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


Product Training from Classic Exhibits

Mel White, Classic Exhibits VP of Marketing & Business Development

Classic Exhibits invited me to attend a day-long training of their new products and services this week. Interpretive Exhibits has been a distributor for Classic Exhibits for several years – probably our longest association with an exhibit manufacturer. We like Classic Exhibits for several reasons, not the least of which is that they’re right up the road in the Portland, Oregon metro area and easy to visit.

The training also included a small group of exhibit folks from the San Francisco Bay area, who were up for the day to get the skinny on what C.E. has to offer.

And yes, they have a lot to offer; in fact, the list seems to continue to grow. Classic Exhibits has recently added a number of eco-friendly and sustainable products to their line. They also have created a number of unique exhibit designs in the past few years that have proven to be winners with their clients. Competitors, too, it appears, as some of the designs have been ‘knocked off’ by other companies.

We spent some time learning about the awesome (yes, I really said awesome) Design Search tool available to Classic Exhibits’ distributors. It allows buyers or browsers a chance to go through hundreds of designs and configurations and see mock-ups and actual photos of several versions of each design. For years Classic Exhibits has photographed every exhibit that goes out the door and keeps adding the photos to the mix, giving you as a buyer a chance to see how other people have adapted a particular exhibit to their use.

Even if you’re not in the market for a new exhibit right now, you might be interested in spending some time going through the Design Search tool – just to see what the possibilities are. Check out Design Search here.

Beyond that we all got a chance to touch, feel, hold and eventually dismantle some of their exhibits, including the Perfect Ten hybrid, Sacagawea hybrid and the Magellan hybrid displays. So easy to dismantle. Like butta…

Finally a look at the tough old bird; the standard pop-up exhibit that has built a reputation over the years as the toughest little pop-up in the industry: the Quadro S pop-ups. These babies are so sturdy that Mel White, the VP of Marketing & Business Development, described one meeting demo that he started by standing on top of the exhibit. Yeah, that’s tough and sturdy.

All in all, great to see what new things are coming out, and getting reacquainted with the old stand-bys. Need an exhibit? Check out Classic Exhibits Design Search here.

From Disappointment to Success: How a Trade Show Exhibit Changed the Fate and Direction of a Company

This is a guest post written by Bev Gray, CEO of Exhibit Edge, a full-service trade show exhibit and consultation company serving the Virginia, Maryland, DC areas and beyond.

With 18 years of being a provide


r for the exhibit industry, I have seen many clients exhibit at many types of trade shows. I have also seen many opportunities for expansion of company brand, products, or services and to build relationships. What I hadn’t seen, until recently, is a company complete change its market and direction as a result of their exhibiting. I’d like to share with you this recent experience.

Scott and his partner, Tim, had developed a jump suit for the hunting industry that, with the help of their patented machine, removed all human scent odors. The machine changed the structure of molecules that create the human scent. How it works for the hunter is, before going into the woods, he or she hooks the machine up to the suit for 5 minutes to completely remove the human scent. If you know anyone who hunts, you know how obsessive they can be over hiding their scent and covering their tracks – so this seemed to be a great product for hunters!

This company received some financial backing to bring their product to market. One of the marketing methods that they chose to pursue was exhibiting at a hunting trade show. They approached us about designing a custom booth and receiving consultation to make the most of their presence… as the SHOT Show in Las Vegas approached, they had very high hopes for their public debut.

Their product and their 10’ booth didn’t disappoint, drawing crowds and attention throughout the duration of the show. Some key aspects of their exhibit as well as some important actions they took were:

  • Their booth displayed a technology feel, just like their product.
  • They displayed a video explaining the product technology.
  • They conducted live demonstrations involving attendees and creating buzz on the floor.
  • They distributed brochures about their product.
  • They were highly prepared to answer questions about their product; not with just off-the-cuff answers, but with carefully thought out, researched responses that painted the product in the best light possible.
  • They checked out their competition and made comprehensive notes for their next shows.
  • They let themselves be compared to their competitor and talked about the differences to the attendees.
  • They offered show discounts to hunting store owners who showed interest in carrying the product.
  • They conducted a couple of sales meeting during non-show hours.
  • They collected and took detailed notes about their qualified leads promising to follow-up within the next two weeks.
  • They attempted to set up future sales meetings with leads, rather than talking to them but not putting a date on the calendar.
  • They sought out additional potential partners who were interested in the technology.

