It’s official, I’m telling the world about the new website TradeshowGuy.net. The goal is for it to be an active “hub” of all things in my world: exhibits, blog, videos, social media, freebie reports to download, newsletter and much more.
One of the newsletters I read regularly is Electric Impulse, a monthly newsletter from Electric Impulse Communications. I interviewed Leslie Unger, President of Electric Impulse Communications, in March of 2018. In this week’s newsletter, a comment of hers jumped out at me that made me immediately think of the tradeshow world:
The art is in hiding the art and you as the audience don’t see the work behind the curtain.
Leslie Ungar, Electric Impulse Communications
Tradeshows are about presenting your company’s BEST. You
leave almost nothing to chance. An exhibit is carefully planned down to the
last detail. The newest and best products are launched at tradeshows. Booth
staff are either put through formal training or are at least given guidelines
on how to interact with visitors and gather contact information for follow up.
Multiple meetings are held, phone conference calls are scheduled, all to make
sure that the graphics have the right messaging, the right images; to make sure
that the exhibit colors and materials are right for the brand; to ensure that
flooring or hanging signs fit the overall branding scheme.
A lot of damn work goes on behind the curtains.
But visitors don’t see behind the curtains. They don’t see
the months of work that went into the exhibit design and fabrication. They
don’t see the planning that went into handling logistics such as shipping and
installation/dismantle of the exhibit. They don’t see the chaos of the tradeshow
floor during setup and dismantle. They don’t see the challenges that a company
went through to put on their best face, to put their best foot forward at each
and every tradeshow.
Think of it. Each and every tradeshow is like the Land of
Oz. Behind the curtain is the Wizard (or group of Wizards), pulling the levers,
manipulating information and ideas, maneuvering pieces from one place to
another. All done to give each and every visitor an experience or impression
that leaves them with a positive feeling about the company. The best exhibitors
are those that go beyond that, though, and leave their visitors feeling more
than positive. They leave them with a memorable experience that relates
directly to their product. For example, a software demonstration that gives
visitors the empowerment and possibilities that they just didn’t see before,
and now they are leaving feeling creative and inspired. Or a product that they
know they can put to immediate use that will save money and time, freeing up
both resources for other important tasks.
Storytelling in a tradeshow exhibit is an art, a highly developed one. The challenge for each tradeshow exhibitor is to tell their best story with the people and skills on hand. And then to improve on it the next time around.
Wait a minute, how do you mean “mean”? As in average? As in
Nope, as in “very skillful or effective” in a more informal
sense: “she’s a mean bowler!”
But when it comes to having a clean and mean booth at a
tradeshow, how might that work? Let’s explore.
Skillful and effective can certainly come in to play with your tradeshow presence. Your booth staff should be well-trained and know how to ask the right questions and collect valid and helpful answers.
Your exhibit itself should be clean. Having a small carpet sweeper or dust buster can help keep the floors clean. Garbage cans should be emptied regularly, especially if you’re at a show where a lot of samples are handed out, leaving behind a trail of debris.
Hiding things: most exhibits have counters or closets where personal items and extraneous items are kept. Often brochures or other needed items can be stored under a skirted table. In any event, keeping those extras out of sight helps to keep your booth mean and clean.
No food or beverages in the booth space. Yes, if you’re sampling foods, then it’s okay. But your staff shouldn’t be eating or drinking in the booth space. Psychology shows that often visitors will turn and go the other way if they encounter a staffer eating in the booth. It’s not inviting at all.
Have enough staff for the show. It’s a fine line: having too few or having too many staffers. Knowing the right amount and being able to effectively schedule the staff so that there’s always the right amount of staff comes from experience.
Knowing who the staff are: does this mean they all have readily identifiable badges or color-coded clothing? I’ve been in booths where it was impossible to know who part of the team was. In other booths, all of the staffers were wearing the same color shirt or wearing a shirt that was plainly branded with the company name.
Keep your exhibit and booth presence clean and mean for an edge over your competitors.
