit Surveys, offering advice on deciding which shows
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
"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
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
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
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:
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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