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

Public Relations

Tradeshow Marketing Analysis, Part 7: Lead Generation

This is number 7 in a series. Check the previous articles here:

  1. Where to Start
  2. Budgeting
  3. Pre-Show Preparation
  4. Which Shows to Attend
  5. The Booth
  6. Booth Staff

First, let’s define lead generation before we get too deep into this section.

All marketing is the activity of looking for either a new lead, or a way to bring current clients or customers to new products or services. Generating leads is a must to keep your business moving forward. No leads, no business.

When it comes to tradeshows, lead generation is the specific act of capturing contact information and related follow up information from your visitors so that you can connect with them again at a not-too-distant-in-the-future date.

Lead generation is NOT the act of having a fishbowl where you invite attendees to throw their business card in for a chance to win an iPad. Nope, in this case your lead must be someone who’s qualified to a) need or want your products or services and b) in the position to purchase soon.

All of your lead generation activity should spring from these two determinations. When a visitor enters your booth, they’re expressing at least a modest active desire to learn more about your product. At this point, you have an opportunity to quickly learn a few things: who they are, what their interest is in your offerings, and if they are in a position to purchase soon.


If you search Google for “lead generation” you’ll get hundreds of ideas for drawing a crowd at your booth and capturing their contact information.

Many of them will work well, and you’ll walk away from the show with lots of potential leads. I say ‘potential’ leads because you’ll often find that many of those business cards are from people that just stopped by to try and win an iPad or they spun a wheel, or some other fun thing. But that doesn’t make them prospects.

Instead, focus on capturing the contact information from people who are in a position to buy from you, and leave all the rest to the side.

This means that you must focus on your efforts to attract those potential clients and disqualify the others.

By asking one or two questions you will determine if the visitor is qualified. If they are, you dig a little deeper. If they are not qualified, you politely disengage so that you are not wasting their time or yours.

To start, your graphic messaging can help to qualify those visitors by being laser-focused on the benefits your company offers. This might mean a specific statement or a bold claim or bold question that gets that market thinking “hey, I need to know more!”

Look at lead generation activities as just another investment – and that it should be measured just like other investments. Are you getting good results from your investment? If not, change it up based on becoming more focused on what works and what is important to your audience.

Help them.

If you’re selling a product or service, you must know what it is that keeps them up at night. What are they thinking about at 3 am that is keeping them from sleeping soundly? Dangle the bait in such a way that you address that problem. Perhaps that means a free white paper that they can get if they fill in a brief form on an iPad stationed at the front of the booth. Perhaps that means conducting proprietary research directed at that market designed to uncover exactly what bugs them.

There are hundreds of ways to catch a prospect, but they all boil down to this: are your products designed to solve their problem or satisfy a need? If so, you’re on the right track and your questions will spring from those platforms.

Next, you must have a proper method of capturing the information. You can go high or low tech, it doesn’t matter as long as the information is processed and passed on to the right people who are prepared to follow up in a timely manner in the way that your prospect expects.

At best, your information will include contact info (name, address, email, phone number) and will gauge their interest in your products or services. It will optimally have specific information on when they want to be contacted and their current stage of interest in your products. Beyond that, you’re probably wasting their time and yours. But for a valid and proper follow up, your sales person will benefit greatly from knowing all of that information.

Again, it doesn’t matter whether you’re using an iPad, scanning badges or a filling in a form on a clipboard, as long as it works effectively.

Finally, you must have a foolproof method of getting the leads back to the office! I’ve heard too many stories of companies who have spent thousands of dollars exhibiting, sending people to the show and then sending the leads back in the crates with the booth – and they weren’t able to track them down for weeks. At which point the value of prompt follow up was lost, along with thousands of dollars in potential sales.

Ideally, each day’s leads should be sent back that night to the main office and put into the follow up system. At worst, they should accompany the tradeshow manager or other designated person back to the office at the end of the show. Digital leads have the advantage of being able to be sent back quickly, but even paper forms can be scanned or photographed or turned into PDFs using smartphone apps and sent digitally, as well.

