Luring Exhibitors to Your Show

Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio November 1998 Current Issue
November 1998 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

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Luring Exhibitors to Your Show

Strategies for making yours a can't-miss event

The only true measure of a successful trade show is booth sales. But this arm of the meetings business is pretty crowded, making it tough to hang on to exhibitors and attendees year after year. As an exhibit manager or planner, it's natural to become caught up in the competitive atmosphere by spending lots of time getting exhibitors to sign on the dotted line.

Don't worry, though. Companies will always buy space so they can meet new customers, maintain relationships, launch new products and enhance the company's image. Your job is to find the right tools to convince them yours is the show they absolutely, positively have to be at.

In order to make an exhibitor believe your show is special, you have to feel that way. View your event as the only show that brings together its special components under one roof at one time. Meeting this definition and rising to the top of your industry's events may seem like daunting tasks, but they just require some basic practices: constant review of your markets and your exhibitors' markets, and a healthy dose of relationship selling.

A basic rule of relationship selling is to help the customer, not just your bottom line. By zeroing in on why individual companies exhibit at your show, you can strategize selling methods and perks. Will the company be testing the waters for a new product line? Is it a standby that considers exhibiting at the show an industry imperative? Their goals will determine whether they buy space.

How do you find out these goals? Ask. Most companies would like a little white-glove service and will appreciate your interest. Say a company is launching a product. Make sure they're aware of promotional perks such as special advertising rates in the program, discounts on pre-show mailing lists and complimentary hyperlinks on your Web site.

To help exhibitors meet specific goals, a colleague of mine developed a matchmaking service: She asked for each exhibitor's top prospects and invited these VIPs to the show with a complimentary registration. This was a great way to increase traffic with qualified buyers.

Remember, a company that gets nothing in return after shelling out thousands to buy space, staff and market a show will not come back. So contact one-timers and determine what was missing. Incorporate plans for the missing component and promote this new feature. Chances are, if one company experienced a lack of floor sales because of this element, other companies did, too. One enterprising planner gave guarantees to returning exhibitors. If the exhibitor needed 50 leads to feel his time was well spent, the planner made sure that the booth received at least 50 qualified leads during the show by finding attendees who were looking for the exhibitor's product and making appointments for them with the exhibitor.

Suppose two of your exhibitors merged last year. Instead of taking up two 50-by-50 spaces, you've sold only one 20-by-20 space to the new organization. One such instance won't cause the show to die, but the mergers that are occurring in many industries can change the face of the show floor from year to year.

Maintaining exhibit sales and getting these new entities to stay on board may mean tapping new markets for the show itself. Where are your exhibitors' product lines moving? If your soft drink exhibitors are moving into delivered pizza, maybe you should look at that market. No trade show survives long without changing its format or market.

While the pre-show promotions of list rental and advertising discounts are enticing to exhibiting companies, the greatest leverage a planner has is the show's audience. Your attendance records (the numbers and the demographics) are highly valuable in a company's decision to set up a booth. So promote the audience profile in all materials.

Packaging the attendees at the show is critical, too. Help exhibitors meet their customers using colored badges for identification and capture leads with smart cards or bar-coding. Another tactic that encourages successful trade show encounters is creative scheduling - making sure peripheral events don't conflict with exhibit hall hours and setting up events on the trade show floor instead of in a meeting room. You don't want to draw attendees out of the hall.

Use some of these tricks and your exhibitors will keep coming back - and so will your attendees.

Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner in Atlanta.

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