Should you put out a tradeshow exhibit RFP or not? What’s the upside? What’s the downside? It might be worth a few moments to go over the pros and cons of putting out a tradeshow exhibit RFP. Okay, this may not be the Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Tradeshow Exhibit RFPS but it’s a start.
If you’re seriously considering putting out a tradeshow exhibit RFP, it must mean that you need a new tradeshow exhibit. Really need one. Not just wish you had one, or think it might be time soon. No, you really need one. Otherwise, don’t waste people’s time. Exhibit houses are busy places, and responding to an RFP takes an investment of more time and money. In fact, according to a recent Exhibitor Magazine article, exhibit houses say they respond to only 6.5 out of 10 RFPs they receive, on average. And over 10% of RFPs are put out only because company protocols dictate it.
So where to start?
Determine the following items: budget, exhibit size, flexibility (can smaller pieces be set up as a smaller version, for example?), target date, functional needs. You should already have branding issues down along with any color schemes or brand protocols you want your designer to use in a mockup. Speaking of mockups, do you want your RFP competition to include a mockup design? Some do, some don’t. No wrong answer, but be clear about your expectations. I’ve responded to RFPs in the past which invited respondents to submit a sample design, but it was not required. Frankly, having a design makes the exhibit house look better, but it is an investment of labor to make it happen.
Detail any other items you would like for your booth: easy ability to change signage, product display areas, sizes of products that you want to display, lighting requirements, meeting space requirements, storage requirements and any other specifics.
This week you are about to hear and see an interview with a professional 3D exhibit designer, who will walk you through the various challenges that come up when assembling an exhibit design. Katina Rigall-Zipay of Classic Exhibits sits down and shares a look at some of her designs on this video blog/podcast:
Our ONE GOOD THING (S!):
Katina said having her third-grader start school was a good thing: first day of school!
I also was in a seasonal mood and decided that the coming of FALL was my ONE GOOD THING!
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half,” said John Wanamaker (1838-1922). No doubt good old John spent a lot of money on advertising. That’s not something that we do here at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, but on occasion, we invest in various marketing efforts, including advertising.
As a result, we decided that appearing in the popular Find-It Marketplace on Exhibitor Magazine’s website was worth a try this year. Our listing will appear under Exhibit Producers, a crowded but well-trafficked segment of the online tradeshow resources. As one of the options, we’ve produced a video that articulates our pitch to potential clients:
Yes, I have a Pinterest account. No, I don’t spend a lot of time there. Something about not having enough bandwidth and so on. However, when I do get over there, I find a lot of things to like. Such as these boards on tradeshow marketing which are standouts!
Kimb T. Williams‘ board on Tradeshow Marketing Items features a variety of eye-catching items which make it a worthwhile stop.
As a company owner, salesman and project manager for TradeshowGuy Exhibits, I get tradeshow marketing questions. Hoobooy, I get a lot of questions. I thought it might be fun to answer a handful of the most common questions I get.
Our shipping costs are sky-high. How can we bring these costs down?Many questions are about costs, so it’s a good place to start. Certainly, if something is heavy it’s going to cost a lot to ship. Wood panels are heavy, and many older exhibits have a lot of wood pieces. It also adds up in drayage costs at the show. Some clients like the image that wood gives them, so they bite the bullet and build the cost of shipping into their exhibiting program. Others that want to bring the shipping costs down look at lighter materials, such as silicon-edge fabric graphic panels (SEG) that give a great look but don’t have the weight and heft of wooden or other types of panels.
How can we increase our ROI?It seems that tradeshow marketing is hit and miss. Yes, investing in tradeshow marketing can be expensive, but done right, it can be a boon and open doors to markets that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise reach. Sometimes it comes down to exhibiting at the right shows. It often means putting more time, energy and resources into pre-show marketing, booth staff training and a booth that accurately represents your brand (among others). There are a lot of moving parts and if you let a few of those parts go unattended to, it can contribute to your failure. I spoke with a former exhibitor recently who said the last time they exhibited was years ago and it was a bust. When we spent a few minute dissecting it, we come to the conclusion that as a small local business, one of their biggest challenges was finding a local show that could provide a large enough audience of potential customers. Without deeper digging, it was impossible to know in that brief call, but we both felt that we identified one of their most important challenges: getting in from of the right audience.