While your booth staff’s engagement is important (see part 5), bringing back the leads is critical to your show’s success.

When you remember that nearly 80% of all tradeshow leads are NOT FOLLOWED UP ON, if you can fix this simple step you’ll be ahead of 4 out of 5 of your competitors. So where would that put you?

Tradeshow Marketing Analysis, Part 4: Which Shows to Attend

Check out Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 of this ongoing series.

One of the most pressing challenges for exhibitors is determining what shows to exhibit at on a regular basis. Just because your company has been going to the same show for twenty years doesn’t mean it’s the right show for you to go to. The exhibit industry changes and evolves. Audiences and interests change. Some shows expand. Others downsize. Some vanish altogether or are folded into similar shows. All of this means that you should examine what shows you go to on a regular basis and determine the reasons for attending – or not attending.


I’ve seen companies that exhibit at shows for years suddenly drop out because their business model changed. One company exhibited for years at the Natural Products Expo West and one year they just didn’t show up. It turns out that so much of their business moved online that it didn’t make sense to put out the large amounts of cash just to keep going to a show that didn’t give them the return they needed – and were clearly getting elsewhere.

Other companies have downsized or simply taken a few years off from certain shows as they re-examined their purpose in being at a particular show. So yes, it does matter that you take a look at the big picture of why you’re going to show in general, and why you are exhibiting at a particular show.

In the process of determining your ‘big picture’ of the shows you attend, those you don’t and might want to consider and your whole reason for tradeshow marketing, here are a series of questions to help you examining it.

  • What shows do you exhibit at on a yearly basis?
  • What shows did you used to attend but haven’t for several years?
  • If you listed a show(s) here, how long has it been since you exhibited?
  • What shows are you considering exhibiting at but haven’t done so yet?
  • What is your potential audience at each show? What is your overall potential audience for the year?
  • How many leads do you bring home from the each show?
  • In your opinion, what are the most obvious things you’re doing right?
  • In your opinion, what are the most obvious things you’re doing wrong?
  • What’s the biggest goal you have for tradeshow marketing in the next 2-3 years?
  • How much money is budgeted for the year’s events?
  • How much money is actually spent on the year’s shows?
  • How much business can you directly attribute to the leads that were gathered from the shows?
  • What’s the ROI on the sales leads you gathered from the shows?
  • Can you identify other benefits of going to the shows that don’t directly impact your bottom line, such as branding, earned media mentions, new distributors, strengthened ties with current distributors and more?

By knowing the answers to all of these questions – and by sharing that knowledge with your team – you’ll be much better prepared to answer the question ‘are my tradeshow marketing dollars well-spent?’ As you’ve seen me mention many times, one of the best things you can do for your company is to continue to increase the knowledge base of your co-workers. By knowing the answers to all of these questions and more, that knowledge base increases. In the long-term, you’ll be better-equipped to make good choices on which shows to attend, what to focus on at the shows, and which shows you might decide are simply not worth it.

An Open Letter to Veteran Exhibitors

Dear Exhibitor,

You are an experienced tradeshow marketer. You probably have been to many more shows than most of your colleagues. You’ve seen it all – from the small mom and pop shows decades ago to the sophisticated shows with several thousand exhibitors. You’ve seen goofy musical acts, professional product or service demonstrators in booths, wolfed down tons of free food samples, pocketed hundreds of free giveaways until you finally decided they were mostly just worthless junk.


And it’s a pretty good bet you know what works. You’ve tested pre-show marketing, booth staff training, having your best sales people on the show floor and you wonder why your company’s sales staff still has a hard time following up on all of those leads once the show is over.

So let’s see it: let’s see the results of those years of experience. What did you get out of it? By now you must have figured out exactly where the wasted dollars are – and you’ve plugged those holes so that every single dollar spent on tradeshow marketing makes an impact. Right?