Let’s say your company is looking ahead about six months to a show in March and you’re considering a new custom exhibit for the show. If the show is in the early part of March, you have less than six months before seeing the new exhibit leave the loading docks.
So what has to be done between now and then to ensure that you have the exhibit you want for the price you can pay?
There are many things that have to be done in the next few months to make the process work well. Let’s start with the basic questions:
What size booth space are you going to need?
What is a realistic budget for the exhibit you want?
What company is going to guide you through the process and earn the business?
The first question, about booth size, is already set. Unless you’re upsizing from last year’s show, it’ll be the same as it was.
The budget question is a more difficult question, and there are any number of ways to look at it. First, when you say “realistic,” does that number come from what the accounting department told you? Does it come from a thorough research into what exhibit properties cost all the way through concept, design and fabrication? And does the budget figure include everything, or only the exhibit itself?
Industry Average Pricing
A couple of good places to start would be to understand what the industry, on average, charges for the various items. Do your research and find out what a typical custom exhibit costs. For example, recent figures show that inline construction can average about $1,340 per linear foot, give or take 10-15%. Which means a typical 10×20 custom inline booth will land somewhere close to $26,000 – $28,000. Could be more, could be less, but that’s a good number to start the discussion.
A recent industry average for custom island construction comes in a bit more – around $160 – $180 per square foot. If you’re looking at a 20×20, multiply 20×20 (400 sf) by $160 and you’ll get a rough budget of about $64,000. At least you’ll have a number in mind when you start getting prices back from exhibit houses.
Exhibit Function Needs
Next, look at the other factors that affect price, the pieces you want in the exhibit. What exactly do you need for the exhibit to function well to show off your products and services? Do you need demo stations? A stage for a professional presenter? Sample tables? Meeting spaces? All those will push the final price one way or another.
Choosing an Exhibit Company
The last question – what company you should work with – is a big one. After all, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of exhibit houses ready, willing and able to do the job. Unless you’re a huge exhibitor (think Microsoft or Nike), you don’t need one of those big exhibit houses. If your company is a small or medium-sized company, going to a big exhibit house has some benefits – and some drawbacks. The benefits are that they are more than capable of handling your job, and they may offer you some very creative designers as part of the mix. The drawbacks might be that if you’re a small client, it’s easy to get lost among all their big clients, which demand a lot of attention. Another drawback is that a larger company has a lot more overhead than a smaller company. They have to pay for a larger space, they have more employees, and so on. It’s a bigger business that they have to keep going.
Smaller exhibit houses also have tradeoffs, but in my experience, the smaller houses – with fewer clients – value those clients like gold and work hard to keep them. They make sure nothing goes wrong, or if something does, they will fix it as quickly as possible. Any business is built on relationships, but with fewer relationships, the importance of each client is paramount. Which would you rather work with? No wrong answers.
Another aspect to consider about which exhibit house to work with: location. Some exhibitors want to be able to stop by and see the progress on a new build. Or once the exhibit has been built, to be able to have the staff nearby to do any repairs or upgrades, or even store the exhibit. But many exhibitors don’t see not having the exhibit house nearby as a negative thing. We do much of our business online and via email and phone that distance is irrelevant. Again, no wrong answers – different people have different needs and priorities.
Timeline from Design to Fabrication
The next question to ask is how long will this take? Hence the title of the blog post.
Again, there are general guidelines, but each exhibit house will have their own schedule and availabilities. Fabrication is often the most straightforward part of the process. In other words, once everything has been decided, there are few surprises. But getting to the final design is what can take time. But it’s time well-spent. The sooner you start the conversation with a 3D exhibit designer, the better off you’ll be.
A good 3D exhibit designer is the key. She’ll know what questions to ask, how to draw out more details of what you want, and finally produce a mockup design for review and revision. This process can take what you might think is a lot of time. Prior to going into the first meeting, make a list of all of the items you need: meeting space, demo space, demo stations, stage, graphic display areas, etc. I’ve had clients bring us 2D “flat” graphic representations of what they wanted in an exhibit and it was a simple matter to convert that to a 3D rendering. I’ve had clients start with nothing, which meant we talked everything through in detail and let the designer take the lead and produce the first rendering, or a couple of options to choose from.
