To be considered an industry leader, attendance at trade shows should be mandatory for any competitive business. So says Connie Jankowski, a marketing professional and former trade show promoter. Jankowski says, “Trade shows can make or break a company, and successful trade-show exhibits can catapult a business to new levels of industry prominence.”
Although preparing for a show can be expensive and time-consuming, the trade-off, she says, is the ability of companies to interact with potential clients and new hires, industry leaders and key opinion leaders, vendors and the media in one location.
A partner with California-based fredricPR, Jankowski offers 10 tips to help companies find trade-show success.
First is recognizing opportunities and setting clear goals. Along with product sales and lead generation, companies should consider using the trade show to launch a new product, learn about upcoming trends, check in on their competitors and enhance their staff members’ marketing skills. Jankowski encourages companies to make a list of the groups of people they think will attend the show, and determine the best way to reach them. She says a prospective client might be hooked if you offer a “show special,” while making on-site contact with the event organizer might leave a lasting impression – especially when it comes to decisions such as booth placement and speaker selection. “Additionally, these people can introduce you to the movers and shakers of your industry, invite you to participate in special events, and consider you for membership on planning committees that increase your prominence in the industry,” she says.
Second is selecting the right show. Companies should find shows that cater to their specific demographic.
Third, get organized early by creating a master calendar that lists all pertinent information, such as fees, deadlines and travel dates and all preliminary and onsite action items. Meet frequently with staff to monitor progress. Design a functional and attractive booth that fits their budget; plan on-site or nearby events; and gather all needed materials weeks in advance.
Fourth, companies should monitor relevant podium and poster presentations. “When you discover plans for a topic of special interest to be presented at a conference or trade show, consider contacting the author to offer support or information. However, you must be careful to avoid putting the speaker in a compromising position,” warns the public relations expert. The company’s PR executive or a seasoned member of the marketing staff would know the best way to approach a speaker, and doing so could benefit your company. The speaker may offer new data or demonstrate a product that highlights your firm, Jankowski says.
Fifth and sixth, look for opportunities to increase your presence and creating a buzz in your booth. Company personnel should attend kick-off or other informal events to network outside of the confines of a booth. She adds that live demonstrations, raffles or interactive presentations will draw the interest of passersby.
Seventh, don’t just be there. Company managers should prepare their staff to optimize their presence at trade shows, in addition to strategizing staff activities and training them to execute their roles. Managers should set ground rules for dress and behavior, such as no drinking or excessive chatting at the booth. Jankowski also stresses that managers should discourage their employees from bad-mouthing competitors.
Eighth, recognize media opportunities and pursue media relationships. While print publications are the primary media at trade shows, online magazines are very strong vehicles for product exposure. “Industry shows draw the top names in trade journalism, so be sure to meet with media representatives at the show,” she advises. “Additionally, your efforts to support PR measures tell the editor that their publication is important to you, which can pay off in inches of text in the publication.”
Ninth, Jankowski says that by simply staying in the show-sponsored hotel, company managers can take advantage of de facto networking. “You can make a friend by holding an elevator, waiting in line at the coffee shop, or hitting the treadmill in your hotel’s fitness center,” she says. “These casual meetings can turn into valuable friendships that could come in very handy.”
Tenth, attendees shouldn't skip out on host events, which can generate new ideas.
Jankowski says that everyone involved with your trade show efforts – from clerical staff to the top salesperson – should take part in the planning, execution and follow-up stages to ensure that your attendance at the show proves successful.
Connie Jankowski has attended, organized and promoted trade shows in the healthcare, education and consumer industries. She is a partner with fredricPR, which provides programs for both large and small businesses.