How do we work with a designer? We’ve never done that before. Often I end up working with exhibitors who are in a sense moving out of their comfort zone. Before now, they have purchased exhibits from a source that just shows them a catalog of pre-made items. Nothing wrong with that, there are hundreds and hundreds of modular exhibits and accessories that are more or less ‘off-the-shelf’ that will do a great job for you. But exhibitors will often reach the point where they have the budget and desire to move into something custom. Working with a designer is straightforward – but you have to choose a designer that knows how to design in 3D. Graphic designers typically won’t have the skill to do so. However, trained 3D exhibit designers know how to design exhibits that take into account all of your functional needs: storage space, display space, foot traffic flow, graphic layout and so much more. A typically-trained graphic designer won’t have the skill that a 3D designer does. As for working with a designer, it’s typical to have a long conversation, either in person, or on a conference call, with the company stakeholders so that all needs are discussed. At that point the designer will create a mockup or two for review and once comments are in, changes are made until the final design is agreed upon.
I need a new exhibit. Should I prepare and issue an RFP (Request for Proposal)? It depends. There’s no definitive answer on this one. An RFP does a couple of things: it helps clarify your exhibit needs by forcing you to articulate all of your needs, budget, timeline and so on. Putting it all in black and white is a great exercise whether you’re putting out an RFP or not. If you don’t have an exhibit house in mind, issuing an RFP allows you to vet a handful (probably 4 – 6) companies, and make them jump through some hoops to make their case, and perhaps even do mock designs for you. On the other hand, if you have been working with an exhibit house that has done you well – has created great exhibits for you in the past, has been an effective partner for years – then no doubt you’re in good shape staying with them.
How much does it cost?It’s a question people don’t really like to ask, but usually end up blurting it out. Some items come with a set price, like the off-the-shelf catalog items, but if they’re shopping for a custom exhibit, there is no obvious answer. In my younger salesperson days, I’d answer the question with “well, what’s your budget?” but that’s not really a good answer. The better response I believe, is to ask them how they come up with a budget from their end. What is their process for determining how much they are willing to invest? There are industry standards – which are pretty accurate, and a good starting place – but the client has to work through a number of internal issues unique to come up with a realistic budget for their project. A final thought on this: if their internal discussion gives them a number that isn’t realistic for their expectations, a reputable exhibit house will tell them so.
How quick can you get it done? Or: how long will this take? This question often comes from an exhibitor who hasn’t paid close enough attention to the calendar and are now scrambling to get something in place. A recent exhibitor asked me – months (almost a year) ahead of their need and asked “how long does the process usually take?” The question was about designing and fabricating an island booth from scratch. I silently gave him kudos for asking the question up front (and not waiting until a month or two before the show), then told him my answer: for an island exhibit, we’d love to have 3-4 months at minimum. Six months is better. But we’ve turned around island exhibits in 5 or 6 weeks IF the client has a really strong idea of what they want and all that’s need for design is for the designer to create the rendering and confirm that the look and feel and dimensions are accurate – and then we’re off to the races.
Certainly there are other questions I hear, but in reflecting the past year or two, these seem to be what come up the most-asked tradeshow marketing questions. What questions do YOU have about exhibit creation or tradeshow marketing?
I’m the last guy to claim to be a trend-setter, but I do try to keep at least one half-open eye on tradeshow exhibiting trends. So I took a look at some of the things that are showing up on various 2017 tradeshow exhibit trends lists and added in a couple of things I’ve seen at shows this year. Yes, we’re into the second half of the year – so how did these trend article from earlier in the year predict what’s happening on the ground?
Virtual Reality: I’m still unconvinced this will really take off in the tradeshow world. The challenges are many: crowded floors, busy visitors, cost of creating custom content that not only engages but impresses and leaves people glad they spent the time. But it looks like the technology is there and will do nothing but improve. The few times I’ve seen it at shows, people did not seem all that interested, and several VR headsets sat unused for long periods of time. When they were used, visitors commented that it was nice, but no one I spoke with raved about the experience. Again, it comes down to getting the best and most engaging content possible.
According to this great article from Exhibitor Magazine, some other trends for the year include Artificial Intelligence (think Siri and Alexa), new ways of visitor engagement (digital games, for example), and Tradeshow Campaign Themes.
From Freeman comes an article that brings up sustainable materials as still trending (look for LED backlit smart fabric walls), immersive hubs from show organizers (activities, video content and more), and education that is customized to the level of expertise in the audience groups. There’s also a mention of one way that might be a good workaround on the prohibitive cost of shipping large engines and equipment around the world: 3D-printing that can replicate the machinery or equipment to a T.
