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Exhibiting at $600 a Minute: Making Every Second Count
By Susan Friedmann, The Tradeshow Coach

It has been estimated that major exhibitors' investments total up to $10 per second, all costs included.

They pay your salary and they make your job possible. Your show literally could not exist without them. They, of course, are your exhibitors.

It has been estimated that major exhibitors' investments total up to $10 per second, all costs included. As a leader in show management, your most fundamental responsibility to your exhibitors is to provide value in booth space and in other components of exhibiting, providing a positive experience for all exhibitors.

Creating a positive exhibitor experience does not happen through random schemes or through hit or miss contact. It takes thorough planning and an almost military-like campaign, one which should include the following field operations.

Determine Your Exhibitors' Needs

Before you pick up a telephone or even touch a keyboard, carefully scrutinize your exhibitors' needs. Review exactly what you are selling to your exhibitors. This package might be more valuable than you at first realize because:

  • You are providing them with access to a highly targeted market.
  • You are giving them marketing opportunities of various kinds so that they can reach out to their target markets again and again.
  • You are giving them your expertise within this very specialized marketing arena -- a factor that is often not fully appreciated by exhibitors until they are standing in their booths on opening day without a clue as to what to do or say.
  • You are creating a forum in which exhibitors can receive direct customer feedback about products or services.
  • You are providing opportunities for exhibitors to achieve media exposure and to meet journalists in person.
  • You are creating an environment in which exhibitors can see what their competitors are doing.

It's vital not to put all of your exhibitors into a stereotyped box and assume they are at your show for the same purpose. They all have their own agendas and reasons for attending your show. It is up to you to identify and optimize those agendas. And, while "selling" the above concepts to your exhibitors is important, most companies' bottom line is the bottom line: They are attending the show to ultimately make money. The only way many companies will relate to the opportunities open to them is by your showing them how exhibiting at your conference will advance their profit-making goals.

Create a Positive Selling Environment for Visitors

While selling activities are exhibitors' responsibility, it's your responsibility to bring in qualified buyers. You need to get the most extensive group of influential, targeted, willing-to-spend decision-makers possible through the show entrance door. "Willing-to-spend" is a key factor that you have little or no control over. However, creating a positive environment for visitors is where you can shine. The more time buyers spend on the show floor, the more likely they are to spend money.

This positive environment is comprised of many small, seemingly unimportant details. Putting carpet down, for example, creates a more comfortable environment for visitors. As a result they may stay on the show floor two or three hours longer, making them more likely to spend more.

The overall environment of the show also has an impact on long-term memory. Whether your trade show floor is fun, stimulating, educational, progressive, or high-tech, you will keep visitors excited about the show if you constantly work to improve the floor environment. Excitement sells and will keep them coming back for more; the last thing you want is visitors leaving the show with the feeling that their time could have been better spent doing something else.

Make a Positive First-Time Impression With Exhibitors

The highest turnover of trade show exhibitors are first-time exhibitors. Statistics indicate that approximately 30 percent of first-time exhibitors -- nearly one-third -- will not return the second year.

You know how much time and money your organization spends convincing new exhibitors to attend your event. You should also be doing everything in your power to make that investment continue to be worthwhile for your organization and the exhibitor.

You can begin by helping companies understand the power of trade shows and the unique selling environment they provide. First-timers, in particular, need a certain amount of "hand-holding" so that they fully appreciate the opportunities that are open to them.

For example, you could offer a pre-show seminar on booth requirements, successful booth design, and booth staffing techniques. You could make an additional time and dollar investments to improve the usability of your show manual or to improve communications regarding important deadlines before the show. Communication improvements could also include a telephone hotline or a Web page devoted to dealing with first-time exhibitors' questions, problems, and concerns.

The key is to provide vital and easy communication links to your new exhibitors so that they feel informed, aware, and prepared for the upcoming show.

Not only should your assistance with preparation be focused on the profit-making side of the show, it should also include travel and hospitality necessities. Walk through your exhibitors' needs from start to finish: hotel reservations, transportation, and so on. In addition, if the environment poses certain challenges, such as a lack of parking, take on the responsibility of easing the problems. If that means supplying shuttle buses, then do it. Chances are, you'll be able to find a company that's willing to sponsor a shuttle bus if it provides increased exposure for the company. With some careful and creative thinking you can often turn these challenges into great sponsorship or advertising opportunities for industry partners, covering your costs at the same time.

Provide Support at the Show

When the show opens, make it a point to visit with every exhibitor. Showing that you are devoting your time and energy to them will make your exhibitors feel important. It will also give you a good chance to ask about things that could be improved for next year's show.

However, remember that once you receive feedback, it is very important to act on it in a timely manner. No matter how minute the request seems, it will show your exhibitors that you do care about their success and comfort at your show.

Finally, the more you can be seen as helping your exhibitors be successful, the more they will support you. And if they are successful, then there's every chance that you will be too.

Susan Friedmann, works with organizations who want to boost their exhibiting results by attracting new business at tradeshows. She designs and implements strategies for show organizers and exhibitors. She can be reached at 518.523.1320, on the web or by email

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