Different sized exhibits take varying amounts of time, as you might imagine. Custom takes longer than something “off the shelf.” If you want something simple, it’s often a matter of picking something from an online catalog, doing a little customizing and getting it in-hand in a month or two, not the five or size months you’d like for a larger custom island exhibit.
But if you’ve got a show on your calendar that’s six months out, no matter what size exhibit you have, if you’re targeting the show for a new one, it’s time to schedule that first conversation!
This is a guest article by Lee Becknell of Pinnacle Promotions.
Trade shows take a great deal of forethought and planning, but your business will reap substantial rewards from participating in these types of events. Maybe your business is relatively small and you’re looking to expand your demographic, or you’ve just undergone a company rebranding – trade shows can provide a platform to spread your brand’s message and inform people of your products or services.
Whatever your intentions may be for attending a trade show, you’ll need to put a lot of planning into the process, which includes creating a budget. Use this trade show checklist to ensure your budget is considering all essential components such as promotional products and trade show giveaways, travel and booth fees.
of the most essential aspects of your trade show display, your booth should be
secured as soon as you decide to attend an event. The larger the booth space,
the more expensive the rental cost will be, so give some serious thought to how
much space your company will actually need. Aside from booth size, the location
of your display plays a role in price determination. If you’re interested in a
spot closer to the trade show’s entrance, you’re going to end up paying more.
Though a location closer to the entrance may gain more attention, opting for a
booth further in the back of the space could cut costs.
Once you’ve selected a booth at the event, you’ll need to secure any other utilities your display may require, including electricity, WiFi, AV services and other accessories. This part of the budget often gets overlooked by those who are not as experienced with trade shows. As you’re planning for the event, consider what types of extras your booth may require. Are you planning to play an informational video about your company or show photos of products? You’ll need to make arrangements for electronic connections and TV displays. Write down any additional costs and then inquire with companies near the event space to get a price estimate and add this into your budget.
For a successful trade show experience, you’ll need a well-trained, professional group of employees who are willing to attend the event and share their expertise with guests. Because trade shows are typically considered occurrences outside of normal work hours, you should factor in additional wages to compensate qualifying staff members. Prior to the event, you’ll also need to train employees on what to say, how to behave and what to wear at these events. To present a sleek, united front between employees, you can purchase uniforms specifically designed for trade shows like comfortable Nike t-shirts branded with your company’s logo.
Travel and Accommodations
from booth rentals, traveling to the event can be one of the most expensive
parts of your trade show budget. The best way to keep this cost down is through
early planning. Determine which trade shows your company will attend for the
entire year and then begin scheduling travel plans right away to avoid rising
prices as the event approaches. Work with other members of the marketing team
to decide how many employees will be needed at the event. Then, factor in the
cost of flights or renting vehicle transportation plus hotel accommodations.
Keep in mind that booking a place to stay far from the event may save money in
the short term, but don’t forget the additional travel costs to get from the
hotel to the convention center.
Promotional Products and Trade Show
excellent method for spreading your company’s message and brand, promotional
products and trade show giveaways, commonly called “swag,” should be a focus
for your trade show preparation. Offering some useful or unique items to
attendees is a great way to capture their attention and give them something to
take home that will remind them of your company.
Select well-known brand-name items and have them personalized with your logo or choose a promotional product that’s beneficial to others in your industry. It’s best to order these items in bulk to get the lowest possible price. In order to plan how much you’ll spend on promotional products, estimate how many trade shows the company will attend in a year and then research how many people are expected at each event to get a sense for the number of promotional products you should have on hand.
Now that you have your booth space figured out, you need to consider how you’re going to make your company’s area look attractive and professional—feel free to get creative here. Most companies that attend trade shows will order custom signs with the name of their business and sometimes the company motto. Offering brochures or pamphlets can help inform attendees about your business and give them something to remember you by along with promotional products. People who frequent trade shows are interacting with dozens of different businesses in a matter of hours or days. It’s rare that attendees will remember every single company they encountered, so providing them with helpful reminders, like handouts and trade show giveaways, will encourage information retention and may generate prospective leads.
