Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

June 2009

Using Music in Your Tradeshow Booth

Have you ever been walking through a tradeshow only to be diverted by the onslaught of a loud steady hip-hop beat from a booth three rows away? It’s happened to me a few times.

Typically, if music at a booth is too loud, neighbors will complain and it won’t take long for the music volume level to drop to acceptable levels, whether voluntarily or through enforcement by show organizers.

Music in your booth...

So does all music at a show rub people the wrong way? And with thousands of exhibitors won’t low-volume music get lost in the hustle and bustle?

Perhaps, but there are ways music can be used effectively. At a recent show I was drawn to a light reggae beat emanating from inside a small structure. When I stepped through the door I was treated to Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin’’ and I was treated to a small art display that enhanced the exhibitor’s image.

Across the show floor at another booth my ears detected new age music that was barely audible from ten feet away – but it sounded perfectly appropriate for the product on display and added to the overall booth ambiance.

In both cases the music was unobtrusive and supported the client’s image. If you’re going to consider music as a background for your tradeshow it should do both.

What About the Legalities?

Not being a lawyer, but at least being familiar with the licensing requirements of ASCAP and BMI, it’s my understanding that any event or venue that features licensed music is required to pay a fee. For instance, if you play a radio over your on-hold system, technically you’re required to pay a licensing fee. Same at a restaurant, bar or other gathering place where pre-recorded music might be played – or a live band for tha matter. If you play music in your booth at a tradeshow, often the event organizers or convention operators will have a license to cover that performance.

If you  want to play music at your booth, check with the show organizers first and see if they’re covered. If they’re not, check with your company legal advisor. If they determine you should cover your legal you-know-what, purchasing a performance license is relatively cheap.

Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone

No matter what the circumstance, moving out of your comfort zone is not easy. But busting that comfort zone is often a key step to growth.

Most clients I work with on new custom tradeshow booth projects are on the verge of moving out of their comfort zone. Why? Because they’re moving from simple pop-up type exhibits to full custom designed and fabricated booths. In other cases they’re moving out of the comfort zone of not doing tradeshow marketing to appearing with a small pop-up a regional shows.

Bob's Red Mill

That means they’re stepping into dealing with a larger plan that involves shipping, storage, drayage, show labor and more. Most of that stuff they haven’t had to deal with – at least not on the scale that a larger custom booth demands. It’s not as easy as shipping a small booth case with a few graphics. Now you’re dealing with common carrier shipping lines, larger storage spaces, and coordinating a set-up staff that you may have little communication with or control over.

A recent prospect made the decision to move into a larger 20×30 booth from a 10×20 in-line booth. They were ready to step up and break through that comfort zone as a company. But something happened on the way to the tradeshow. They started adding up the cost of drayage, storage, shipping – not to mention the cost of design and fabrication. Then the economy started to slide, so they regretfully sidelined the new booth project. Not because they didn’t want the new booth, but because the realities of all of the ramifications hadn’t been fully calculated. They were not quite ready for the new reality of living with a larger booth.

But there are many more examples of companies I’ve worked with that have made the step successfully. All contingencies were examined, all costs were vetted, and the decision was made to proceed. Bob’s Red Mill, of Milwaukie, Oregon, is a good example of this (see photo). When it was time to move up they made the commitment, and are extremely pleased with how the new booth has helped their marketing efforts at the larger tradeshows.

From my vantage point, all the folks I work with are more than happy to have made the change, no matter how uncomfortable it may have been working through the process. They have a nicer, larger booth that proudly shows off their brand and help bring in more business. Clients rave about the new booth and everyone goes home happier.

And dealing with all that stuff – show labor, shipping, drayage, etc. – becomes the new norm. So it doesn’t take long before you’re back in your comfort zone again.

20 Dumb Things Exhibitors Do

Are you wasting money with your tradeshow exhibiting?

Last week I put up a blog post that poked fun at tradeshow visitors with the “Top 10 Annoying Things Tradeshow Attendees Do” – so this week I thought I’d turn the mirror around with Dumb Things Exhibitors Do.

