For veterans and rookies alike, the trade show is like a mini-Super Bowl (or the Super Bowl is an immense trade show, if you like). Like the Super Bowl, the trade show generally happens but once a year, but depending on the industry, there might be two or more trade shows, or regional trade shows, or special events that operate like trade shows.
Like Super Bowls, trade shows are best approached with intense planning. That’s because once you arrive at the show, all the decisions you made ahead of time will come into play, and you can pretty much figure out how you’re going to do when you walk in the door.
Someone in the organization – like your trade show coordinator – should be responsible for the list of decisions you will be making in advance of the show and it is a long one. Everything – from the size and appearance of your booth, to the assignments your team will have on the floor, to the location of your hotel room – will have strategic implications vis a vis your competitors and your standing in the industry.
The Big 5!
Here are the “big 5” items you’ll want to get in your company’s discussions about how to plan the trade show, which would ideally come six months or more before the event, due to the various deadlines you’ll be facing from the trade association, hotels, caterers, novelty producers, and anyone else who needs to be considered before the show.
1. What (and how) did we do last time? You may have de-briefed the last trade show
after you returned, but by now everyone’s forgotten about that conversation, so it’s best to go over what happened last time with your trade show team. Any “never agains”?
2. The booth. You or someone on your team will obsess over the booth. Ideally, you’d
like to have something that looks professional, that reflects who you are (no need for glamour and bright lights if that’s not you), that fits in your budget, and that works. For example, if yours is a sales organization and you’re planning on selling at the show, you’ll probably want to invest in a small office, where you can have private conversations, so you can close the deal. This is better than “let’s wander off to a bar somewhere.”
3. Staffing the booth. Equally important as what the booth looks like is how the booth
is staffed. Leaving one or two people there all day may be necessary, but it’s better to have fresh staffing every few hours if you can. Why? It’s easy to get burned out standing and talking to people in a noisy environment all day, and you want your booth staffers to be able to circulate in the hall, finding out what the competition is up to. Your booth staffers should be personable, enthusiastic and above all knowledgable sorts who can field gripes as well as kudos. When I was the editor of a major home electronics trade magazine, I had to cover the convention for news, but also be available in the booth so advertisers and retailers could say they had spoken to the editor.
5. Don’t skimp on the hotel, the car, or the plane. The trade show coordinator might be under considerable budget pressure, and since these are major expenditure areas, this is where skimping might begin. Resist the urge. For example, you never know who you’ll be driving around in the car – could be the most important person in the industry. Leaving the trade show staff with too close connections for airplanes to save a few bucks, or with a hotel room not conducive to a good night’s sleep, just means you’ll have cranky, tense, or tired people working the show – and complaining about the ordeal when they get back – which serves to undermine all your other efforts.
4. What about “tchoctchkes,” (chotch-keys) or giveaways? Remember, to get
whatever you’re giving away personalized, you need to make these decisions some time out. What‘s your goal on go promotional giveaways? Are you looking for something the attendees can use when they arrive back home? A calendar is a popular if “time worn” choice. Or are you more interested in getting your name out there during the show itself, in which case you might opt for the “trade show bag,” because people are always looking for carry all bags during trade shows. What did your competitors do last time and did it work for them? Do you still have any of the giveaways you collected from the last trade show?
Richard Larson is Brand Manager for Go Promotional, the UK’s leading online supplier of promotional and tradeshow giveaways.
Superbowl image by Nicole Cordeiro [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons