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

Budgeting

There’s Always a Tradeoff

When I first got into the exhibit industry in the early ‘00s, the company I was hired by, Interpretive Exhibits in Salem, was heavily involved in an exhibit for the Army Corps of Engineers. It was a permanent installation (still there) at The Dalles Dam in The Dalles, Oregon. The theme of the exhibit was “Tradeoffs” and it addresses the various parties involved in the needs and desires of the Columbia River. For every group that had in interest in utilizing the Columbia River as a resource, there was a tradeoff

of sorts. Sports fishermen, Native Americans and their fishing rights, shipping and transportation, recreation and so on – there were all sorts of groups that wanted something out of the river. The exhibit went into detail to explain each group’s interests and how they had to compromise, in a sense, to get a lot (but not all) of what they wanted.

That concept – the tradeoff – comes up in my mind frequently, and it can be applied to virtually anything that you are involved in.

Apply it to the tradeshow world: if you are willing to spend the money on a larger exhibit, the tradeoff is often that you must also be willing to hire a crew to setup and dismantle the exhibit, and you must be willing to pay more for shipping.

If you want an exhibit that can quickly be setup by one or two people, the tradeoff is that you must be willing to settle for a very simple design with limited bells and whistles and perhaps a lesser impact than something more complex.

If you want to have a professional presenter in your booth space pitching attendees several times an hour, the tradeoff is that not only do you need to invest in hiring that presenter, but you’ll need to make sure you have enough staff on hand to engage as many of those attendees as possible before they slip away.

It seems like we’re always giving up one thing to get another. We don’t live in a world where we have it all. Or a world where we have nothing at all.

We live in a world where we’re always calculating a tradeoff that works best for us.

Top 5 Challenges Facing Tradeshow Managers

Not every tradeshow manager faces the same challenges. Some are overwhelmed by being understaffed. Others have a boatload of shows to deal with and it seems as if there is never a breather.

But in the work I’ve done over the years with tradeshow managers, the same handful of issues keep coming up as being significant challenges:

tradeshow manager challenges

Logistics: there are a lot of moving parts in tradeshow marketing. Shipping and I&D (installation and dismantle) make up a big part of those logistics. Add to that shipping product samples, getting everyone scheduled for the show and the booking a convenient hotel and many other bits and pieces and handling the logistics of tradeshow marketing is often outsourced. That’s one reason why at TradeshowGuy Exhibits we are taking on more and more logistic coordination for clients.

Exhibit Brand Management: keeping the booth updated from show to show. New product launches, new services and more means that the exhibit needs to be updated for upcoming shows to reflect that. It’s common, but the timeline sneaks up on people. In a sense, the challenge here is coordination between graphic designers, production facilities and making sure all items get done prior to the booth crates being shipped out.

Company Growth: Many companies we work with are doing very well. But that means moving from small pop-up type exhibits to more complicated exhibits with light boxes, custom counters and more – all of which ship in larger crates and would be set up by hired EAC’s (Exhibitor Approved Contractors). All of this change means that the person handling the shift is moving out of their comfort zone. They face a lot of choices around whether to hire installers, how to package the exhibit for shipping (crates vs. a handful of plastic molded cases, for example), and more.

Getting Good Results: Exhibitors who don’t get good results complain that tradeshows are a waste of time and money. Yet other exhibitors at the same show rave about how great the show was, how many new leads they made and new contacts they came away with, and how many sales were closed. So what’s the difference? Frankly, many exhibitors don’t prepare or execute well. Tradeshow marketing is not rocket science, but with all of the moving parts it’s easy to let a few items slip through the cracks. And those missing items can make all the difference between success and failure.

Budget: It costs a lot of money to exhibit at tradeshows. For companies that do tradeshows, the amount invested in tradeshow marketing is about a third of their overall marketing budget. Making all of their tradeshow dollars stretch as far as possible is an ongoing challenge faced by all companies. For a long list of ways to cut costs at tradeshows, check out this webinar.

Other challenges include booth staff training, record-keeping, keeping track of your competition and other items, but if you can keep these few items under control, you’re doing better than a lot of your fellow exhibitors!