Plan How to Transport Booth
Another minor detail that many companies overlook when planning for trade shows, logistics are essential to transporting your supplies. If you’re traveling a long distance with a lot of equipment (think TV displays, furniture for your booth, etc.), then you’ll likely need to book a freight service to deliver the accessories. For companies that don’t require much equipment, you can also consider shipping essential items, including your promotional products, to the trade show location to lower your overall cost. Be sure to get an estimate on either logistics services or shipping costs when planning your budget.
Lee Becknell serves as the Senior Digital Marketing Manager for Pinnacle Promotions. Lee oversees digital marketing from the Atlanta, GA headquarters. Lee has been with Pinnacle for over six years. Lee enjoys spending time with her husband, son and golden retriever, running and taking naps.
You might think that designing graphics for a tradeshow
exhibit is hardly any different from designing graphics for a brochure or a
website. But you’d be wrong. There are a number of differences, and an
experienced tradeshow graphic designer is an invaluable asset if you’re facing
the prospect of doing it alone.
First things first. What’s different? The most obvious is
that graphics are much bigger on a tradeshow exhibit than a website or brochure
or sales sheet.
Second thing is that people will interact differently with tradeshow
graphics than they will with a brochure or a website, which means your approach
to crafting a design with an impactful message must be different.
And third, and perhaps the most important, the resolution of
the tradeshow graphic file will by its very nature be much higher than a web
design or print design.
Since graphics are much bigger, and since people interact
with tradeshow graphics differently than with websites and printed material,
the design and messaging have to reflect that difference. Thousands of people
walk by a typical tradeshow on any given day. They glance but often don’t see
the graphic messaging. If their brain stops for anything, it’s for either a
familiar logo or a bold question or statement. A supporting image such as a
photograph can also be a factor in keeping someone attention for another few
seconds if you’re lucky. Great care and decision making must go into the
design: what image resonates with your brand and attracts attention? What
message is important and can be communicated in a few short words?
Finally, the crafting of the digital graphic files is
critical to ensure high resolution in the output. I’m not a designer or a graphic
printing technician, but I can pass along some of the general guidelines on how
to prepare the files.
Each printing facility and tradeshow exhibit house will vary
slightly, but the main things to keep in mind are to make sure the graphics are
submitted in an acceptable format. Typically, most printers accept Photoshop,
Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign or high-resolution PDFs. Other programs such
as Quark, FreeHand, CorelDraw and Publisher are typically not acceptable.
Neither are files such as Microsoft Word, or low-resolution JPEG, GIF, PICT or BMPs.
Fonts are typically converted to outlines. If not, you’ll
need to provide Macintosh of TruType fonts with the files.
This differs from shop to shop, but I generally see
requirements of setting up files at 100-120 pixels per inch at 100%. Anything
smaller and the final print will show pixelization.
Again, varies from shop to shop, but most ask for vector
files in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black), and raster artwork in RGB (Red,
Green, Blue). If this is over your head, speak to your graphic designer. An
experienced designer can address these issues.
Uploading and Sharing Files
Given than tradeshow graphics are high resolution and cover
a lot of square feet, the graphic production files are going to be big. We just
did a set of banner stands this week where the graphic files for five stands
amounted to about a gigabyte. Too big to email, so it’s got to be transferred.
We typically create a sharable file on DropBox, but there are other tools to
share big files, such as HighTail, Google Drive, SendSpace and others. Again,
pretty easy to do. In fact, many companies have dedicated FTP sites where you can
upload directly to them.
The topic of tradeshow graphic design, file creation and
production can take up several books, and no doubt it has. This short blog post
barely scratches the surface. Need to know more? Speak with experienced
designers and production people that do it every day. They’re happy to share
their knowledge and make sure you get the highest quality graphic you can.
