WITH MORE THAN 9,000 TRADE SHOWS
being held each year, choosing the right show can be a hard task. The difficulty of making the right choices can be the reason why some companies do not exhibit at all. Making the wrong choice can be a very costly mistake. Yet there are many sources that can provide the information you need to choose the right shows that will bring the most results for your company, and also the greatest return on your exhibiting investment. To determine if your company should exhibit in a particular trade show or public show, you need to obtain answers to two questions:
Will the audience you want to reach be there?
Will the show management be effective?
A key source of the answers is the show management itself. But you can also get valuable input from exhibitors, attendees, industry associations and publications, and suppliers, such as installation and dismantle companies or service contractors.
Who really attended the show in the past?
Show brochures generally trumpet the number of attendees at the previous show. But what does that number represent?
Ask for the attendee profile
The demographic data a show manager provides can help you evaluate both the audience and the show manager’s research. To find out if management seeks the right data, “Ask to see last year’s registration form. Comprehensive data are gathered by the computerized registration systems used at many trade shows today. They record each attendee’s company name, size, and location; the individual’s job title, buying authority, purchase intentions, budget, and timeframe.” Computerized registration is always a good sign.
Look for the facts. “If the brochure says, We bring in buying teams from the largest companies, ask for examples of the types of companies, and ask for the titles of the people who make up those buying teams”.
Scrutinize Public shows, too
Although public shows don’t use the computerized registration systems that are common at trade shows, demographic data can still be captured. “We can do an exit survey, ort people may be asked to fill out their ticket stubs.” Thus, management can learn attendees’ ages, household income, distance traveled to the show, reason for attending, areas of interest, and purchase intentions.
The last point is especially important for the public shows, “A lot of people don’t buy at public shows, but they do set up appointments, for example, for home remodeling,”. “So we do surveys that show planned purchases.”
“Today, anyone who doesn’t offer audience statistics isn’t offering the type of service an exhibitor should expect,”. “That doesn’t mean that the show isn’t good, but the information should be available for the prospective exhibitor.”
What do previous exhibitors think of the show?
The experiences of exhibitors from companies that are similar in size to yours, or in the same industry, can indicate what you could expect if you exhibited.
Ask show management for the names and phone numbers of contacts at such companies. “I’ll make those names available to prospective exhibitors,” says Mackler. “Or they can call members of the show’s exhibitor advisory board. We encourage that.”
Ask previous exhibitors if they saw the kinds of buyers they needed to see. Did they make sales at the show? Or can they trace subsequent sales to the show? Is the show important in its industry? Is it keeping up with industry developments? Did management work with exhibitors to help them have the best show possible?
What do previous attendees think?
“Attendees know better than management if a show is growing or declining”. Again, show management should willingly provide names and phone numbers of previous attendees. Ask attendees these questions: “How much time did they spend at the show? Did they go on more than one day? Did they urge others to go? Did they see the new products they wanted to see? As a result of visiting the show, did they-or will they-purchase anything? What would they have liked to see at the show what was missing?” Each conversation should take no more than five or ten minutes.
How will management promote this show?
Show management should have specific plans for reaching a carefully targeted audience, and should be willing to share those plans with prospective exhibitors.
Will management target the audience that’s right for you?
Will direct mail and ads be aimed at the people you want to reach? In what he calls a real change from the way things were done five or ten years ago, Exhibitors should demand that show management tell them what they’re planning to do to promote the event. Exhibitors have made such demands on him, he says. As a result, We prepare a sheet almost a year in advance that lists the trade publications we’ll use and their circulation, the number of ads that will run in each, the number of news releases we’ll send and when, and the number of mailings we’ll do and to whom.
If the target list doesn’t meet your needs, speak up. Show management welcomes calls saying. ‘This is who we need to target. Are you bringing them in? We’ll come if you do.
What are public show plans? Because many people learn about public shows only from advertising, these plans are key. “A potential exhibitor needs to know how much radio advertising, will be done, on which radio stations, how much TV, how much print.” Review the content of the ads, too, he urges: “The features addressed in the advertising indicate what type of audience is being targeted. We let our exhibitor prospects know exactly what they can expect from our advertising plan.”
How will management help attendees find you?
For professional, reputable show management, the overriding concern is bringing buyer and seller together.