TradeshowGuy Exhibits: Planning Notes for Cannabis Collaborative Conference

cannabis collaborative conference

Since we made the decision to exhibit at a regional cannabis show in January, the Portland Cannabis Collaborative Conference at the Portland Expo Center, we’ve been tossing around a lot of ideas on how to approach it. Thought it might be fun to share some notes about what is crossing our minds regarding the show.

First, the Cannabis Collaborative Conference is a relatively small gathering. Around 125 – 130 exhibitors will set up shop for a few days, January 22 – 24, 2019. There will be two days of conferences, breakfasts, lunches and networking. And of course, exhibiting! In discussions with Mary Lou Burton, the organizer, it was apparent that a number of companies that are not directly involved in the cannabis industry exhibit at the show. There are companies involved in banking, insurance, legal, energy reduction, marketing and more. Given that the show is pretty popular, and the industry is growing, we felt it was a good fit to invest in exhibiting at the show as a potential supporting marketing partner of companies in the cannabis industry that do tradeshows.

Now that the decision has been made, what to do?

As any tradeshow planner knows, it all revolves around budget. From booth space, to travel, from the exhibit itself to giveaways and more, budgets must be decided upon and hopefully adhered to.

At first blush, our budget for the show will be modest. Here are some thoughts on what we might do for our 10×10 space – #420. Yes, we’re in #420.

Exhibit: Lots of things to consider. After all, we have access to a lot of styles of exhibits, from pop-up graphic back walls that set up in seconds, to aluminum extrusion framed light boxes, to typical  10×10 exhibits (rental and purchase) to banner stands and more. The first thing that comes to mind is to do a big back drop (maybe even a light box with fabric graphic) with a large striking image, company name, maybe a few bullet points. I’ll work with a professional designer for this – I ain’t a designer.

Giveaways: of course, I have a couple of books that I’ll either giveaway or sell on the cheap. The organizers have said I can sell the books at my booth (some shows direct sales are not allowed, so I checked). We might also come up with some branded swag. If we can find an item that really makes sense for the show that is a good giveaway, we may do that.

cannabis collaborative conference

PreShow Marketing: the organizers gave me a list of some 2500 people that attended the last show. While it might be helpful to reach out to them via email, our interest is more in the exhibitors – they’re our target market. We might do a couple of email blasts to the group to let them know we’re there and what we do. Email is cheap. Direct mail is probably not a great option, mainly due to the cost. But, even if the attendees aren’t exhibitors, many of them are retail shop owners and are potential customers for other items we can supply. Since I’m active on social media – and especially with the booth number 420 – you can expect that we’ll have a lot of fun both before and during the show promoting both the show and our booth space.

During the show: one thought is to make the rounds at the other exhibits at the very outset of the show opening and invite them to come to booth 420 to pick up a free copy of my book while they last. Once they’re there, we’d be ready to capture their information for follow up. And I think it’s always a good idea to have some sort of thing to do – some interactive element – which bears more thought.

At this writing the show is still 182 days away – half a year. And most of these thoughts and notes on what we’ll do is just that – incomplete ideas. Still, I always tell clients that when a show is a half a year away, THAT is the time to be slowly creating the ideas, talking with team members and getting the juices flowing so that as time goes by they will coalesce and become more concrete until they become a plan that can be executed.

Stay tuned! And if you’re planning to be in Portland in mid-January of next year, put this show on your calendar and come see us!

Big Tradeshow Projects vs. Small Tradeshow Projects: Which is More Work?

When it comes to judging the time, effort and money involved in big tradeshow projects vs. small tradeshow projects, it may come as no surprise that small projects are often more involving than big projects.

big tradeshow project

Let’s take a look: let’s say a big project is either an island exhibit such as 20×30, or a longer inline exhibit such as a 10×30. A client has decided to move ahead with something that, to them at least, is large. If not large, then a very significant project and investment. The steps involved, once the decision to move forward, typically cover these areas:

  • Create and finalize the design
  • Create and finalize the graphics
  • Fabrication and walk-through of the exhibit
  • Crate and ship
  • Coordinate I&D (Installation and Dismantle)
  • Show off the new exhibit!

