How to be a trade show show-off

You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em, but trade shows remain one of the best ways to “kick the tires” of a host of products and services in a few days while also staying current on industry innovations and thought leadership.

For marketers, trade shows can be a great way to come away with actionable leads, new potential partners, and some great press. Yet with new trade shows popping up every year, skyrocketing exhibit costs and a multitude of look-alike companies vying for the attention of attendees and media, it’s more important than ever to plan ahead to get the most for your trade show budget.

Here are a few ways to make a big impact at your next trade show.

  1. Meet with the media. Reporters who cover an industry often use trade shows as forums for gathering more information and building relationships. Even if you don’t plan to announce a new product at the show, reporters may be willing to meet briefly to better know your company and executives. As an exhibitor, you should have access to a registered press list. Contact reporters 3-4 weeks before the show and invite them to individual meetings at your booth or at an on-site conference room. It’s important to note that travel budgets for many publications have been slashed, leaving some reporters covering a show for multiple news outlets. As a result, a growing number of reporters are refusing to make firm appointments, preferring instead to do booth “stop-byes.”
  2. Make an announcement. Smaller trade shows are great venues for making an important announcement, such as a product launch. Plan ahead to secure a venue and invite reporters, making sure your announcement doesn’t conflict with other announcements or with important trade show events/seminars. Have media material to pass out. It’s also a nice idea to leave reporters with a small premium item that reminds them of your announcement. If you want to make a big splash, target important reporters or prospects with half of a gift, with the second half available at the announcement. When a new Air Jordan sneaker came out, a company we worked with asked us to call VIPs to find out what size shoe they wore. We mailed one shoe in advance with a note that the mate would be available at our announcement.
  3. Announce in advance. Large trade shows often are too busy to be conducive for anything other than the most impressive announcements. For large shows, consider making announcements a week or two before the trade show. This gives reporters an opportunity to include your news in pre-show publications, and creates excitement that drives traffic to your booth.
  4. Work the media early. Many large trade shows have a show daily that provides opportunities to highlight your product or service. Likewise, many industry trade publications produce show preview issues. Contact editors well in advance with information on what you’re showcasing in your booth and don’t forget to provide high-quality photos. Remember that once you give the news to reporters it’s fair game for them to use it, unless you have a written embargo agreement.
  5. Participate in special events at the show. Larger trade shows often showcase “cool new products,” which receive enhanced media support from show organizers and is usually the first stop for journalists covering the show.
  6. Be a speaker. Speaking at a trade show is an effective way to showcase thought leadership. Keep in mind that most trade shows prohibit blatant promotional presentations. Contact the show organizer 8-12 months before the show and request a “Call for Presentation” package. When proposing a speaker, keep your topic focused on what will benefit the audience. Look at the program from the previous year to get an idea of what show organizers are likely to feature. Whenever possible, suggest presenting jointly with a customer.
  7. Leverage social media. While attending the show, post pictures from the event, Tweet about the action on the floor and post online invitations telling people your booth number and what you are featuring at the show. It always helps to offer booth visitors something to entice them to visit, such as free popcorn (who can resist the smell?) or a photo booth. One of the most valuable items we’ve seen is a company offering to FedEx the material accumulated by attendees at the show back to their office. After all, who wants to lug all that stuff home?
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