Planning, Developing, and Executing a Successful Trade Show

An Exclusive

CHICAGO — As a past member of the Clean Executive Committee and a member of the Society for Meeting Planners, not to mention an attendee of numerous industry events, I have seen our industry through a variety of trade shows. Here are some guidelines that should help you get the best value out of your trade show participation and planning. These pointers will help guarantee your professionalism no matter what industry segment you represent.RESEARCH
Show research usually begins 18-24 months prior to the event. Here are some things you’ll need to find out:
•    How well does this trade show fit your marketing needs?
•    How convenient are the show dates?
•    What other events are scheduled on those dates?
•    How convenient is the show location?
•    Is lodging close to the show? Think of the cost of going to and from your lodging.
•    What percentage of attendees fall into your target market?
•    What percentage of attendees comes from your major service areas?
•    What does show management do to promote the show?
•    What is the show’s past success rate?
•    Which of your competitors also exhibit at this show?
•    Will show management provide a list of previous exhibitors to contact about the show?
•    Has someone from your organization visited the show?
•    How much will you need to invest to be in this show?
•    What type of promotional assistance does show management offer?
•    What information about audience quality can show management provide?
•    What return on investment can be expected from this show?
•    What booth and show restrictions must be planned for?PLANNING
Planning should begin 12 months prior to the event. Where does this particular show fit into your present marketing strategy? Do you want to increase existing products/services in existing markets? Introduce new products/services to existing markets? Introduce existing products/services to new markets? Introduce new products/services to new markets? Introduce the company to existing markets? Introduce the company to new markets?
You’ll need to consider the following:
•    What products/product lines need to be displayed?
•    Who is your target audience at this show?
•    What are your exhibition objectives?
•    Do you have a written exhibition plan?
•    Has an exhibition budget been established?
•    Has your space been reserved?
•    Have the necessary deposits and fees been paid?
•    What booth design will meet your objectives?
•    Can you refurbish/use your current exhibit?
•    Do you need a new exhibit? Take a look around you. Visit other trade shows to view state-of-the-art booth technology.
•    Do you need new graphics?
•    What show services/items need to be ordered? Think about signage, plants/floral decorations, floor coverings, audio/visual equipment, plumbing/air/water/drainage, booth-cleaning services, food and beverage, food and drink for booth workers, electricity, a telephone, a computer, an imprinter, waste bins, furniture and office space.
•    Are security arrangements necessary?
•    Has booth installation/dismantling and shipping been organized?
•    What freight arrangements need to be organized?
•    Are there any union restrictions?
•    Has insurance been arranged?
•    Do you have a tool kit organized to take to the show?
•    Have the necessary hotel arrangements been made?
•    When is final payment due for the booth space?
•    Are credit card services needed for booth sales?
•    Is a vendor’s license needed?
•    Has a lead card been designed and printed? Are other mechanisms available that can provide better tracking than what the show has on hand?MARKETING AND PROMOTION
Promotional opportunities need to be planned six to eight months in advance. Don’t forget:
•    What pre-show promotion needs to be organized? Think about personal invitations (with incentives and a response form), advertising (in trade publications and local media, and through direct mail, telemarketing, public relations, and websites) and sponsorship.
•    Has your booth number been included on all pre-show promotional pieces?
•    Do extra literature/catalogs/price lists need to be printed?
•    Have press kits been prepared?
•    Do other PR opportunities, such as press conferences, need to be planned?
•    Has a show guide entry been completed and mailed?
•    What promotional giveaways will best enhance your message?
•    What on-site promotion do you want to organize? Think about airport advertising, billboards, TV advertising, transit advertising, “show daily” advertising, hotel room promotions, show directory advertising and sponsorship.
•    Have hospitality functions been planned? Think of basics like liability issues, smoking rules and ethics considerations if applicable.
If members of your organization are conducting educational sessions or managing other activities, market and advertise those activities. Show participants want to know what you offer the industry other than the products you sell. Advertise your activities to applicable professional organizations. Let participants know what you do and who your customers are.PERSONNEL
Plan and select your booth team six months out.
How many people are needed to staff the booth? Keep in mind that you don’t want a bunch of people just standing around talking on cell phones. Small representation and professionalism is the best approach.
Be careful when choosing the best people to represent the organization — title or responsibilities doesn’t necessarily equal successful booth interaction. My experience has shown that you need team members equally split between men and women — frankly, a bunch of guys standing around does nothing to attract people to your booth.
Has a dress code been established? Get rid of the flower and flag shirts — be comfortable, but be professional as well. Remember that your apparel/dress is part of the booth design, so think carefully about colors and approach. Also remember that slacks are as important as shirts. And please, ladies and gentlemen, get a shine on those shoes and keep the shine going for the duration of the show.
Also consider:
•    Has a booth manager/captain been appointed?
•    Has staff training been organized? Make sure that you exhibit items that are applicable to the show and attendees to the show.
•    Has a pre-show meeting been scheduled?
•    Is the booth team familiar with the products/services being displayed?
•    Has a practice demonstration session been organized?
•    Will a technical representative be available to answer questions?
•    Have badges been ordered for all booth personnel?
•    Do the booth personnel have sufficient business cards?
•    Has a booth schedule been planned?
•    Who will oversee booth installation and dismantling?
•    Does that person understand the move-out procedure? It’s imperative that exhibitor representatives attend preliminary meetings with show management.MAINTAINING PRODUCTIVITY
Here are some things to contemplate for getting the most out of your efforts during the show and beyond:
•    Prepare as much of your post-show activity as possible prior to the event.
•    Has a daily debriefing session been scheduled? Don’t wait until the next show to make corrections. Do it now, if you can.
•    Will thank-you letters be sent to every registered visitor?
•    How will show leads be handled?
•    How will sales from the show be monitored?
•    What kind of reward/recognition will the exhibit staff receive?
•    How will the show be evaluated for future participation?
•    Did you manage to stay within the estimated show budget?
•    Does the budget need revising for next year (applicable show by show)?
•    What other shows or opportunities nationally/internationally could be explored?
•    Think of future exhibit floor locations and evaluate foot traffic, the industry component location, and joint ventures. Start planning for the next show during the show itself.
Has a lead-taking system been organized for visitor requests? This important process demonstrates you care about prospects and existing customers. If you see them, let them know afterward that you appreciate that they stopped by your booth. A handwritten acknowledgement is the most appropriate way to communicate further.
Take immediate action wherever needed. Be innovative and always plan for the unexpected. Remember, you can’t just show up!


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