Yes, let’s see the records of all of those tradeshows. No doubt – with your experience – you can pull out a 3-ring binder for every show for the past decade and answer any question about the show: how much was spent on booth space, drayage, travel and lodging, pre-show marketing, etc. – and can show us what the ROI was on all of those dollars invested.

3 ring binder

Heck, you can probably even show us in great detail with song and dance, the impact of your young social media team. No doubt they’re compiling stats on how many contests they’ve run through Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to the booth – and what the results of those contests or show specials are. They likely have a precise count of the number of photos and videos they’ve posted in relation to the show, and what the feedback was from them.

So: let’s see them. Let’s see all the results of your professionalism in action. If you can immediately pull those results up on your computer or grab a binder and hand to me – then you’re good. In fact, you’re awesome. You can go back to whatever it was you were doing before you started reading this letter. After all, you are the pro. You’re the expert – the veteran tradeshow marketer who’s been doing this for years. No one can surprise you. After all, you’ve seen it all.

But, if not – if you can scrunch up your face and say ‘Hmmm…I might admit that there are a few missing spots…’ I would ask: What exactly is missing?

Don’t have all the records you think you should? You’re not doing all that you really could be doing at each show?

Let’s suppose that it might be good to have a refresher on the various elements of tradeshow marketing – JUST to make sure that you’re not missing any pieces. After all,  it’s not a bad idea to see things from a new perspective, right?

So, from my viewpoint, here’s a list of what you might consider keeping track of in your tradeshow marketing endeavors:

  • Overall Tradeshow Marketing Objectives
  • Shows You Attend and the Specific Objectives for Each Show
  • Budgeting Figures
  • Pre-show Marketing
  • Public Relations Outreach
  • Exhibit Booth: size, age, layout, cost
  • Booth Staff: who are they; what’s their experience and training and overall level of knowledge of the tradeshow marketing efforts
  • Show and Booth Visitors: breakdown of each show in detail
  • Social Media Sharing: who’s in charge, what content gets shared, what are the results
  • Post-show Follow Up
  • Lead Generation: methods of collection, grading, distribution
  • Record Keeping
  • Final Overall Assessment

These bullet points can be broken down in great detail and the more detail you have, the more educated you are – and the higher the chances that you will have a more successful show.

Remember this: your competition is out there and many of them invest heavily in booth staff training, pre-show marketing, public relations, and social media engagement. They’re not fooling around. If you’re not looking closely at these items on a regular basis and keeping your tradeshow marketing assessment current, you could be slipping behind because it’s a good bet your main competitors are. Those competitors want to win – and they want to take away your current clients and customers. No doubt they’re doing everything they can to achieve those goals.

What are you doing with your tradeshow marketing to keep one step ahead of your competitors? Are you investing in an upgraded booth when the old one is falling apart or do you limp along another year? Are you investing in keeping your booth staff on top of their game with regular trainings? Are you investing in creating a great experience for your clients and potential clients at the next tradeshow, or do you just cross your fingers and hope that the status quo will be ‘good enough’ for this year?

Do you think your competitors are settling for ‘just good enough’?

If not, what are you going to do about it?


Tim Patterson signature




Tim Patterson
TradeshowGuy Exhibits
1880 4th Street NE
Salem, OR 97301
Toll Free: 800-654-6946

PS. If you need help performing a complete tradeshow marketing analysis or audit, click here.

Are You Maximizing your Networking and Marketing Opportunities at Tradeshows?

The following guest article was written by Chris Newkirk:

Tradeshows can be a huge expense for small business owners and although statistics show businesses can increase revenues and grow their customer base from events like these, many companies still struggle to attract attention and make trade shows worthwhile.

What are you doing wrong?

Networking involves a whole lot more than shaking hands and handing out business cards. If you view everyone as an opportunity and stop seeing them as people, chances are you’re going to strike out. Consider how you like to be approached. People can sense they are being targeted for a sale, opportunity or referral from a mile off.


Treat people like people and look to make friends and connections. Don’t approach people by asking them, ‘what do you do.’ Try asking questions that target them personally, can help spark a genuine conversation and can lead to a memorable discussion.

