Trade Shows: Are they worth the money? - Part 1

Trade shows have long been a staple of marketing and promotion for small 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.

They 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 value of trade shows has been shrinking.

Fewer small companies are willing to shell out upwards of $2,000 for a 10x10 square foot space, $100 to hook up their lighting and laptops to show products in a PowerPoint loop and the food, quite frankly, is an abomination. Who pays $4 for a soggy hotdog or $3.50 for coffee that was made last Wednesday? (The answer is trade show attendees.)

The result is that fewer small businesses are signing up, unwilling to pay for what amounts to a shot in the dark.

So, here’s how to squeeze the most desired outcomes from the dollars you spend. Whilst there are no guarantees these tips have worked for many businesses.

  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 foot? 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 employee 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Read tomorrow’s post for more tips on getting the maximum value from trade shows.

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