Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio November
Back to Basics
BY MARTHA JO DENDINGER, CMP
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
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.
GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT
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
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
DON'T BE AFRAID OF CHANGE
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.
TOUT THE CROWD
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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