Ask open ended questions that are event specific and don’t bombard people with materials, information or sales pitches. After you engage them in conversation, before they leave ask them if they’d like to be added to your contact sheet, or what information they’d like you to send them.

Encourage visitors to find you on Facebook and if you have access to an IPad give people the opportunity to check you out your Facebook and Twitter profile. You can generate buzz by picking a hashtag for the event. Use banners to promote your hashtag—encourage people to help you get your hashtag and the event trending on Twitter!

Are you making a memorable impression?

Everything from the time you arrive and leave, the things you talk about and the way you use your display and products all can work together to make you memorable—or leave you dead in the water.

You’ve heard it a million times, arrive early and leave late, it really does work. Approach the early birds and try to become people’s ‘first friend,’ check back throughout the day and see how they’re doing. These people will remember you and can lead to referrals.

While you’re there make the most of your space. Do extensive preparation well in advance so you know what size the space you’re provided with will be and what regulations you might have for light and sound. Update your display if it’s old or if your banner stands are outdated or damaged. Consider spending more on displays that are less common and can draw attention to your booth. Even something as simple as a few laptops where visitors can browse products or the company blog will keep people at your booth longer and help draw a crowd.

A pretty booth won’t set you apart from the crowd though, they tend to be a dime a dozen. Try something fresh.

If you haven’t done it before, consider introducing the use of technology in your display. Informational kiosks are one way to remove clutter from your table and promote environmental ideals. IPads are a tool that you can use to display your entire product inventory or allow people to browse your company blog and interact on your social media sites. You can invite people to sign up for your newsletter or add their email if they’d like more information about your company, industry or product directly into a spreadsheet instead of using a paper sign-up.

The use of technology as allows you to engage with more people. If a larger group of people are visiting your space, you can invite some to use the IPad and kiosk while you engage directly with others giving you more time to form relationships without worrying about isolating other visitors.

Other ways to create an engaging space include:

-Enlarge your space using mirrors

-Use a projector to display video

-Take photos of your clients when they stop by and stream them on your projector or share them on social media throughout the event

-Suspend company products from the ceiling

-Incorporate lighting to illuminate your space

How are you following up after the show? Try reaching out through social media

If you have a company blog, writing a series of posts about the trade show and the people you met can be a great tool for networking. Share the post with people from the event and mentioned in the context via email and social media. Because they’re included they will be more likely to share the post on their own networks.

Don’t use follow-up emails to bombard people with a slew of sales information. Provide them with materials that demonstrate value like links to internet videos, industry information and special reports and educational white papers. Preface the email with things like, ‘I thought of you when,’ or ‘I thought you might be interested.’ The key is to keep in touch without coming across as pushy or simply trying to sell something.

Keep in mind some of your most valuable contacts may end up being people who have never been your customer, but instead end up sending a high volume of referral business to you.

The bottom line

Networking is about relationships. If you’re attitude, body language or display is unwelcoming or un-engaging people have no incentive to talk with you or form a relationship with you. Your end goal shouldn’t be to target everyone you meet to get their business. Instead your goal should be to form solid relationships so you can get business from everyone they know.

Author’s bio: Chris Newkirk works in marketing and sales consultation. Chris attends a number of trade shows a year and enjoys learning what methods work for companies in various industries and enjoys sharing his networking tips. 

Use a Webinar to Promote Your Tradeshow Appearance

I must get two dozen webinar invitations a week. On average, I attend one or two a week. Some are useful, most are not that great.

So is the webinar-as-promotion tool saturated? Overused? I suppose it depends on where you’re coming from. Many attend webinars, but even more people do not. And most companies don’t use webinars to show their expertise on a specific subject.

Webinars are useful when they are narrow, drilled-down topics, when they’re used to show expertise or to promote a specific product or skill.

But I think the exhibit industry is missing one area where a webinar might prove to be a very useful promotional tool: to promote an appearance at an upcoming tradeshow.

