Are Trade Shows Worth The Money?

Trade show sign

By Guest Blogger Michael Harrison

Trade shows have long been a staple of marketing and promotion for businesses. Business owners pay a fee for booth space. They also pay for signage, employee time (someone has to be in the booth all the time), and trade show operators nickel-and-dime you for everything from electrical connections to string to hang that fantastic plastic banner with your company logo and name in two-foot high lettering.

Used to be a good way to get out there and press the flesh, meet the market and maybe even sign up a few new customers or clients. But, according to reports plastered across the web, the size of trade shows has been shrinking.

Fewer small companies are willing to shell out cash for a 3 X 3 metre space, $200 to hook up their lighting and laptops to show products in a PowerPoint loop and the food, quite frankly, is an abomination. Who pays $8 for a soggy hotdog or $4.50 for coffee? (The answer is trade show attendees.)

Still, many of my clients sign up for these biz fests, holding on to the old ways of marketing their businesses and building their client base.

The Problems With Trade Shows

Some professional promoters do a better job than others but I’ve noticed that fewer of my clients are in attendance, and the ones who do shell out those big fees for a few square feet report disappointment in everything from number of attendees to lack of promotion. Visitors who might attend a trade show simply don’t know about the event because promoters are cutting back on traditional promotional outlets like newspapers, industry journals and TV spots.

The result? Not as many trade show visitors and the ones who do show up are mostly window shopping – or checking out what the competition is up to. And it’s tough to sell services to a competitor who wants to see what your tri-fold looks like this year. After all, these are your competitors.

It’s true that some trade shows still continue to pull in large crowds and that large companies still employ these get-togethers to hawk their wares. The annual auto show in Detroit, for instance, still pulls in tens of thousands of visitors each year despite the dismal state of U.S. carmakers. Even so, the glitz and glamour of concept cars (cars of the future, perhaps) and the ubiquitous pretty models still pull them in.

And the annual CES – Consumer Electronics Show – remains a big draw (especially for people like me) because electronics are changing, evolving at the speed of digital. Plus, this is a highly competitive market segment so Sony, Panasonic, Dell and other large and small manufacturers and retailers of electronic gizmos and gadgets have to be there. Media covering these shows report on new technology, providing companies willing to create large, shiny displays with an after burn of “free” publicity.

I’m often asked by my clients if trade shows are worth the capital outlay.

It’s difficult to give these long-time friends a straight answer because results vary from one trade show to another. However, I do offer some suggestions that improve trade show outcomes. These aren’t hard to implement, they don’t cost a wad of cash and, from the feedback I receive, trade shows still have a place in the marketing of small businesses seeking to grow their client bases and, hey, isn’t that all of us? You bet it is.

So, here’s how to squeeze the most desired outcomes from the dollars you spend on that 100 square foot space you pay for. Of course, there are no guarantees but these tips have come back to me with positive results so I can only assume that they’re effective.

1. Do your homework.

Before you shell out big bucks on space at a trade show, do some research on the promoter. I recommend asking the promoter for a schedule of upcoming shows and then tracking how the promoter markets the show.

Better promoters still employ newspaper adverts and TV sports, but the really top-tier promoters also send out web-based press releases, take space in industry journals and cast a wide geo-special net, attracting visitors from far away – visitors willing to get on a plane to actually meet you face to face.

If the promoter that’s courting you to buy a booth for three days doesn’t promote effectively and widely, attendance will be light and you aren’t going to see the positive return on your outlay that you expected.

I always recommend contacting the promoter directly when you receive another solicitation letter. Here’s what you want to know:

* How much per square metre? Obviously, the bigger the booth the better.
* What kind of promotion does the trade show company plan to undertake?
* What services are included in the booth price? Do you have to bring your own table? Draperies? Chairs? (Believe it or not, some promoters actually charge you for chairs and you’ll pay it because your employees aren’t going to want to stand for three days straight.)
* How wide a net is the promoter casting? Are they after local visitors or are they going after visitors from around the globe? If you’re considering a wedding fair in Sydney but your catering business is in Adelaide, why spend the money?

Know the anticipated demographic expected to attend. A good trade show organiser/promoter will be happy to answer all of your questions. Why? They want you to buy space. That’s how they make their money.

2. Prepare to put on your best face.

Signage should be done professionally. No kidding, I’ve actually seen companies with hand drawn signs created with magic marker. Are you kidding me? It looks like amateur night and you paid $2,000 for that space?

Spend a little extra to look professional.

3. Provide take-aways.

It can be a simple tri-fold brochure and a business card, or it can be a folder with all kinds of promo materials and a slit to hold a business card. It can even be a free sample, if you sell a product.

There are plenty of services on line that will slap your logo onto coffee mugs, t-shirts even thumb drives, placing your business name and contact information in front of prospects every time they download a piece of information from the W3.

The point, here, is that you’ll get more promotional mileage from that booth space if you provide take-aways. And free stuff, like a coffee mug with your company’s name on it, won’t bust the budget. Do a web search for promotional companies to check out their offerings. Hey, one of my clients handed out over three thousand pens with contact information printed on each one during a recent trade show. Total cost: $450. And those pens are now in offices all across Australia serving as a constant reminder of the services my client provides.

It’s a small price to pay for that kind of promotional stickiness.

Are trade shows dead? No, but they are smaller and fewer and farther between so take some tips and get the most from your trade show dollars.





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