After the show, Scott and Tim felt confident that they would be taking sales orders. They followed up on all of their leads within the promised two week period. Despite all of this hard work, and doing the little things that really make you succeed, sales just did not take off as they expected. As the months passed, they began to get discouraged by the steady, but not rapidly-growing results. We’ve all been here before and know this feeling – it takes persistence and determination to push through this, and they did just that.

One of their sales calls, which was generated from a trade show lead, was to a man who was a hunter but also worked in the healthcare industry. He explained to Scott and Tim that he had been thinking about their product and their show presentation quite a bit. He said he envisioned an application in hospital and lab environments where sanitization is critical and wanted to talk further about the product with his connections in the healthcare industry. Nine months and many phone calls and meetings later, Jim & Scott have just been awarded a sizeable grant to do the research and modifications necessary so that their unique product can be utilized in the healthcare industry. They are currently in this R&D phase and hope to have a revised product within six months. Through this grant they have already come across some very interesting findings; for instance, they have also discovered that when they run their product for several hours without the suit, it will remove odors from a room.

While the partners were confident about their original hunting application for their technology product, a single, memorable meeting at their first trade show opened the door to a potentially much-more lucrative product. It was their repeated phone calls and tenacity that assisted them in their pursuit of success.

Bev Gray is CEO of Exhibit Edge, a full-service trade show exhibit and consultation company serving the Virginia, Maryland, DC areas and beyond. Bev has been involved in the trade show industry for over 15 years.

Check out Exhibit Edge here.

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photo credit: armyengineersnorfolk

It’s Not About You

Maxi Trusso

It doesn’t matter whether you’re exhibiting at a tradeshow, writing on a blog, making a sales call or trying to get a date.


Even though we understand this intellectually, it somehow seems that we grapple with this in real life.

Your visitor doesn’t care about you. They only care about how what you do affects them.

After all, when you’re putting up a tradeshow booth, your inclination is to show what’s NEW, what’s COOL and what’s RELEVANT about your company.

Often that doesn’t matter to the visitor as they just want to know what’s relevant to them.

But the good news is that as often as not the two competing tasks – telling your story vs. making your story relevant to your visitor – are in congruency.

If you’re trying to sell a new food product, you may be interested in pushing that product to your customers because if they buy a lot of it, or a lot of people buy a lot, it’ll be good news to your bottom line.

Your visitor doesn’t care. Instead, she is interested in its taste, calorie count, cost and how her family might like it. Those things are important to her, not your company’s bottom line.

Now of course you say – YES! That’s elemental. Of course you create a tradeshow booth and tradeshow marketing campaign based on what the customer wants.

But do you? Really?

If your company is unknown in the marketplace, yet the first thing a visitor sees is your company’s name in light at the top of the booth, you’re thinking of you – not your customer.

Your name isn’t relevant to them. Yes, you’d like to MAKE it relevant, but you do that by inviting them in with something compelling to THEM. The top graphical imagery in your booth should be what’s most important to THEM. In some cases that may be a compelling question or bold statement. Your company name’s impact and meaning with them will grow over time.

If you’re Apple, Microsoft or Wii, the name is sufficient and relevant, because the visitor has an impression of your brand and are interested in your new products. They have history with customers.

A new company doesn’t, so your task is to think about what’s most important to THEM: draw them in with a statement, graphic or question that addresses that specifically in regards to your product or service.

Sales calls are often the same. If I had a quarter for every sales person that called me weekly and did an ‘information dump’ on me before even asking any questions, I’d be able to buy both of us a nice cuppa joe. Weekly. In those cases, it’s about them. Not me.

In your relationships with friends, partners, clients and prospects, make it about THEM.

You’ll do better than most of your competition.

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photo credit: il_Morta

What I Learned From Talking Dogs


In cartoons and movies, dogs can talk. All the time. They must think we’re not listening. Or maybe they’re smart enough to know that we puny humans don’t understand dog-talk.


I don’t mind talking dogs. In fact, I like them just fine. My 10-year old son watches Scooby-Doo and movies like ‘Cats and Dogs’ and ‘Homeward Bound’ that feature talking dogs.

As far as he knows that’s the way it should be. Dogs and cats talking, and if they’re on screen we can hear and understand them.