Here’s a brief video I put together to explore this topic:

Download the slide deck here.

Expo West 2013 Re-Cap

(Warning: self-promotional blog post. Not recommended more than once or twice a year…)

It was my 11th year at Expo West as a representative of a company that provides exhibit booths for exhibitors.

First: 11 years? Kidding, right?

Bob's Red Mill - Expo West 2013

No. The first booth client I had way back in 2003 was Kettle Foods of Salem, Oregon, which lead to doing a booth for Nancy’s Yogurt / Springfield Dairy, Natracare, Hyland’s Homeopathic, gDiapers and many others.

Besides having to basically eat your way through the day with the glut of food samples, I spent time meeting exhibitors and making connections.

And making sure that my new projects were working.

The two new booths my company, Communication One Exhibits had this year were from Bob’s Red Mill and gDiapers. The Bob’s Red Mill was a custom 30’ x 30’ booth, designed by Greg Garrett Designs of Vancouver and fabricated by Classic Exhibits. It was a stunner and was definitely well-received by the company – including Bob Moore, who called it ‘impressive’ – and show visitors. The exhibit had three structures – a main company info-display area, a product display area and – in a new move for Bob’s Red Mill – a food sampling station. The main structure was capped with a 4’ cupola high atop a structure that echoed their mill store in Milwaukie, Oregon. Either end of the main structure had 52” video screens that continuously showed informative videos.

Bob has a great way of making an entrance. Bring along a Dixieland band! Check out the video from Day One:



The other booth was at the other end of the scale. gDiapers, of Portland, Oregon, is a company that offers reusable diaper covers with disposable inserts. Years ago, when I was VP of Sales and Marketing for Interpretive Exhibits, we designed and constructed a 20’ in-line booth for gDiapers that had plenty of display space, slat wall and a fabric banner across the top. As their clientele needs evolved, so did the company’s desire for a simpler display that was easier to set up. So with the help of Portland’s Boothster, we designed and built a 10’ inline booth that had a small display area and a large 10’ fabric back wall, along with cardboard chairs and cardboard tube-constructed counter with wrap-around graphic. The booth looked great and gDiapers loved it!

Yes, I blog about social media and tradeshow and event marketing, but my company Communication One Exhibits has a ton of great capabilities to design and fabricate tradeshow booths to suit any need.

Let me now step off of my soapbox…thank you verry much for your time!

7 Surefire Ways to Energize Social Media at Tradeshows – #1: Look at What Others Are Doing

(See the first post in this series: The Basics)

When I first sat down to a computer back in, oh, the early 90s, I had no idea what I was doing. But my friend Rich did know and he loved figuring stuff out on his computer. Over the next few years whenever I wanted to find a shortcut to learning something new on my PC, I just went to his house and looked over his shoulder. Believe me, watching others do something is the best way to pick up a skill or at least some valuable tips and tidbits on how things work. In large part due to his willingness to try new things and let me look over his shoulder, I got pretty good at working with those old clunky computers, back when they were brand new and needed some focused attention to get things to work properly.

Apple Computer, 1983 (Lisa)

Same thing when I was in college when I took a tennis class. I wasn’t that good at tennis, although I was a decent athlete. I found that when I played tennis with someone better than me my skill level would rise significantly. When I played with someone worse than me, I played worse. That was an eye-opener to me.

As a kid learning to ski, I never took lessons. But that didn’t stop me from lurking 50 feet away from a class and trying to pick up some pointers, which helped me find more shortcuts to learning. Hey, I guess I’ve been hacking education in some shape or form since I was just a sprite!

In other words, you should never discount the value of watching someone that’s better than you. Or worse. Because you’ll likely learn something along the way.

So first, look at what others are doing in their social media/tradeshow engagement efforts. Examine to find out what works, and copy or adapt ideas.

