Transforming Trade Show Panic into an Engaging Experience

It happened again last week when I received a call from a relatively new business acquaintance with an urgent plea for help. “I’m exhibiting at a tradeshow in 4 weeks, and I need something to give away!”

As I began doing my basic information-gathering (Who will be attending? Who’s your target audience? What are your goals and messaging for the show? What does your pre-show contact plan look like?), the silence clearly indicated that there really hadn’t been enough thought about the show prior to the call.

This situation may ring a familiar bell, because it is unfortunately fairly common. It’s easy for the daily “busy-ness” (the plethora of activities) that marketing and sales are responsible for to overshadow the detailed planning (pre-show, exhibit and post-show) that enables a successful tradeshow appearance that generates desired results.

Companies typically decide many months in advance during the previous year’s budget planning what trade shows they will exhibit at, followed by marketing attending to a short list of general items for each show:

  • Make sure that the booth reflects current branding and messaging
  • Identify people to work the booth
  • Handle logistics: shipping/delivery of the booth, hotel reservations and transportation arrangements
  • Add shows to the website and email signatures

With these key issues resolved, the show rests on the back burner. Time slips away, and suddenly the show date has become uncomfortably close. Now we’ve come full circle to the call I shared at the beginning of my story.

Plan, plan and plan: before, during, after

Successful business operation is about creating a plan and working it, whether it’s a strategic, financial or marketing plan. No doubt your company has overall financial, marketing and strategic plans in place, with supporting micro-plans that specify required resources, timing, actions to be taken and anticipated results.

Considering the resource (time, people, money) investment before, during and after participating in a tradeshow, micro-planning is certainly worth the effort to greatly improve your ROI. Another equally, if not more, important consideration is that tradeshows are engagement opportunities to connect with prospects, clients and media, and to nurture those relationships.

To get you started, here are some questions to consider in your tradeshow micro-planning.

  • Why did we select to exhibit in this show?
  • What are our goals (lead gen, nurture clients, close prospects, meet with media, get post-show media coverage)?
  • What does success look like?
  • What activities (before, at and after the show) will help us create successful outcomes?
  • How will we attract our target audience to the booth (before and during the show; direct mail, social media, display ads, sponsorship, special event)? How will we make the experience memorable? How will we prepare booth personnel; supporting them with strategic icebreakers that promote engagement?
  • What resources will we need at the show to create a memorable engagement experience (booth design/contents, demo, collateral)?
  • After the show, who is responsible for following up on leads? How will they follow up? What is the process for sharing follow-up results?
  • How do we nurture chance meetings to create relationships?

The adage “the devil is in the details” is a perfect way to describe the difference between working toward tradeshow success and falling short of it. And if the myriad of details weren’t enough to plan, there’s also the timing of those details to nail down.

It can be overwhelming to keep track of it all without the proper documentation. We use a tradeshow calendar/milestone chart that documents all details and who is responsible for them, and it’s a huge help.

Don’t let those devilish details derail your efforts to take full advantage of tradeshows to nurture client/prospect relationships. If you’re looking to be intentional about transforming your company’s participation at trade shows into an engagement win we have creative ideas. Let us help you implement down-to-earth strategies that are aligned with your company objectives, brand, message and voice. Call us.

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