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Tips for running a successful trade show event

Attending a tradeshow as an exhibitor is no easy task, especially if you are a small business with limited resources and time. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made mistakes as an exhibitor at numerous events but at the same time have learnt a great deal from them. I thought having been involved with the Oracle Openworld team would provide the necessary experience after all I had done that for almost ten years or so. Boy, was I wrong. Nothing prepares you having to make so many decisions based upon assumptions that were poorly defined or not known at all, half of them at the last minute or even on the spot!

#1 - Budget appropriately and stick with it!

“How much????” was my initial reaction when I first received the estimated cost from Anna who manages all our marketing events. But, I think I nearly fell off my chair when she added “And that doesn’t include carpet, power or even the structure, it’s just the space”. We hadn’t budgeted enough for the ‘branding’ of our booth. I wasn’t willing to make concessions by diminishing what our brand represented, after all if we don’t care about our image and what it represents - who would??! Like typical project mgrs, we immediately started to go through items that were nice to have versus must haves and deciding quickly to cut where we could.

We did manage to reduce our costs by nearly 3000 USD attributed to brochure printing and shipping costs. We even managed to place a marketing spin when prospects wanted some brochures to take away and read by providing Rysigo branded memory sticks that included the collateral. We stumbled across our need to “go green” and cut costs related to printing, shipping and storage let alone the waste produced if those printed documents needed updates later on.

Lesson learned: Suck it up! Brainstorm with the team on reviewing all costs and cut where you can!

#2 Location, Location Location!

Identifying the right event is the first and most important task that you’ll face. You want to focus on an event that gives you access to the right clientele and the decision makers. Perhaps the decision makers are not the ones that use your product or services? Perhaps it’s their employees 3 levels below so striking the right balance and mix is going to be key.

Choosing the right location for your exhibitor booth is critical to the overall success of the event itself. You want to be as close as possible to where the majority of foot traffic moves but need to be ask the show managers the type of clientele and their experience of attendee behavior in the past. Areas where refreshments or food are served (even beer!) is bound to attract people and if you have hired people who are crowd pullers this can in turn generate a fair amount of foot traffic that you can draw from. But be warned, its not quantity that will dictate the sales you close, but quality of the leads that you attract.

In my experience refreshment stations, exhibitors near larger booths and away from the sides are the best places that attract the largest attendee crowds. Being aware of your neighboring vendors only builds camaraderie for the week and will provide your booth staff personnel a friendly atmosphere only helps build a pleasant environment for all. Of course, the best locations cost more so alternative marketing dollars may be spent on sponsoring customer dinners or cocktail hours. Sounds expensive right? It’s surprising how well these types of off-event receptions do for the company brand and image without breaking the bank.

Lessons learned: Do your research and don’t be afraid of asking show managers or organizers questions and get their opinion.

#3 Keep Calm and Carry On!

That was a slogan used in England during the Second World War and its purpose was to avoid panic and remind people that they should continue with their daily lives…my point? It will get hectic and you will feel disorganized even close to panic stricken the day before or even on the day. Everyone goes through that but if you are the most senior person at the booth you need to remain calm and help staffers, just don’t get in their way!

So, how can you manage the booth well? By using the following tips:

  • Build a staffing schedule – for lunch, customer meetings and more importantly, you’re on your feet all day and people need breaks!
  • Have a daily booth staffers meeting 30 mins or before the trade floor opens and at the end of each day so that corrective or reassignment actions can be taken.
  • Identify the strengths of your team and leverage them accordingly. For example, if someone has specialist knowledge get them to field questions or talk to customers/prospects who meet your criteria as a clientele.
  • Centralize business card collections, so make sure that there is a place for staffers to place business cards as they are collected, but here’s the trick: at the back of those write down their interest and any other relevant details so that you can follow up later.

Lesson Learned: Lead by example by staying calm!

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