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


Creative Marketing in Tough Times

This article was originally published by the Statesman-Journal in mid-2008 and has been slightly updated.

Reaching your target market gets a little harder when your marketing budget is tapped by the recession. Even though the recession is ‘officially’ over (ask those looking for work if they think that’s true), you’re no doubt still challenged by tighter marketing budgets and other constraints.

So how do you get noticed in a busy marketing world with less of a marketing budget?

Brainstorm a little. Put on your thinking cap and see how you might adapt the following ideas to your product or service:

Picket Your Business: If your location is in a visible area, grab a dozen friends, make some signs and picket your business with signs that read “Company X is too nice!” or “Too good to be true!” or “Customer Service that’s Out of this World!” Who knows, maybe it’ll be a slow news day and a local news photographer will happen by (might not be a bad idea to alert them).

Business Cards are Like Confetti: Next time you get cards printed, double your order. Now find some complementary but not competitive businesses, and leave a stack of 25 on their counter in exchange for doing the same. Then drop by the library, go to the business book section, and leave a card in the books that relate specifically to your business or expertise. Slip them into magazines when you are waiting for an appointment with your doctor or dentist.

Pay it Forward: At the movies (or toll bridge or ball game or…) pay for the next customer and make sure the cashier gives your business card to the person. No guarantee the person will become a client but it can certainly get them talking. Okay, leave two business cards.

On-Hold Messaging: When people call your businesses and are put on hold while they wait for their party, they’re a captive audience. Now’s the perfect time to let them know about your company and any seasonal or timely specials you have going on. If you’re not doing this, it’s a missed opportunity – and it’s a low budget ploy to get in your customers’ ears. And yes, I do on-hold messaging!

Partnerships: The right partnership can double your business – as well as that of your new partner. Find a business whose clients can benefit from your service and chances are their clients will benefit from you. For instance: wedding planner + photographer; web designer + search engine specialist; house painters + window replacement.

Client Appreciation and Recognition: put on a barbecue at a local park or even a big back yard. Make sure your clients bring at least one or two business friends. Have a short ceremony handing out certificates, small prizes – anything to give recognition and appreciation to those that support you.

Offer Free Services: If you have a business that’s targeting the general population such as a restaurant, coffee shop, flower shop, etc., offer samples (free meal, drinks, roses) to other business folks. The key is to target people that see a lot of customers in a day and have an opportunity to talk to their clients at length. Think hair stylists and barbers. Who wouldn’t love to talk about a great freebie they just got, especially if it’s nearby?


Free E-Book: Write a short e-book that answers all the troubling questions your clients have and offer it on your website. If you can compile enough information, use the free version as an enticement for a longer in-depth e-book that you can charge for.

Blog Targeting: Got a lively blog that relates to your business or expertise? You should! If not, get one. If you do, strike up a deal with local internet cafes to make your blog the home page in exchange for free advertising on your blog.

Twitter: If you’re not aware of Twittering, think of it as short blog bursts that are instantly delivered to ‘followers.’ Learn who the leaders in your industry are and follow their Twitters (‘tweets?’) and let people know that you’re tweeting, too. If you blog chances are there is a tool that integrates your blog with Twitter so all your posts are sent out as a ‘tweet…’ Whatever your approach, Twitter is being used by more and more business people to pass on news, product comments, industry chatter and more.

Guest Blogging: Find a popular blog that relates to your industry, get familiar with its content and type of readers, and offer to send a free article for them to post. The article should offer useful information or unique insight into an industry situation or product problem. The more useful it is, the more likely you’ll be asked back – and other bloggers will take note, too. Make sure to include a ‘resource’ box with info on you and a link back to your website.

Articles: Write short informative articles relating to your product or service and distribute them via sites such as,, or Why give it away free? The more times your articles are read, the more chances you have to get a click back. When you consider how long articles can stay posted online, a single popular article can refer thousands back to your site.

Regardless of your budget or product or service, with some thought and creativity you can find a way to get in the face of (and perhaps under the skin) your most desired customers. Brainstorm a little, adapt some of these ideas and watch your bottom line.

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photo credit: Skeggzatori

Pro-Active Networking for 2010

Late last year during the Christmas holiday break, while I was lazing away days in front of bowl games eating popcorn with my son, playing video games and getting in a day or two of steep incline slope meditation (that’s skiing to you), I made a decision to become a proactive networker in 2010. As in – let’s be a conscious networker every day and see what happens.

I didn’t want to set expectations for the networking, such as how much business I could create out of the networking (which meant I would be pushing people to buy something). I wanted to set some measurement points for things I can do and control. I can set a goal of reaching out to one new person a day, every business day (and even on weekends if I felt like it), by talking to or reaching out via e-mail to someone with a specific reason (not sales).

So I am going into 2010 with this approach: reach out consistently and frequently and see what happens.

just another meetup

Early in the year it’s interesting to see what’s happened already. One thing I’m promoting locally is the Salem Business Network, a local online business-networking and referral site that I run. My plan is to talk to a few hundred people about it this year and get them signed up for a free listing which will likely get them listed on the front page of major search engines. Again, I just want to see where all that networking and relationship-building leads.

If the networking is only online, I look for opportunities to take it offline. If they’re local, that means an invitation to coffee and conversation. If they’re not local, it’s an invitation to a phone conversation.

