Making the decision to be in a trade show is a major commitment, not unlike planning a wedding. From what you’ll wear, to what clients to invite, to setting the scene, to where you’ll be staying, even a rehearsal dinner… there seem to be a million things to do. It’s overwhelming. (Imagine if you had waited until a month before the show to get started!) That’s why you have to take it one step at a time.
The Existential Aspect: Why Am I Here?
This is the most important decision of all. What is the purpose of exhibiting at this show? What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to write new business at the show? Generate qualified leads? Launch a new product? Reinforce your company’s image? Have a clear purpose, and get everyone on board with it. All of your subsequent decisions should support this purpose.
Early Bird Gets The Worm
It’s good practice to sign up as an exhibitor one year to six months before the event. Yes, this requires foresight on your part. The earlier you commit to the show, the more choices you have for the location of your booth–and the more money you’ll save by advance ordering. Arguments abound regarding the definition of “the best location.” One school of thought says to be as close as you can to the entrance. And if not in the center, then to the right as you are entering the exhibit hall. Maybe you want to be next to your biggest vendor. Some believe it’s best to be near the food court or restrooms so more people have to walk past you. The debate goes on. Pick what’s best for your company and goals. Here is an interesting article on the topic by Candy Adams, exhibit management consultant.
Is Bigger Better, or Not?
Your location is partially dictated by what size booth you want. Some companies hold firm that they want the biggest space they can afford. Other companies scale things down a little and try other ways of drawing attendees. Most large show organizers lay out the floor plan a year in advance, based on past shows. So while you’re at the 2014 show, you can sign up and pick a spot for 2015. However these things are not carved in stone. Six months later, for instance, you might receive a new floor plan and notice that you have been moved. Let the organizers know if it doesn’t work for you; they are often willing to accommodate companies who exhibit every year, rent a large booth space, and/or sponsor the show in some way.
If I Build It Will They Come?
No. Not a chance. You have to get the word out. Use a combination of email, direct mail, advertising and social media to publicize your presence at the upcoming trade show. Do what makes sense for your company by communicating via the channels that your customers and prospects want to use. Tell them where and when the show is, your booth number, and what you will be featuring at the show (such as a new product or secret raffle, etc.). Perhaps you can even offer complementary exhibit floor passes, or a secret pass to a private hospitality suite. Give them a reason to stop by your booth.
How Many Staffers Do I Need?
To get the best rates with the hotels and airlines, you need to make reservations well in advance. Therefore, you have to decide early on exactly who you want on your trade show team. Choose them with your ultimate goal in mind. If your purpose for exhibiting is to launch a new product, you need people who know the most about it. If your purpose is to generate leads, you need people who are good at qualifying prospects. And make sure they want to be there, or it will show in their behavior in the booth.
The Fine Print
Some of your other decisions are already scheduled out for you in the exhibitor manual. Read all about this important document in our January 16 blog titled “Piles of Paperwork: The underbelly of trade show preparedness.”
Now that you’re off and running, make a list of decisions that still need to be made before the show starts– and assign deadlines to each or they may not get done! Here are some of the decisions that still need to be made. Should we use giveaways/promo items? Do I need new trade show displays or graphics? What is our dress code; should we buy company logo shirts? How are we handling the qualified leads? What is our post-show follow-up plan? And many many more.
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