No, don’t think anything of the fact that this list is twice as long as the other list! I just happen to see if from the exhibitor’s point of view – and it’s my job to point these things out, anyway.

So…the list, sir?

  1. Show up understaffed.
  2. Neglect to train your staff.
  3. Show up with nothing more than a booth and some people – and no plan.
  4. Forget to update the graphics to reflect new products or services.
  5. Fail to keep the booth as clean as possible.
  6. Ignore visitors.
  7. Stand in your booth with your arms folded (body language says – ‘stay away’).
  8. Wait until the last minute to call your graphic production company with a change of graphic plans.
  9. Wait until the last minute to do anything – exhibit planning and execution usually takes more time than you think.
  10. Being indecisive and letting time slip by and being forced to make quick decisions that may not be the best for the company.
  11. Think that the tradeshow and convention is your time to party, baby! 3 am? Sure, why not?!
  12. Bring a generic brochure to a show where you should be promoting a specific product or service.
  13. Think there’s only one way to do things – and remain inflexible to possible changes. Even in the midst of a show.
  14. Fail to listen to your customers. A tradeshow is a perfect place to do mini-polls and customer research.
  15. Failing to take a break when you clearly need it.
  16. Failing to collect pertinent information for each prospect: just enough and not too much.
  17. Neglecting to confirm with your prospect exactly when your next contact will be and what that contact will address.
  18. Not taking advantage of early booking for next year’s show before you leave this year’s show – it usually saves you some $$ and gets you a decent spot.
  19. Fail to watch every nickel and dime – so you can plan next year’s show taking into account this year’s cost savings!
  20. Debrief your staff at the end of every day while it’s fresh on their minds – and implement good suggestions the next day!

Feel free to add to the list of course. Just take a moment, sign up as a blog user and leave your comment. It’ll make it easier to add comments to the next post.

To see a list of 101 things a tradeshow exhibitor SHOULD do, check out the e-book “101 Rules of Tradeshow Marketing.” (PDF link)

Branding Your Company Before and After the Trade Show

Hello, My Name Is...

Here’s a simple way to show off your company to prospective customers and clients from the minute you walk out of your door until the minute you return.

Wear a branded shirt or coat. It may sound simple, but look at what it does: it puts your name in front of people in the cab or shuttle to the airport. It shows your name off to people in the airport and on the plane.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with traveling anonymously, and it may suit you best. But why not take the opportunity to not only show off your company name while traveling, but to show how cordial and engaging you can be? This may be a better fit if you’re a salesman or PR person who enjoys interacting with other people, but it can work for anyone.

Some companies I know have all of their tradeshow staff wear nice branded clothing, such as a long-sleeve button, collared shirt with an embroidered emblem, so everyone on the plane, bus or hotel knows who they’re with.

Top 10 Annoying Things Tradeshow Attendees Do

Licensed through Creative Commons: photo by Taylor Marie Photography
Licensed through Creative Commons: photo by Taylor Marie Photography

Thousands of people come to tradeshows. Most are pretty nice. Many are a joy to meet and greet and do business with.

Then there are the annoying ones. Worse than Uncle Marvin at a family reunion. Harder to put up with than sand in your beach barbecue.

So what are the most annoying behaviors at tradeshows? We scratched our collective heads – then asked some of our online friends. And we came up with the following obviously incomplete list.

10. The guest who won’t leave. Yeah, you’ve done all you can, answered all his questions, put up with his lame jokes and made it clear you need to talk with other visitors…but the guy is still standing there. Waiting for…something?

9. The visitor who tries to pick up dates with booth workers. ‘Nuff said.

8. (related to #9) Guys who hit on the ‘models’ in the booth. Okay, so the company decided to bring ‘booth babes’ to attract an audience. But it’s still a pretty eye-rolling thing to have guys try and pick ’em up.

7. When visitors bring their bratty kids to shows. Now, bringing youngsters to a tradeshow (as opposed to a consumer show) is a bit questionable…but when they’re in a horrible mood and bratty? Yeah, annoying.