These are all certainly important and can be somewhat time-consuming. But from my experience, companies doing larger exhibits are often quite experienced at this process. They know the steps and know what to anticipate and when. There are questions that come up along the way, but they know what they want. They have a solid idea for the design, or if not, know what functional aspects of their new exhibit are critical to a successful show. There is a certain amount of nitpicking along the way, as there should be, to get everything right. But most questions are answered quickly, and the process moves on.

In smaller projects such as a 10×10, or a handful of banner stands, or graphic back walls, or even renting an exhibit, you’d the process would be quicker, easier. In many cases, yes. But not always. Sometimes the client is focused more on the budget because they are working with fewer dollars, and the amount of examining each step in minute detail becomes all-important. Or there may be someone involved that isn’t as experienced that has been tasked with the project. Which means that more questions often come up. Nothing wrong with that – it’s a good opportunity for a learning experience.

big tradeshow project

So which is more work – a big tradeshow project or a small tradeshow project? There’s no straightforward answer. Some big projects are much more work (for both the exhibit house and the client) than a small project. And some small projects eat up a lot of time and energy that is surprising for something that is so small. While big projects are, frankly, preferred, simply because one big project can be worth five or ten small projects, the small ones are very worthwhile, even the ones that consume more than their fair share of time and energy. Small projects handled with care and attention to detail shows the client that you care about them, not just the money. And these are often the clients that end up staying with you for the bigger projects that come up as their company grows. But from our perspective, small projects are worth it because it’s the glue that holds everything together. It shows you why you’re in business. It communicates to the customer that they’re not just a number – they’re a real, living, breathing company with real humans that want – and need – assistance in a world they’re struggling a bit with.

How to Find Your First Tradeshow as an Exhibitor

how to find a tradeshow as an exhibitor

If you’re new to the world of tradeshow marketing, one of the most difficult challenges is this: how do you find a tradeshow that is a good fit? And by a good fit, does it have your target market, does it have buyers and decision makers, and will there be a lot of traffic there, even as a new exhibitor that is relegated to a lower-traffic area of the show floor?

The first thing to do is find out if your competitors are there. If your direct competitors have been going to a show for years, they must have a reason. It doesn’t hurt to call them up and pick their brains. Even competitors will tell you pros and cons of the shows they exhibit at. And if you’re a new company, they probably won’t think of you as a threatening competitor. Yet.

Ask partners, vendors and other industry-related companies about what shows they are aware of and how those shows are perceived in the industry.

Once you narrow down a few shows that have a lot of competitors, it’s always good advice to attend and walk the floor prior to committing as an exhibitor. Yes, most shows are annual, which means you’re putting off the decision for several more months, but by walking the floor, you can speak to exhibitors, chat with show organizers, pick the brains of attendees and get an overall feel for the veracity of the show. Once you decide to go, you have several months to determine how the next steps will unfold.

If you’re still trying to learn about all of the potential shows, take your mouse for a spin. There are many tradeshow databases online – just search for the term tradeshow database.

Here are a few of our favorites:


Grab our free report “7 Questions You’ll Never Ask Your Exhibit House” – click here!

Reverse Engineering Tradeshow Success

What do ya mean, reverse engineering tradeshow success? If you ask Wikipedia, you get this: “Reverse engineering, also called back engineering, is the processes of extracting knowledge or design information from a product and reproducing it or reproducing anything based on the extracted information.”

Or: disassemble something and analyze the components to see how it works.

Or make it simpler yet: start with the end in mind. Know what you want when all is said and done and then figure out what steps are required to get there.

reverse engineering tradeshow success

Let’s take a look at one of the main purposes of tradeshow marketing: generating leads. Want 300 leads at the end of three days? You’ll need on average, 100 a day. If it’s a 7 hour-a-day show, you’ll want to generate just over 14 leads per hour, or about one ever four minutes. Give or take.