It’s as if someone magically transformed those run-of-the-mill pets into super-beings that now are able to converse in languages not common to their species.

I wonder if we humans can do that….

Let’s say that we’re able to…uh…read minds, for instance. What would your booth visitors be saying if you could read the thought balloons above their heads?

“My, that booth needs cleaning.”

“Jeez, that guy’s on the cell phone again!”

“Hmmph, he should have at least used a breath mint to cover up that onion breath!”

Or what if all cell phone conversations within ten feet were beamed right to your head?

“Yeah, uh…let’s meet at the street…no, never mind, let’s do it after lunch. No, wait. Can you meet me here?”

“What’s your problem? I mean, what’s your freakin’ problem, man?”

“Yeah, I know, I know, but I really DO have to go out to dinner with her…it’s business…the boss told me I had to…”

I’m sure you’d hear a lot of idiotic and innocuous chatter. Maybe every 100th phone call you were eavesdropping on contained a nugget of information about your competitor or industry that made you rich.

Hey, since we’ve already established that dogs can talk, it’s not much of a leap to tell ourselves that we can hear private cell phone calls, right? Or read minds?

By imagining talking dogs, you can imagine a lot of wild and crazy things. Like making your booth from orange peels (what a smell!). Or creating a booth back wall of tires. Or teaching your visitors to juggle. Or sending visitors home with a Polaroid photo of themselves. I dunno – creativity comes in many forms. Are you being creative in your booth?

Are you being creative – I mean, really creative – in the important areas of tradeshow marketing?

  • lead gathering
  • lead follow up
  • booth design
  • visitor interaction
  • staff training
  • schmoozing with clients
  • putting on a demo
  • enticing visitors to your booth

If you can be more creative and interesting than a majority of your fellow exhibitors you’ll find yourself with more traffic.

The whole talking dog approach to this blog post was to draw you in and make you say ‘what the hell?’

Did it work? Did you wonder what the hell I was writing about?

If you’ve made it this far you should check out my new favorite book on creativity, ThinkerToys by Michael Michalko. I just finished it today and am already planning a number of ways to use it for future endeavors: sales, writing, brainstorming, planning, creating…so many ideas have come out of just READING the book that I can’t wait until I actually start to implement and use his ideas.

Check it out here (affiliate link): Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition)

Also check out a funny talking dog joke.

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photo credit: raggio(ALL4HIM)productions

Tradeshow Time: Class is in Session


What did you learn from your last tradeshow appearance? Did you learn that you, well, perhaps shouldn’t have even been there?

Sometimes that’s the best lesson you can learn: that the money you spent on the show was wasted and you won’t do that show again.

Or will you? Maybe the lessons you learned included the fact that this particular show was wasted, but that you learned enough about the show to make adjustments and refocus for the next go-round.

Let’s face it: even the most expensive marketing mistake comes with a lesson. Sometimes it’s hard to find, and other times it’s staring you in the face.

It could be that you learned that the show’s audience is not for you.

I recently teamed up with the Salem Business Network and Communication Steroids for the Salem Chamber of Commerce’s ShowBiz 2010, a business-focused day-long tradeshow. We prepped and planned, created and executed. And when it was over, we evaluated the results.

First, we couldn’t point to more than a handful of actual leads for Communication Steroids. And we had about 20 sign-ups for the Salem Business Network. As it turns out, signing people up via our laptop in a busy, chaotic show was more time-consuming than anticipated. So even had everything gone according to plan, the sign-ups would have been fewer than desired.

But luring people to sign up for something FREE isn’t always easy. You’d think so, but it’s counter-intuitive. When people hear that something is FREE, they often thing there’s a hidden catch or that the service is not worth much anyway. After all, they must reason, if it’s free what value can it have?

We also didn’t quite understand the audience that showed up to the show: instead of business folks, it was mostly (probably 90%) people ‘trick-or-treating’ to grab free samples and handouts at a lot of the booths. To their credit, the Salem Chamber of Commerce has tried to dampen that portion of the crowd by charging $5 entrance fee – but it still didn’t seem to have much effect. So there were few people at the show that we could actually describe as serious prospects.

Given all that, it’s hard to know how things will unfold over the next year. We did have a handful of folks we met who liked the offerings, and if any of them develop into a good client in the next 12 months we can say the minimal investment in booth space rental and graphics was worth it. But we can’t say it yet.