Absolute Exhibits from Tustin, CA, offers a handful of tech trends for tradeshow exhibits this year, including digital lounges for recharging (figuratively and literally), brighter and more attractive signage, push notifications through the show’s mobile app, games and contests, and interactive video walls and touch screens.
Exhibit Concepts offers up trends including finding new ways to engage face-to-face, the wide incorporation of technology into every corner of a tradeshow exhibit (Bluetooth beacons that integrate with a client’s products), and the increasing use of custom exhibit rentals to keep costs down.
From my perspective, I see the growing use of backlit fabric graphics taking over much of the tradeshow floor. The cost is coming down (still), and the quality of the fabric printing is nearly indistinguishable from high-quality paper printing, as long as you’re using the latest generation of printers (be sure to ask!)
Another item I see frequently is large-format, simple graphics that do a terrific job of grabbing eyeballs, either through the bold simple easy-to-read text, or bold images combined with sparse text.
When it comes to charging stations, I recently saw something a little different: lockable stations where you can plug in and leave your device. When you return just enter your code (that you came up with earlier), and retrieve the device. This charging unit was NOT in an exhibitor booth, but was instead provided by the show.
The last couple of shows I attended (Expo West in March and IFT in June) both had great, easy-to-use show apps. Quick to download, easy to navigate, and when you set up push notifications you really don’t miss a thing. Kudos to the various app designers that make them so friendly and good-looking.
These topics are echoed in many other posts throughout the tradeshow world, and now that we’re on the downward slide into 2018, it’ll be interesting to see what comes to the fore next year that everyone wants to be a part of.
Infographics do a great job of quickly communicating information in a fun and effective way, especially if you’re like me (and 65% of the rest of the population) and are a visual learner. So let’s sift through some of the great tradeshow infographics floating around on Pinterest these days.Click through to the Pinterest posts, or browse the infographics below.
I had the pleasure to attend the International Food Technologists 2017 show in Las Vegas this week, thanks to our client Meduri Farms, who set up their 20×20 custom island booth for the second time. In walking the floor, I ran across a lot of fun exhibits that should be highlighted for one reason or another. So, let’s jump into another edition of TradeshowGuy Exhibit Awards – the #IFT17 Version! Let’s start with a look at the Meduri Farms booth, just because, well, to show off the exhibit:
Best Client Representation: Meduri Farms
It’s a custom 20×20 island designed by Greg Garrett Designs and fabricated by Classic Exhibits. Private meeting area, generous sampling and product display areas, and a nearly 16′ tall center tower that draws eyeballs from halfway across the floor:
Best “Booth-In-A-Box:” Ardent Farms
There’s no easy way to view this exhibit in a single photo, so I’ll include a couple. Ardent Mills, of Denver, Colorado, simply drove in a trailer from an 18-wheeler, complete with kitchen and fold-down serving areas. Throw in some seating areas and signage and voila – you have a classy exhibit:
Best Exhibit Using Stuff We Build: International Paper
Nothing quite like showing off your stuff by having a booth built out of the stuff that you sell. In this case, International Paper bills themselves as one of the leading producers of fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper. So of course many of their booth elements were created using corrugated cardboard and related materials. Especially eye-catching: the custom charging table built from corrugated material:
Simplest and Most Effective Backdrop: Bulk Supplements.com
Simple like being able to read and understand a billboard a 65 MPH. I spoke with Keven, the owner, and he said his purpose was to communicate what the company does loudly and simply. And that exactly what this 20′ wide back drop does, very effectively.
Best Use of Grape Balloons: Welch’s
Well, it may be the only use of grape balloons, but in this case, they caught my eye from a good three aisle over. A great way to stand out from the crowd, indeed:
The “Let’s Get Their Attention NOW!” Exhibit: S&D Coffee and Tea
This large hanging sign close to one of the main entrances was designed to capture your eyeballs within a second or two – and it worked. The juxtaposition of the woman in a stocking cap with gloves, the “COLD BRRRRRRREW” statement and the experience of visitors walking in from the 105-degree Las Vegas heat drew a crowd.
Best Branding from Top to Bottom: Morton Salt
You could quibble on this award as there were a lot of exhibits at IFT that were exceptionally executed from communicating a brand. But Morton’s booth was well-thought out from side-to-side and top-to-bottom, down to the display of the different types of salts that you could actually put your hands on and feel and touch. Even the conference room had great information to communicate.