It may take a little effort to find out what works. Just because someone is tweeting out promotions for a tradeshow booth doesn’t mean it’s working well for them. If you can do a little digging, though, you should be able to find out how things worked out. You can see if they posted photos, videos or blog posts about the tradeshow. Then do what you can to uncover how successful it was. Often a quick phone call to someone is the easiest way. Just ask how their promotion went and what they’d do differently next time!

To re-cap:

  • Watch what others do
  • Learn what works
  • Avoid what doesn’t work
  • Copy or adapt ideas
  • Learn from their success and failure

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 photo credit: Alan Light

Making Real Connections Using Social Media

When you’re tweeting and posting Facebook updates and adding photos to your Instagram or Snapchatting like a 13-year-old, do you ever get the feeling that those updates are all…er…wasted and you’re not making real connections using social media? Do you find that very few people actually respond or read them?

Do you feel that they are not really connecting to your intended recipients – those online followers of your company and products?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Making that connection with your audience (customers, potential clients) is probably the toughest thing you’re tasked to do.

And I’m here to tell you that it’s not an easy thing to do. Even if I gave you a shortlist of things to do on a daily basis, it’s quite possible that you may get nothing out of that list. Or it may mean the difference between making the connection and being totally ignored by your followers.

But still, if you’re on social media, you’ll have to try to find what it takes to make those connections or your time will be wasted.

So let me offer some ideas on what it might take. For every person involved in social media for their company, the approach to these ideas will be different, some slightly and some extremely different, but your approach should fall under the same umbrella. To me there are just two main elements you need to provide.

Saint Etienne setlist.

CONTENT. By providing good content, you’re telling your audience that you care. Show your knowledge; share your expertise. Give things away that are worth something and are not just rehashed. Speak knowledgeably about how your products or services can actually help someone. Answer questions; offer insights based on your experience. And don’t worry about giving away secrets – there really are very few secrets left anyway.

CONNECTION. Yeah, it’s a cliché: connect with someone! The larger your audience, the harder it will be to find anything more than superficial connections based on your online back-and-forth. But…I think there’s something to be said for making the attempt.  It could mean cultivating and focusing on a handful of those people in your tribe that are engaged and responsive. You can’t connect with everyone, but for those that you do make a solid connection with, it’s worth it. Often those people will then become surrogates for you and your company, singing your praises without urging from you. BTW, the way to connect online is to get off subject: use humor; comment on photographs, share experiences that are non-business related. Connections are made on an emotional level much easier than on a business level.

And when it comes to connection, quality is better then quantity. In fact, there isn’t enough time to connect with everyone in your circle. Connect with those you are able to and have some sort of attraction to. Business happens with people you like and trust.

In your social media interactions (as in everywhere), be likeble and trustworthy.

 photo credit: Bo Valentin

What’s your Social Media Reputation?

Managing your social media reputation may be something that you’ve never even thought of. Or it may be something you obsess over! Either way, there are a few things you can do to control, or attempt to control, your social media reputation.

March-October 2011 Countries

First, you must spend time just getting out there. Establish your online reputation by appearing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media outlets. People will look for you on Google (for the most part – over 90% of searches), so besides your company website, they should also find you on Twitter, Facebook and perhaps on YouTube, Flickr or even Wikipedia. Searchers won’t find those results if you aren’t there, and not only have established a presence, but are actively working those platforms.

Second, if the conversation about your products or brand turns sour, you’ll need to jump on the situation immediately. The famous United Break Guitars incident shows how lack of response can cause the chatter to blow up beyond having ANY control. But by monitoring your channels, when something does pop up, you are prepared to respond quickly. That quick response will help you acknowledge any complaints and address the situation so that your followers understand what’s going on.

Third, keep your ears to the ground! There are myriad tools out there that help you monitor what’s going on in regard to your products, company and competition. The best are Google Alerts and Social Mention. There are also several premium products on the market that allows you to drill down into social media platforms to follow those conversations.

Bottom line? You have the power to take proper action and control your social media reputation. And if you value your bottom line, you MUST be proactive in monitoring and responding when the conversation turns negative.

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 photo credit: faul

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