You have literally a few seconds to catch a tradeshow
attendee’s attention. You’ve been there: walking the show floor, heading across
the hall. You see someone you know; you get distracted, you spill your coffee
on your pants. There’s always something that keeps you from paying attention to
the tradeshow exhibits around you.
Even highway billboards sometimes get more attention than your booth.
Which means that people are ignoring you. Not because you
don’t have something good to offer. Not because you are slacking in the ‘look
at us’ department. But if you’re doing just the average approach to getting
attention, you’ll be, well, average when it comes to having people stop. What
are some of the top ways to get attention?
Do something different. Unexpected. Unusual. I often point to the Kashi island exhibit that’s shown up at Natural Products Expo West in at least a couple of iterations the past few years. It’s simple, and it delivers a simple message. It invites people to stop and find out what it is. The design itself is unusual enough that it stops visitors.
Hire a pro. A professional presenter knows how to stop people in their tracks, entertain them and deliver a powerful message in just a few moments.
Have something for them to do. Interactivity means, if the activity appeals to them (chance to win a prize or get a little mental engagement), they’ll stop. And of course a small crowd draws a bigger crowd.
Ask a great question. Take a tip from our pal Andy, who specializes in teaching this to his clients, there’s a lot to be said for knowing how to immediately engage with someone in a positive manner.
Offer a space for people to sit and charge their phones. This usually takes a bigger booth than just a small inline, which means you need a little space to spare. But if you can get random visitors to sit for ten minutes, offer them something valuable: a bottle of water, a chance to view a video about your company or product.
Lots of ways to capture a tradeshow attendee’s attention –
it just takes a little planning and execution and you can be drawing them in.
Yes, I love oldies. Spent a lot of time on the radio at an oldies station playing them and shouting over the top of the intro, which was basically required for Oldies radio. Which great oldies of the Sixties might we apply to tradeshow marketing here in the ‘teens of the new century? Let’s go year by year through the Sixties:
1960: Money (That’s What I Want) by Barrett Strong. Yes, it’s all about the money. How much you spend, how much you make from the leads you gather, and most of all about the Return On Investment.
1961: Hit the Road Jack by Ray Charles. As tradeshow marketers, we spend a lot of time on the road. We become road warriors. Sing this little tune to stay in the road warrior groove.
1962: The Loco-Motion by Little Eva. Written by Carole King, this tune knows all about the movement. And tradeshows are all about the movement. How many shows a year? How many different cities? How many people do you talk to at each show? You’re always on the move, always in motion.
1963: Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. Grabbing a snack on the road? Why does it always seem to be a donut, or maybe a piece of banana bread, or perhaps a Frappucino? Whatever it is, it’s probably loaded with sugar.
1964: People by Barbra Streisand. Yes, as a song it’s a little downtempo, but tradeshows are all about the people. By the thousands! Ya gotta be able to get along with people when you’re in the tradeshow world!
1965: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. As hard as we try at tradeshow marketing and as successful as we are, most people I speak with feel that they could have done better if only they did something a little different. We’re never satisfied, are we?
1966: Summer in the City by the Lovin’ Spoonful. It seems there’s always at least one tradeshow on the schedule that takes place in a hot city in the middle of summer. This one is a perfect soundtrack for that show.
1968: Tighten Up by Archie Bell and the Drells. On the showroom floor, there’s chaos and confusion. There’s pitching and sampling and demos. And it’s easy among all of the activity to just let things go. But pay attention and tighten up in your presentations, your conversations, your booth.
1969: I Can’t Get Next to You by the Temptations. In every show there’s that one client that you’d like to catch. But for some reason they remain elusive. Keep trying. The Temptations are doing their best to urge you on!
Now that the Sixties are over as far as the top ten oldies
to help with your tradeshow marketing, are there any songs we missed? Or should
we move on to the Seventies?
If you do a Google search for “showing up,” you get all sorts of links and suggestions as to what it means. Showing up for a performance, showing up for important events in your life for your friends and family, showing up at work by giving it your attention and energy.