Before the show opens. Find out if attendees can preregister and thus enter the show more quickly. Other points: “Will the show guide be sent in advance? Is the floor plan easy to read? Is it color coded?”
At the show. Look for electronic terminals that help attendees locate specific products, and may even print out lists of companies with booth numbers.
Another consideration: “does the schedule give people time to attend the seminars and still see the exhibits?”
What else will show management do for your exhibits?
There are a number of services that show managers might offer before, at, or after the show that can contribute to your success.
Before the show. Tell show management what you’re planning, and what problems you may have had in the past-and ask them how they can help you avoid a recurrence.” Among the ways management might assist an exhibitor before the show, co-op promotion programs or advice on how to create an appealing exhibit.
We’ll do a complete marketing campaign, including direct mail, for our exhibitors, says Lawson Hockman, chief operating officer of the National Solid Wastes Management Association. “We can target people from the exhibitor’s list, or our registration list, or a publication’s list.” computerized registration enables him to tell exhibitors what the attendance was hour by hour. That helps exhibitors plan their booth staffing so that they are covered during busy periods and not overstaffed during busy periods and not overstaffed during slower times.
At the show. “Look for marketing opportunities,” says Sind. “There could be show dailies, or sponsorship opportunities that will increase your company’s visibility.”
Another possibility, is special events that can be used for networking. He adds, “You also want to feel confident that you will get immediate and knowledgeable assistance with operational issues-for example, getting your freight in and out in a cost-effective and efficient way.”
After the show. One of the most crucial parts of exhibiting happens after the show, when leads are followed up and converted into sales. Although you, as an exhibitor, have most of the responsibility for follow-up, show management might help you locate a lead tracking service. Or, says Sind, some show organizers provide post-show lists of attendees.
Learning what management offers, and whether it is given willingly or grudgingly, can help you decide whether or not a particular show is for you.
What is the show’s-or show management’s-reputation?
Find out what others in the industry think about the show and the management company. If the show you are considering is new, and thus has no history for you to evaluate, others’ assessment of management is of even greater importance.
Ask industry associations: Are they sponsoring the show? Are they participating? If not, why not? The key consideration is whether or not the management company belongs to such umbrella associations as the International Associations for Exposition Management, the Association of Exhibition Managers, or the Trade Show Bureau. “What shows if they’re really involved in the industry,” he points out. Ask those associations, too, about management’s reputation.
Ask your customers: Which shows do they attend, and why? The shows at which they learn about the industry, the ones where they make their purchases or buying plans, are the ones in which you should exhibit.
Check with publications. “Ask show management for the names of publications participating in the show. His reasoning: “Some of the best information comes from publications’ advertising sales people. They’re talking to attendees trying to build their circulation or sell ads. They know if a show is growing, what the exhibitor base is, what audience management is targeting, what management’s reputation is.”
Check with suppliers, such as decorators or installation and dismantle companies. “Their customers are exhibitors, and they get a lot of feed back,” says Hockman. They know the exhibitor mix, the audience mix, and if a show is viable.
What do you think?
If the show you’re considering is an existing event, and you have enough lead time, attend the show and add your own opinion to those of the people you’ve queried.
Evaluate the operation. Begin right at the beginning: how smoothly is admission handled? Chronic long lines at a public show may be a warning sign, because it’s often a simple matter to add another ticket seller and thus increase the traffic flow. “If the lines are long because of understaffing, and not just at peak periods, a potential exhibitor should be concerned,” “because that would show up elsewhere at the show as lack of attention to detail.”
Inside the show, check for traffic bottlenecks at concession stands, restrooms, and in the aisles. Pay attention to the exhibitor mix, too. “Be sure that there aren’t irrelevant products like jewelry exhibitors at an industrial show. “They could cheapen the show.”
Evaluate the attendance. Visit your competitor’s booths and observe the crowds. Are they large? Do the color-coded name badges indicate that many people are either decision makers or buying influences?
This may seem like an enormous amount of asking and checking. Sometimes a company who’s going to spend $500 on a TV or a VCR will ask 10 neighbors for advice. Yet people spend $100,000 exhibiting in shows and don’t ask all these questions.”
After all, trade shows are an important part of your company’s overall marketing efforts. And remember, if a show organizer is providing measurable demographics, take advantage of it.