If, in your experience based on tracking numbers at a particular show, you know that about 1 in 5 booth visitors is a good candidate for your product of service. And out of those 20% of visitors, one-third are judged to be strong or “A” leads, worthy of following up on in the first few days after the show.

Given that, about 1 in 15 booth visitors is an “A” lead. Do the math, and you see you need 4,500 booth visitors, or 1,500 per day.

When you examine that number, do you think it’s realistic that you’ll see enough people at your booth to get a true, qualified lead ever four or five minutes? Is that assumption based on past experience, or is it just a wild guess?

Let’s take another perspective. If you know that there are going to be about 70,000 visitors to the show (it’s a pretty big show!), and you want just 300 leads in three days, you need about one out of every 233 visitors to stop by and do your thing to qualify them.

That’s one way to reverse engineer the math.

Now it gets a little more difficult. How do you reverse engineer tradeshow success on other things, such as your exhibit, your people, your giveaways?

As far as your exhibit, if you need to accommodate 1500 visitors a day, that’s about 200 an hour. If you need about 5 minutes with each visitor to determine if they’re a qualified lead, that’s 1000 minutes. That means a total of 16 2/3 hours of actual time during each hour of the show. Rough math means you need about 20 people in your booth to be there for each hour. Which (doing the math again), you’ll need a sizeable booth space to accommodate 40 people at any given time.

If that’s not reasonable given your budget and space, you’ll want to spend time examining your overall realistic expectations for how many leads you’ll generate during the show.

Of course, real life doesn’t work just like the math we just walked through. Some visitors are disqualified instantly. Some people will take longer to qualify, especially when it comes to your follow up.

My advice? If you haven’t done so, set a baseline at your next show. Do your best to count booth visitors, track leads daily if not hourly, and add everything up once the show is over. Do it for each different show to see how they compare. Then when the same shows roll around next year, you have a starting point. Put practices into place that allow you to better engage visitors, create pre-show marketing strategies that bring more targeted folks to your booth, and make sure that your post-show follow-up system is solid.

Reverse engineering tradeshow success may be an odd way to look at how you get from Point A to Point B, but it’s as good as any, and better than many.

Grab our free report “7 Questions You’ll Never Ask Your Exhibit House” – click here!

You’re a Tradeshow Manager? Face It: Your Job is Never Done

As a tradeshow manager, your job is never done. Is that a bit daunting? Not every tradeshow manager job is the same, but I would hazard a guess that many of the duties are similar from person to person.

tradeshow manager

You count the number of shows your company will exhibit at during a year. Some shows require that you ship the large island booth, some require the uber-cool inline booth and lots of products. Others require just a table top exhibit with a good backdrop. Some may need a professional presenter. Each show has its own guidelines, shipping and logistic requirements, not to mention your internal goals: different product launches or promotions, different personnel needs, different graphics for different audiences and more.

Then there’s the travel: scheduling and booking flights, hotels, rental cars, meetings and more. Packing, schlepping to the airport, to the hotel. Bring a good book to read, or get some work done on the plane.

Then its show time! Meet and greet, pitch products, answer questions, gather lead information, answer more questions, meet after hours with clients or friends. Sleep? Maybe a little! Feel sore from all the walking? Yes.

Once the show is over, it’s time to pack it up, ship it back, make sure the leads are categorized and sent to the sales team for follow up. Maybe check the exhibit when it gets back to the warehouse to make sure it’s ready to go for the next show.

Back in the office, it’s time to reconcile payments made with receipts, track costs, fill in spreadsheets to calculate ROI and more. File papers, submit reports, share photos, solicit feedback on what worked and what could be improved.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tradeshow manager and your job never ends. None of our jobs end until we decide. We learn to take breaks, get a breather, grab a coffee, go skiing, take a bike ride when we can.

Then we get back on the saddle and fully engage again. Because it’s a great job, isn’t it, and you wouldn’t stick with it if you didn’t love it, right?

Nine Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Custom Tradeshow Exhibit

It’s a big commitment, investing in a custom tradeshow exhibit. Maybe not as much as getting married or buying a new house, but it’s more than deciding who should accompany you to the prom. It’s a big deal – buying a new custom exhibit. If you haven’t been through the process before, or in a while, it’s not a bad idea to review the steps.