Showing up is important. As Seth Godin put it, though, we’ve moved way beyond simply showing up, sitting in your seat and taking notes. Your job is to surprise and delight and change the agenda. Escalate, reset expectations and make your teammates delighted.
Sure, showing up is important. On a personal and business level to me, showing up means controlling my behaviors and emotions. Knowing that when I set out to do a day’s work, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do (calls, projects, communications with clients, writing, etc.), and doing my best to do it, every day. For example, I made a commitment in January of 2017 that I would show up every Monday to do a video blog/podcast for at least a year. Once the year was up, I would assess it from a number of angles. Was is working? Was it fun? Was it good? Did it get any attention? Did my guests get anything worthwhile out of it? Did the listeners give good feedback, even if there were very few? Based on my assessment of those questions (not all were completely positive, but enough were) I committed to another year. Then another.
So here we are.
Showing up at a tradeshow is more than just being there. If
you are to take Seth Godin’s perspective, you want to have more than just a
nice exhibit. You want to show up with more than just average enthusiasm and
average pitches to your visitors. You should set high expectations for your
company and your team.
How can you do that? By starting months before the show and
having ongoing conversations about how to get visitors to interact. How to get
them to respond. How to tell your company or product’s story. How to make it
exciting to just visit your booth, exciting enough so that your visitors feel
compelled to tell others to come.
There are no wrong answers, and plenty of right answers.
When you ring up your custom exhibit house and order a new
custom tradeshow exhibit, do you ever consider your company’s sustainability
Of course, there are a lot of things that can go into a
company-wide sustainability initiative, such as having it as part of your
company mission, doing your best to reduce waste through recycling, using less
power, automate workflow or whatever else that may fit, making sure your
employees are engaged in the process, and having ways to measure the
effectiveness of the program so you can show it off to both employees and the
But do you consider how a new exhibit can possibly help in
your efforts? There are a number of ways to use the opportunity of a new
exhibit project as a part of your sustainability efforts.
First, you have to ask the question. When you are chatting
with your exhibit house representative, ask them: “What ways do you implement sustainability
efforts in your exhibit-design and building projects?”
That gives them a chance to show their stuff. In my
experience, it’s rarely asked. But it is occasionally brought up, particularly in
regard to responding to an RFP. The more formalized the process, it seems, the better
the chance to have the question pop up. That’s where a company can fully
respond to those concerns.
There have been some occasions when the question is asked as
part of the conversation leading up to the sale, or as part of the project, but
it is rarer in my experience.
Which is a shame. I think the buying / selling dance is a great
chance (often a missed chance) to explore ways in which an exhibit company uses
sustainability efforts to great effect.
For example, we often work with Classic Exhibits, one of the
premier exhibit builders in the nation. They’re well-known in the industry for
the depth and breadth of their sustainable practices. Just one example:
aluminum is smelted and extruded locally in Portland, not shipped in, and
recycled a short distance away to keep transportation costs minimal. Their approach
to sustainability includes the ability to recycle everything except Sintra.
That includes wood, aluminum and other metal, paper, foam, clear film and clear
film plastic. All except wood is recycled at no cost.
Another Portland example, Boothster, uses building materials
that are very easy to recycle: carboard tubes, cardboard-printed pieces, bamboo
banner stands and so on. They position their company as builders that fully
adhere to the practices for sustainability.
Greenspace, also in Portland, positions their approach as “environmentally
sustainable design and fabrication.”
Another builder we work with at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, Eco-Systems
Sustainable Exhibits, approachas the design and fabrication of exhibits using
materials such as recycled aluminum extrusions, LED lighting, ECO-glass made
from 100% post-industrial recycled content, bamboo plywood, FSC certified wood,
plastic shipping cases made from recycled plastics and are 100% recyclable. Graphics
are printed on ECO-board, Paradise fabric (made from 100% recycled soda
bottles), and finishes are water-based low VOC (volatile organic compound) or
VOD-free, and Greenguard certified.
All of these go a long way to making your tradeshow
investment dollars be a part of your commitment to a company-side sustainability