by Lisa A. Grimaldi | November 01, 2016

The most successful trade show sponsorships today don't just aim to keep organizers and sellers happy -- they also consider the needs and habits of their buyers, the attendees. Following are creative ideas from Tom Myers, vice president, sales services, for association management firm SmithBucklin, and David Saef, executive vice president, strategy and market works, for trade show firm GES. 

For more advice (and CMP credit), view M&C's free webcast, "Fresh Ideas for Trade Show Sponsorship."

• "Fast & Furious" kiosk. Drawing attendees to a booth to hear about new products is always a challenge. The National Demolition Association recently created an innovative platform -- a " Fast & Furious" mini theater on the trade show floor, where sponsors could buy in to present five-minute pitches on new products and services. The association provided a slide-deck template to give the presentations a uniform look. Attendees could pop by to hear about the latest equipment in a quick pitch and, if interested, could follow up at the sponsor's booth or connect with them after the show.

• Industry Jeopardy. Channel the venerable TV game-show host Alex Trebek by testing attendees' industry awareness and competitive spirit with an energetic "knowledge bowl" session. The National Student Speech Language Hearing Association organized such a session for attendees (students and faculty engaged in their academic and pre-professional careers), and it gave sponsors a direct networking opportunity with the next generation of professionals in the field in an interactive educational setting.

• Highlights reels. The Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition created a clever sponsorship opportunity using "what you missed" videos to reach virtual attendees as well as those on-site who couldn't get to all the sessions and/or booths in the allotted time. These one-minute highlight clips were posted on the show's social media accounts immediately after the event.

• Mentoring sessions. Young professionals are one of the hardest groups for sponsors to reach. One way to appeal to industry newbies and students is to sponsor solid career advice and education during the show, as the American Board of Audiology does with its speed-mentoring program. Young ABA attendees choose three (out of about a dozen) topics they want to learn about. They then rotate through roundtables hosted by industry experts and leaders for 30-minute deep-dives into topics like clinical fee structures, insurance and hearing-instrument fittings. 

• Genius bar. Take a cue from Apple and set up a "genius bar" on the trade show floor or in prefunction space, staffed with experts ready to answer attendee questions on industry topics or research. A single sponsor can host the bar for the duration of the show, or different sponsors can host time slots.

• Flip sessions. One new idea David Saef of GES especially likes is the "flip session," where attendees can view a sponsored online video prior to a show, with exclusive insights that won't be shared during the live session or presentation, thus giving advance viewers extra knowledge. He also notes that some companies sponsor a live "phase 2" session, which has a first phase that is viewed online, and a deeper dive into the topic live at the show.

• Shark Tank. Attendees can emulate Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran, who judge product pitches each week on the popular reality show. A sponsor (or several) can work with the show organizer to invite a handful of companies to present their new and innovative industry offerings. Each company gives a brief pitch, after which attendees vote for the company or offering with the most potential. 

• Game station. Trade shows can be physically and mentally grueling. Give buyers a chance to let off a little steam and mingle with sponsors with a low-tech game of Giant Jenga blocks or a classic beanbag toss. Giant Game Rentals offers a variety of interactive games for trade shows and corporate events. 

• Virtual tote bags. These are the green alternative to traditional plastic bags filled with sponsor brochures and giveaways that attendees pick up at registration. The "bags," offering sponsor links and virtual gifts, are housed on the show's mobile app. Attendees can open links that interest them and stop by booths to pick up real gifts. This idea not only eliminates waste, but allows the sponsor to track who opened their links and picked up the giveaways.

• Sponsored chauffeurs. Got a group that likes to hit the nightspots? Sponsor Uber service (where available) to safely chauffeur attendees around town on a free evening. The company can create a special event rate based on number of participants, or establish a set credit per person. Sponsors can promote the service in emails, push notices and announcements at general sessions. 

• Field trip. On a free night or afternoon, host a "field trip" for attendees to view a local aspect of their industry. For example, during a culinary association event held in Hawaii, one sponsor -- the Western Regions Beef Council -- took chefs to visit three local cattle ranches, giving them insight into how cowhands work, what the animals are fed and more.

• Meet the author. Organize a book-signing featuring a hot author in your field or industry. To attend, delegates must pick up a bookmark (that will serve as a ticket) at the sponsor's booth.

• Viewing party. Does the Academy Awards, Super Bowl, World Series, political debate or other high-profile, broad-interest event coincide with the show? Capitalize on it by setting up a VIP lounge for a private group viewing. Attendees will appreciate large screens, snacks and beverages, and themed giveaways, and sponsors can connect with buyers in a fun setting.