What are the pros and cons of the decision? What about budget, logistics, staff preparation and more? They’ll all be impacted by the purchase of a custom tradeshow exhibit.

Some of the pros and cons to weigh before choosing between purchasing a custom tradeshow exhibit or a more standard, modular or manufactured exhibit.

  1. Uniqueness: A custom tradeshow exhibit means that your company will have a unique, one-of-a-kind presentation. No one else will look like (if the designer does his job!). Your designer starts with a blank slate and before doing anything on the slate they should ask a lot of questions. They should ask so many that you may wish they’d stop! But it’s all good – it means they care about creating an exhibit that you really want; one that works well for your company from many aspects: the look and feel, the branding, and the functionality.
  2. Flexibility: A custom exhibit can be designed and fabricated form the outset to accommodate a variety of needs and intended uses. For instance, if you have an exhibit schedule that demands you exhibit in a 10×20 space in one show, a 10×20 space in another show, and a 20×20 in yet another show, your exhibit components can be designed to work in all three configurations.
    Custom Tradeshow Exhibit
  3. Pride of Ownership: A custom exhibit will give you those intangibles: pride of ownership, unique corporate identity and a feeling that can’t be beat, from the CEO to the front-line staffers!
  4. Other Options: Of course, you have options other than custom, especially when it comes to smaller exhibits, such as 10×10 or 10×20 inline exhibits. There is pop-up, modular, flat-panel, fabric panels, fabric back-lit walls, monitor inset options and more. There are custom hybrids that take elements of modular designs and add unique twists that help you stand out – maybe for less money than designing and fabricating a custom exhibit from scratch.
  5. Logistics: Drayage, Shipping and Installation & Dismantle: It seems that nothing can torpedo your tradeshow marketing budget faster than logistics. Shipping, show drayage and the costs to install and dismantle your exhibit are often seen as nothing short of highway robbery. But in the tradeshow world, it’s a cost of playing the game. So, what can you do from the design and fabrication standpoint to keep these costs as low as possible? Using lightweight materials such as fabric graphics and aluminum framing can help. Knowing how to set up your own small exhibit can help you avoid having to pay an I&D company, but there are tradeoffs. You’re either paying your own crew for their time, or you’re paying the pros.
  6. Custom Look, Function and Branding: The main reason to consider a custom exhibit is that, after all is said and done, you want a booth that looks like no other. If your company handcrafts potato chips, for example, uses biodiesel fuel, donates to charitable causes, mitigates wetlands on the site of a new factory, works a staying green by invoking heavy use of solar energy, you have a solid idea of how you want your exhibit to reflect those values as part of your brand.
  7. Design/Fabrication: One question that pops up on occasion: is it important to have the same company that designs your booth fabricate it? Not necessarily. But having the design and the fabrication shop right next door means communication is smoother and more efficient. Some independent designers will gladly create a custom design that is guaranteed to wow your audience. But many may not have as much experience designing using specific materials that an exhibit house typically uses. They may also not have as much experience at knowing how much things cost. Having an exhibit project manager in close communication with the designer can help keep the design within budget.
  8. Pricing: Budget is often the key element of a new exhibit project, and creating a custom exhibit will often drive the cost higher than picking something that’s more “off the shelf.” Those standard-issue exhibits will, in most cases, cost less than a similarly sized custom exhibit. But that doesn’t mean your custom exhibit has to cost an arm and a leg. Taking time to go through the process carefully helps rein in those costs. Know what your needs are, communicate those needs to your exhibit house, and make sure they are aware of your budget. Confirm all steps of the design and reviews, all the way through to fabrication.
  9. Learning Curve: Many companies that step up from a small modular booth to a custom booth will go through a few growing pains. It’s not uncommon. They’re spending more money, they’re having to deal with higher shipping costs, I&D, and their staff now has a larger space to deal with. But ultimately, every company I’ve worked with that has gone through the process unanimously report it was well worth it. Partners, clients, prospects, and even competitors see them as bigger players in the industry. Higher respect and recognition are your due.

