by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | July 01, 2008

Are you suffering from “candy bowl syndrome”? This particular malady refers to exhibitors who resort to a bowl of candy to lure passersby into their booths. Wouldn’t you rather pull in the right prequalified leads and compel them all not only to remember your firm but also to make a point of seeking out your products and services after the show? Here are some tips.

Yours or Theirs?

Should you bring your own booth or go turnkey? If you have a great booth already (or plan to invest in one that you will use long-term), you should ship it and use it. If you are just testing out the trade show scene or have a fairly green team, it is best to go turnkey, where the trade show organizer supplies everything.

With a turnkey booth, you might spend more, but as shipping costs rise, the price differential could dwindle. On the plus side, you’ll get a booth with the look and feel of the show, as well as your electrical, drayage (movement from dock to show floor) and other details handled for you, typically for a flat fee.

Action Plan

The next step is to determine what you want from the show. What do you want to say to attendees? How do you want them to remember you? How will you collect leads? How will you prequalify leads?

Also critical: Where should you allocate your spend? Among the possibilities are booth design, entertainment, furniture, decor, booth staff, demonstrations, giveaways, and food and beverage. It’s generally more prudent to focus spend on one standout element, rather than dilute the dollars across all elements.

Making Choices

If booth size is restricted to the typical 10-by-10 feet or some other dimension, consider the following.

* Stay open. Remove walls (if possible) to eliminate barriers between you and your visitors. It creates a far more intimate setting.

* Go round. You also can set your booth “in the round,” giving more surface area and more opportunities to engage passersby.

* Island-style. An island booth is a premium spot on the show floor that stands alone and gives attendees 360-degree access.

Note: If you go against the standard grid setup, beware of potential gaffes. Most booths share side walls or are flush against each other. If you change your shape, you likely will need a clever way to disguise the open areas. Plants are always a great option.

* Use demos. A great way to draw traffic is with some type of multimedia demo. These can be created by your in-house team, or you can hire a media company to create one for you. The better demos use mounted flat-panel displays with high-definition screens; interactive touch screens, 3-D images or products/services your visitors can really test out also are great options.

* Give gifts. Booth giveaways should be compelling, unique and speak to/support your messaging. Offer items that are either consumable or easy to pack and lightweight for shipping and carrying, and think green.


Great booths should:

* Elicit emotions and draw people in;

* Be interesting, unique and impress people with their innovation;

* Tie participants to elements outside the booth, such as the company’s website and/or events, as well as encourage follow-up after the show;

* Have a data-capture system and method for reconciling the data and taking action with prequalified leads;

* Be staffed adequately with highly knowledgeable and personable people; and

* Look neat at all times, and be restocked regularly with promotional materials and giveaways.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM,is senior event operations manager with George P. Johnson Experience Marketing in San Carlos, Calif.