6. When an attendee says “I’m just looking” when I approach them. Trade shows are NOT The Gap!

5. Petty annoyance, but how about people who just dart over to your booth to grab the “free stuff” and then vanish? (too typical, but still annoying)

4. Stand in your booth talking to each other but refuse to engage your booth staff! grrrrr…

3. When attendees don’t wear their badges or turn them around. Just let me know who you are and what I can do for you..

2. The ones who refuse to accept that a female booth personel could be the expert and keeps addressing the men in the booth.

1. “They don’t show up!”

Your own exhibiting experiences would give you a different list…but for today and today only, those are the top 10 annoying things tradeshow attendees do!

Thanks to all the Tweeps who participated, including @rbakctiff, @katiejcrose, @qualitylogo, @EmilieBarta, @leyla_a, @ckinney, @Asa_Dahlqvist and @ctstew.

Asking Qualifying Questions at Tradeshows

Tradeshows are a busy and distracting environment in which you’re trying to make sales and generate leads. By asking qualifying questions you can cut to the chase quickly.

Tradeshow consultant and author Mitch Tarr says it takes practice. For instance, you should come up with a pertinent question, such as “Do you own a small business nearby?” or “Do you have kids in elementary school?”

If you spend a moment to qualify and engage the person, you’ll quickly determine if they’re qualified prospects. Each show might require a different qualifying question. A regional home show would have different requirements than a national tradeshow.

Ensure that everyone on your staff is well-rehearsed and able to ask the question to qualify visitors. While this may seem simple, in practice it often is not. In the heat and bustle of a tradeshow, it’s easy for someone to forget what the question is – or forget to ask it consistently of the booth visitors.

Guerrilla Tradeshow Marketing: What Makes it Different?

Guerrilla Trade Show Selling

Jay Conrad Levinson, Mark S. A. Smith and Orvel Ray Wilson released “Guerrilla Trade Show Selling” in 1997. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Orvel; I’ve given copies of the book to clients and find it a treasure trove of usable ideas – many of which I’ve either recommended or used.

A dozen years later it still packs a wallop in terms of great ideas to implement in your ‘guerrilla’ tradeshow marketing efforts.

As an example, here are a few highlights of some of the ideas that make guerrilla marketing different:

  • Guerrillas rely on time, energy and imagination instead of mountains of cash.
  • Guerrilla marketing is based on psychology instead of guesswork.
  • For a guerrilla, profit is the only reasonable yardstick of success. Profitable marketing is good marketing. All other marketing is bad.
  • Guerrilla marketing is strictly geared to small business.
  • Guerrilla marketing removes the mystique from marketing.
  • Guerrilla marketing is based on cooperation instead of competition.
  • Guerrillas don’t go for the sale – they go for the relationship.
  • Guerrillas know that it takes a combination of advertising, direct mail, telemarketing and other practices. Combine more than one tool and they reinforce each other.
  • Guerrilla marketers use as many marketing weapons as possible – tradeshows are just one weapon in the arsenal.

The book is easy and fun to read – hey, you want a marketing book with attitude? This is it!

You’ll find ways to save money, generate traffic, decide which shows to attend or exhibit at and close more sales. Who wouldn’t want that?

Free Tradeshow ROI Webinar


Joyce MeKee at got together with Skip Cox of Exhibit Surveys recently for a webinar on the new ROI Toolkit created by Exhibit Surveys, IAEE, CEIR and PCMA. The ROI Toolkit was released by Exhibit Surveys in January of 2008 after years of development. The webinar is an effort to explain what it does, and how it can help with your tradeshow marketing – as well as show you exactly how the ROI toolkit works.

Check out the webinar here at

Take a look at the ROI Toolkit from Exhibit Surveys here.

Tradeshow Marketing Podcast: Karen Silvers interview

Karen Silvers

Need a promo item for your next tradeshow, but think it might be a waste of money because your guests will just throw it away? It doesn’t have to be that way. As in most marketing efforts, when you bring in the services of a professional your results usually improve dramatically.

Karen J. Silvers, a promotional products distributor with Lee Wayne Company, spent some time discussing promotional products marketing – and firmly believes there is no time when you should NOT be able to put together a promotion around giveaways.

Check our Karen’s website and find her on Twitter – @KarenJSilvers.

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