There is a tremendous benefit to your company when your tradeshow marketing moves to a significantly higher level. Tradeshow marketing is by far one of the most cost-effective, highly targeted methods of reaching your potential customers and maintaining strong relations with your current clients.


7 Ways to Save Money at a Tradeshow

Oh yes, tradeshows can be very expensive, so what should you do to save money when exhibiting at a tradeshow? Let’s take a look at just a handful of ideas.

  1. Partner with a bigger exhibitor. You may be a perfect complement to a partner with a much larger booth presence. Explore the idea of taking a small corner of a smaller exhibit. Both exhibitors will benefit from the added traffic when both exhibitors are promoting the joint appearance.
    save money at tradeshows
  2. Rent an exhibit. Not always the best of go-to solution, but for many exhibitors, renting a booth means not dealing with storage. Usually at one-third the cost of purchasing a similar exhibit.
  3. Dig deep to cut your travel costs. Cutting those costs may mean taking one or two fewer people, staying in hotels that are on a transit line but still a bit away from the convention center.
  4. Save power by using LEDs instead of hot halogens.
  5. Cut your shipping weight. Using graphic graphics that fold up are going to cost a lot less to ship, and will take up less space.
  6. Cut your shipping costs even more. Shipping monitors isn’t a big deal. But imagine if you had them purchased locally, delivered them to the convention center, and then either shipping them home in your crates, or donate them to a local nonprofit and take a tax write off.
  7. Don’t use your exhibit properties only at the exhibit. Work creatively to use them at other times of the year. Set a graphic up in your company entrance, show it off in the conference room or use it for a video shoot. Getting more usage out of your exhibit materials, especially the graphics, gives you a chance to stretch those dollars.

Exhibitor Magazine Offers Budgeting Numbers in Latest Issue

What does a custom exhibit cost on average? How much does it cost to store your exhibit? What’s the cost per lead when exhibiting at a tradeshow?

The answers to these and many other questions are revealed in the November issue of Exhibitor Magazine. You should check out the full magazine article for everything here, but it might be fun to look at just a few items for the sake of this post.

For instance, to answer the first question: what does a custom exhibit cost on average? According to the article, which quoted from the Experiential Designers & Producers Association’s 2017 Economic (Custom) Survey, the current average falls between $137 and $161.17 per square foot. In-line exhibits average $1,370 per lineal foot. Double-deck islands average $237 per square foot of total area.

Okay, let’s try another: exhibit storage. From the same survey, exhibit storage industry average is $.30 monthly per cubic foot, or $4.39 monthly per square foot.

How about the cost per lead? From a sales lead survey done by Exhibitor Magazine, only three in ten exhibit managers track the cost per lead generated at shows they attend, the average figure per lead among those who do is $164.91. I would suspect that number fluctuates widely over industries. And if you were to search for average cost per lead, you’ll get a very disparate cost from industry to industry. When you start to dissect lead cost numbers, you run into a litany of qualifications: what exactly is a lead? How are they qualified? How were they generated? And so on. But having that figure is a good bit of data; it’s often been shown that leads generated at tradeshows are more qualified and lower cost than leads generated other ways.

And finally, one bit of data from the article that jumped out at me: Exhibit-House Markups. How much does an exhibit house markup their prices from their suppliers? Keep in mind that this markup is generally the only way for an exhibit house to cover the cost of salaries, keeping the lights on, marketing, and so on. I’ve always been curious about this item and have never seen this information published. So, here’s the skinny:

  • Raw materials used in construction/fabrication: 93%
  • Subcontracted materials and special purchases: 67%
  • Subcontracted labor: 55%
  • Transportation: 28%
  • Show services: 27%
  • Installation-and-dismantle labor: 29%

This information came from the same EDPA 2017 economic survey as mentioned earlier.

Be sure to check out the remainder of numbers in the article, including average exhibit house charges, labor union charges, electrical, international exhibiting numbers and more. Good stuff to keep handy as you plan your budgets for 2018.


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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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