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July 29, 2012

No rookies, no gum and no Frisbees: 10 don’ts for exhibiting at MR trade shows

The fall conference season will be here before you know it – ESOMAR, QRCA, AMA, CASRO, etc. – and many of you have committed to exhibiting at one or more of these shows. Done right, exhibiting can be an outstanding marketing vehicle and help you to generate highly-qualified sales leads, launch a new product or service, generate market awareness and support your association.

Now think about this: With the cost of the exhibit space; travel and lodging; building or updating your booth; shipping; event marketing; etc., your firm’s presence there could very well be the single largest marketing expense you have all year. Exhibiting is one of those things you must do really well to see a solid return on your investment.

As part of my 30-year career in marketing and sales, I spent almost seven years in the conference and trade show industry working for two of the nation’s top independent event producers. I’ve helped produce a wide range of B2B events, from a one-day, 20-booth expo to a five-day, 75,000-attendee trade show, and in doing so, learned a lot about exhibiting.

There are numerous exhibiting topics we could discuss (i.e., picking the right event, building a booth, pre-conference and post-conference marketing, etc.) but here I want to review the best ways to work your booth, for it’s in there where you connect with clients and prospective clients. Do it right and the results can be remarkable. Do it poorly (which most firms do, unfortunately) and you’ll not only have a bad show, you’ll generate little or no ROI and even harm your firm’s brand.

This two-part article highlights the top 20 things you can do (or not do!) to ensure your exhibiting experience goes well. First, let’s look at the “don’ts.”

    • No chairs allowed! Never sit. When sitting, you look lazy and uninterested – and prospective clients will sense this and walk on by. Yes, you’ll get tired but you’ll survive. If you need a break, leave the booth and go sit in the lobby or the food court.  To help with the fatigue, make sure your booth is always carpeted.
    • No eating or drinking in the booth – it looks unprofessional and you certainly don’t want to spill your drink. Leave the booth if you need to but keep all food and beverages out of the booth.
    • On a related note, when selecting your booth location, do not pick a spot near the food service area. While it will look busy, people go there to eat, not to talk business. Additionally, if they do show up in your booth, they will leave their dirty dishes in it.
    • No chewing gum either. Fresh breath is a must so get a supply of mints.
    • Never leave the booth unattended – ever! The way to make sure that never happens is to have two people working your booth (assuming you have an 8×10-ft. space). If one needs a break, the other can stay behind.
    • Do not staff your booth with rookies. Use the event to make your company shine; new employees can’t do that. If you have to send a new employee, balance it with an experienced employee who can guide and mentor them.
    • Never – and I mean never – put a table across the front of your booth. This is the cardinal sin committed by most firms that exhibit in small booths with a pop-up backdrop. The trouble with the table is that it creates a barrier between you and a prospective client – and why would you want that? Instead, try the “friendly” layout shown below. It’s open, has plenty of table space (use tall tables so you have ample storage underneath) and provides an unobstructed view of your booth.
  • Don’t be at the mercy of the conference’s Internet connection. Do you conduct software demos in your booth? If so – and if you require an Internet connection to do it – please be careful. You need to think about what would happen if you lost your Internet connection mid-demo. Talk to your IT folks about setting up a virtual server and running the software from your computer’s hard drive.
  • Don’t waste your money on swag. I haven’t bought a thumb drive in over five years. Want to know why? Because I have a collection of free ones that I picked up walking around exhibit halls. The same goes for pens, coffee mugs and miniature Frisbees! Money spent on giveaways can be better used for pre-show marketing or to entertain a prospective client while you’re at the conference. If your in-booth presentation is not compelling, no giveaway is going to help. And besides, they’re only taking your swag to give to their kids!
  • Don’t just spend all of your time in the booth. Where appropriate, take advantage of all that the conference has to offer: attend sessions; check out other exhibitors – particularly your competitors; attend social events; network in the hallways; take clients out to dinner; etc. And remember to have a little fun while you’re at it!
  • Don’t exhibit or attend aimlessly. Do you know why you’re exhibiting? Whatever the answer, make sure you have a plan and set quantifiable goals to help you get there. If you’re there to generate sales leads, how many do you want to leave the show with? If you’re demonstrating new software, how many demos do you want to give? If the goal is to build awareness, how many people can you touch? If you’re looking to enhance relationships with current clients, how many did you talk with?

In the second installment of this article next month, we’ll look at 10 “dos” that will help you enjoy success when you exhibit this fall. Stay tuned!

Note: This article was originally published on the Quirk’s website in July 2012.

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