Best BluePrint for Ingredients and Innovation: Watson
From Connecticut, Watson Inc diagrams and displays more information than most people will bother to stop and read. But maybe that’s the point: the graphic design, displayed as if it were a blueprint, showcases information from infant formula to pet foods and leaves us impressed with the depth and breadth of their reach – all in a two-story exhibit that had plenty of room for meetings, storage and product display:
Best Use of Really Large Test-Tube Like Displays: Alquimia USA
More than eye-catching, this row of some 16 grains, beans, seeds and more also created a unique wall-off side of the booth.
And finally, a double/shared award to…
Best Use of the Periodoc Table: Asenzya and Land O’ Lakes
There may have been other uses of the periodic table of elements, but these two companies used the table to great effect, so show off the flavor elements and the seasons ingredients respectively. It’s a lot to digest (no pun intended), but great fun to take a look and see how they plotted out the display. Well done!
A couple of other observations from walking the floor…
There were a LOT of big monitors at the show, on the order of 60″ to 72″. Some exhibits had several of them. In speaking with on exhibitor, I suggested that in his next version of the video, that he added closed-captioning, since the ambient noise on the show floor made it nearly impossible to understand what was being said. “Good idea!”
I ran across a few exhibitors touting Virtual Reality: sit down, put a headset on and enjoy some virtual reality – mainly a quick interactive look at a company’s production process. Frankly, I’m still waiting to be impressed with VR at a tradsehow. Having said that, I’ve only tried it a few times, so no doubt someone is ready with a really good VR experience somewhere. I watched some people sit down, try the headset on while wearing glasses (didn’t work for them, didn’t work for me, either), and then go through the experience. If you wear glasses, taking them off to slip the headset on means that things are not clear and sharp, although it didn’t keep me from comprehending what was going on. The best ones are those that show off the company’s production process, or give a tour through a field or something related to the company. But with more and more VR coming to tradeshows, they’re going to have to step up with a great experience, or it’ll be hard to justify the use of VR headsets and the accompanying cost of creating the program.
I really liked the larger 20′ wide center aisles that were spread in a few places on the floor, complete with park benches. A nice place to grab a quick respite from walking and talking without having to leave the hall:
Many companies I work with are in the process of increasing the size of their booth, is that the right move for you? Perhaps downsizing is a better choice. So what comes into play when you consider the decision?
Often the choice is strategic. You may know that some of your major competitors are either not going to be exhibiting at a specific show where you want a presence, yet you don’t want to do the full exhibit that you’ve done in the past. Or it’s a show where the attendance is down, so having a smaller presence doesn’t hurt you.
Your brand is morphing into something different, and investing in a new exhibit doesn’t make sense. In this case, you can go for a smaller presence for less money. You might also consider renting an exhibit, which can give you significant savings in the short term.
You need to show a better ROI to the powers-that-be. Investing less in an exhibit is one way to cut up-front expenses and increase the overall ROI.
You’re planning to invest more heavily in pre-show marketing. This is a simple re-focusing of your marketing tactics. Putting more emphasis on reaching visitors prior to the show with direct mail, for instance, can bring people directly to your booth with an appointment and plan in hand that is congruent with your goals.
The bigger shows get even more expensive, and yet you still need a presence there. One way to keep your presence at the show is to have a smaller exhibit. Smaller booth space may also mean you don’t have to send as many people to staff the booth, saving yet more money.
You’re reassessing your overall tradeshow marketing plan. I’ve seen some companies simply pull out of a show for a year or two. They’ve had a major presence for years, yet taking stock of the value of the show was important enough to them to not exhibit and to rather just send several members of management to meet with other exhibitors and partners offsite.
Having decided to downsize your exhibit, make sure that the smaller version of your brand is still impactful. This means that graphics have to be well-designed and of high quality, your exhibit structure should be of high quality, the booth space needs to be kept clean, your staff should be well-trained and well-prepared and your products and service offerings should be your latest and greatest.
As I sat down to write today’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I realized that much of the business we’ve done this year at TradeshowGuy Exhibits has been repeat business: new business from current clients. Of course, it’s good to have new customers, but in a sense it’s even better to have new business from clients you’ve been serving for awhile. Take a look:
And of course, we always finish with ONE GOOD THING. This week it’s yard work. No, really.