Every opportunity to get out into the marketplace is a chance to learn; to understand your market better, to research the wants and needs of your market, to understand the show better, to see how your people work in a chaotic sales situation.

Given that tradeshow marketing is not cheap, your best approach is to learn as many lessons as you can on as many different fronts as you can.

Doors are open: Class is in session!

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photo credit: Christina Spicuzza

Questions to Ask Before You Start Tradeshow Marketing

A recent LinkedIn discussion focused on ‘What questions do you ask yourself when deciding on an exhibit for a tradeshow event?’

There were a lot of answers and discussion on the topic, and after I chimed in with my two pennies’ worth, it got me to thinking: what does it take to even commit to a tradeshow marketing effort?

If you’re a new company looking for marketing opportunities and markets to tap, or a company that’s never done a tradeshow, it’s an interesting question to ponder.

In other words, what is the lead-up to the question asked in the LinkedIn discussion?

To my mind, the decision to even get into tradeshow marketing should begin with a handful of questions:

  • Can we reach a valuable market via tradeshows?
  • What will it cost us in terms of money and resources?
  • Is it a short-term or long-term effort?
  • How will it affect our image in the industry? In our market?
  • If we get involved, who’s going to do it?

After this, you’ll evolve to questions that may be particular to your company, but those are good questions to kick off your internal discussion.

Tradeshow marketing can be an incredible boon – or bust – depending on how well you do it.

You’re laying a lot on the line. Take time to examine it from all angles before jumping in the pond.

20 Tradeshow Exhibitor FAQs

Years ago websites started posting FAQ’s – Frequently Asked Questions –  as a way of helping those on the site seeking answers to a variety of items. Somehow I felt that FAQ meant ‘Frequently ANSWERED Questions’ because that was the point: Answer the freakin’ questions! But sometimes the questions that you WANTED to ask never got answered. So therefore you never saw those questions show up in an FAQ list.

But if you think about it, there are a lot of Frequently ASKED Questions that go unanswered. Or maybe in this case they’re INFrequently Asked Questions. Either way, it presents an opportunity to see what some of those questions are…

Maybe you have answers for these?

  1. What’s the theme song for a tradeshow manager?
  2. How much sleep will I get when I’m in Vegas for the show? Will it matter?
  3. Why do attendees ask such dumb questions? And why did my parents try to convince me that there’s no such thing as a stupid question?
  4. Will the airlines ever actually give me a decent meal again in my lifetime?
  5. What has the charge for extra luggage gone up to since the last time I booked a flight?
  6. Where’s my freakin’ exhibit!?? It should have been here yesterday!
  7. Why did I leave most of my business cards back at the office?
  8. Why did I let my spouse convince me that since the show is in Anaheim we should double up, bring the kids and tag a couple of extra days on the trip at Disneyland?
  9. How will I ever get away with giving my list of uncategorized leads to the sales department without them getting totally ticked at me?
  10. Why is it that the most uncomfortable shoes I have are the ones I brought to wear all day at the show?
  11. Where are those receipts I need for my expense report?
  12. Why do those graphics look crappy here at the show when they looked fine at the office?
  13. Where are our product samples?
  14. Why does our hired ‘professional’ presenter have such bloodshot eyes?
  15. The C-level celebrity wants HOW MUCH to appear at our booth?!
  16. The drayage bill was HOW MUCH?!
  17. You’re not going to put THAT photo on Facebook, are you?
  18. Why didn’t you tell me the CEO was coming?
  19. Can you make that espresso a double?
  20. Can you make that martini a double?

No doubt you can add your own questions to our Exhibitor’s FAQ…feel free!

Goin’ Mobile with Your Tradeshow Apps

Pete Townshend had it right when he penned ‘Goin’ Mobile’ at the turn of the Sixties:

I can pull up by the curb
I can make it on the road
Goin’ mobile
I can stop in any street
Invitin’ people that we meet
Goin’ mobile
Keep me movin’

We’ve been a mobile society for decades. But in the past few years we have started taking our computers on the road.

Smartphones sales jumped almost 50% in the first quarter of 2010, selling about 53.4 million phones in the quarter. Uh-huh. That’s a lotta damn smartphones! In fact, it appears that there will be more smartphones sold in 2010 than personal computers. Which begs the question: are you ready for the smartphone? As a marketer – and specifically, as a tradeshow marketer – are your customers able to find you and interact with you via the smartphone? And what does your website look like on a smartphone?

Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting apps you might use in conjunction with tradeshows.

First, there are apps that are specifically built just for tradeshows, such as iLeads and Follow Me.

You can access the iLeads podcast here and the Follow Me podcast here.

Both have great application on the tradeshow floor and are worth a close look.

In searching for apps that you might use at a tradeshow, event or convention, I came across a few blog posts that covered some very usable apps.

Corbin Ball’s post ‘Meetings and Tradeshows – There’s a Mobile App for That!’ has the most comprehensive list I’ve seen.

Eric Lukazewski of Echelon Design Inc came up with a shortlist of ‘5 iPhone Apps for Your Next Tradeshow’.

I haven’t used a business card reader, so I’ll have to check that out (although the one he linked to had a handful of negative reviews – so I’m going to look further). And the Whiteboard Capture Pro looks quite interesting. Again, I’ll take a look.

One more link: ‘7 iPhone Apps to Make Your Next Trade Show More Profitable’ by Matt Gratt at has a nice little list with links direct to the iTunes store. He mentions Tweetdeck, LinkedIn, and a business card reader as well.

The great thing about iPhone apps is that most of them are dirt cheap, so the entry cost, even for a ‘pro’ version is often only a few bucks – maybe the cost of a coffee drink or two.

Gear up your iPhone, Blackberry or Android…and go mobile:

I don’t care about pollution
I’m an air-conditioned gypsy
That’s my solution
Watch the police and the tax man miss me…I’m mobile!

McCormick Place to Benefit From New Legislation

It’s a done deal. The law that was expected to be passed is now, in fact, reality:

Officials of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) and the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) today applauded the passage of a new law meant to reform labor rules, establish exhibitor rights and realign McCormick Place operations with its major competitors in the convention and trade show industry.

Downtown Chicago

The new law calls for (according to today’s press release):

• New labor work rules that reduce crew sizes, require less overtime pay and eliminate hassles for customers.
• Expanding exhibitor rights, allowing customers to do their own work, regardless of booth size.
• The appointment of a Trustee, former MPEA CEO Jim Reilly, to oversee operations during an 18 month transition period and select a private manager for McCormick Place.
• Restructuring capital debt to allow the MPEA to further lower costs to customers and put the MPEA on sound financial footing.
• Allowing shows to select outside electrical and food service contractors.
• Auditing contracts to ensure savings are passed on to customers.
• Make recommendations to whether Navy Pier should remain in control by the Authority or become an independent entity.

I’ve only been to McCormick Place once and was pretty impressed – a very nice hall for all the big shows that come through. Let’s hope this law does what its intended to do.

For more information, click here…

Focus Group at a Tradeshow?


I spent a couple of hours this week as part of a focus group for Portland adult alternative radio station KINK.FM. There were about 18 of us, and I found it to be a very interesting experience. Having worked in radio for more than 25 years (I left the industry in 2002), it was interesting to experience being on the ‘other side’ for once.

I’ve seen focus groups, read about them, helped form them…but never been on the other side of the coin.

We were asked a lot of questions about our favorite stations, fave music, likes and dislikes about the station. All the stuff you might expect. For 90 minutes the facilitator guided us through a number of topics, while KINK’s Program Director scribbled notes quietly.

To the radio station, each of us represented thousands of their listeners or potential listeners, so they listened closely to what we had to say.

Do you do any market research in your industry? If you’re a professional speaker, do you take time to find out what your audience wants? Do you ask them what they DON’T like? Do you ask them what’s missing?

KINK.FM did all that and more. They fed us and gave us free CD’s and bumper stickers, too!

Now…here’s your task: can you use a tradeshow as a focus group of sorts? If so, how?

Would you have a short questionnaire that you can use to engage booth visitors? Can you set up a short demo of a new product and get their reaction? Can you show them mockups of a half-dozen proposed ads that your ad agency has conjured up? Should you bother to waste their time with annoying questions like ‘what do you think of this…?’?

Of course you can. You’re paying good money for your booth space. You have an audience of people that are interested in your industry – and probably your products – or they wouldn’t have paid to attend the show.

So take advantage of the situation. Set up your own series of mini focus groups during the show, and mine them for useful information.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll unearth a gem!

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photo credit: crazyoctopus

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