For the first week of the year I talked to about a half-dozen folks that were somewhat lukewarm to the idea of joining another networking group (perhaps I wasn’t explaining the benefit clearly enough for them to understand), but did sign up a handful. Then yesterday I connected with a web designer here locally that was absolutely intrigued by the site because he could see the underlying architecture and said “Wow, this is impressive! Even to me!” Funny how you get re-inspired when you run across someone who ‘gets’ what you’re trying to do.

I’ve also reached out to a couple of ‘friends of friends’ on Facebook that intrigued me enough with comments and e-mails so I felt it was the right thing to do to find a phone number and make the call. It’s led to a handful of great conversations.

So what takes place in the conversation? I have two or three questions I ask:

First, if they’re in business – which almost all are – I want to know who is their ideal client? I ask them to describe that person or company. If I know anyone that fits that description I’ll make an introduction.

Second, I ask if they mind if I add them to my newsletter list as a way of keeping in touch. I also get complete contact information, such as Twitter and Facebook, and ask if they’re on LinkedIn. Hey, if you’re going to networking, you had better take it online if it’s not already there.

Third, I offer to help them with anything in the tradeshow arena. Not a heavy-handed sell – just an invitation to call me if a situation comes up where they or their clients need semething to do with tradeshow marketing. I find that a ‘light touch’ for the sales end of what I do works: it’s inviting while not being pushy. Plus, it’s congruent with the purpose of my call: to network – not to sell.

The things I am getting out of ProActive Networking so far: turning those tweets and avatar photos into real human beings; and fostering more connections between all the people I know.

Chances are I’ll follow up these conversations with a quick card from my SendOutCards account to solidify the connection and maybe impress them, too.

But what do I really get out of it? I get to know more people and I have found over the last seven years of being in exhibit sales I love getting to know people and to help them get what they want. If I can do that effectively, then I can get what I want.

QUESTIONS for you: What are you doing to network this year? Are you trying new things, new ways to reach people? Are you consciously and consistently looking to find new people? I’d love to see your comments!

Disclosure: I’m an affiliate of SendOutCards, the coolest ever online card-sending service. Try it out here. I also work with to assist people to start their own online city-based business networks that looks just like Salem Business Network. If you want to find out how to start your own local online networking site, contact me.

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photo credit: tarale

Using Facebook at an Event: A Case Study

Need more sign-ups on your Facebook page? Take a tip from this case study of, an online study community aimed at high school and college students. Marketing Associate and blogger Carleigh McKenna contacted us after a HARO request for stories on how companies are using social media in conjunction with events.

Here’s how kick-started their Facebook page:

At a “Boston Back to School Party” last year, hosted a booth at CollegeFest crammed with several computer stations. They encouraged students to log in to their Facebook pages to check updates. While logged in, they asked the students to join their Facebook page.

To entice as many students as possible to sign up, they dangled a $1500 prize to be given to a member of the new Facebook page at random after the CollegeFest was complete. Since they had just created the page and went into the event with zero members, they explained the odds were pretty good.

As Carleigh put it: “Not only did we take a Fan Page from 0 members (it launched the day before CollegeFest) to almost 1,000—which has allowed us the credibility of an established page as we attract more members– we also got more information than a simple e-mail address alone will ever provide.”

Since CollegeFest, the Facebook Fan Page has continued to grow. As of last check they were at over 2000 fans.

Carleigh adds that students (and perhaps some parents) are active on the Facebook page; joining in a weekly brainteaser, checking out photos and posting status updates or questions.

Check out

Are Your Tradeshow Graphics Doing Their Job?

Lost in a sea of graphics?

Funny, you don’t think of tradeshow graphics as actually working. Like, doing a job. More like you just hire a designer to put a nice logo up with a spiffy enticing photo and perhaps a photo and call it good.

But if that’s all you do, you’re probably not getting your money’s worth.

Your graphics should be doing a JOB. A BIG job. The biggest in your booth.

First, your graphics should stop people in their tracks. Admittedly, in a crowded chaotic tradeshow floor, it’s asking a lot of those graphics to actually stop people.  But if you can get your graphics to at least slow someone down enough to see what your booth is all about, that’s probably enough. After all, most people at a show are there to learn and see what’s new and are actually looking to be engaged in show-stopping stuff.

How to get your graphics to stop someone or slow them down? A wild beautiful photo; a bold, engaging statement; a challenging question.

Next, your graphics should qualify and disqualify show attendees as much as possible. If your graphic is inviting EVERYBODY to your booth chances are a lot of those people are NOT potential clients or customers. But if you ask the right question and show the right photo, illustration or graphic, the visitor can quickly deduce if your product or service works for them. They’re qualified or disqualified before they even enter the booth. Job well done.

Finally, your graphics should appear in a hierarchy of most important to least important. You’ve seen all of those expensive overhead hanging banners? They almost always are of a recognizable logo or brand. The overhead banner helps shout out your name from the rooftops. Literally. It helps people find your booth from halfway across the hall.

the hierarchy of graphics: overhead banner, tagline, video, greeting logo

So: top of the hierarchy: Your logo. Next: the important tagline or question that engages the mind and helps to qualify or disqualify.

Third: the sub-headline, which supports or complements the main headline. Often this appears as the last item – beyond three you’re getting into the kind of text and verbiage that most people won’t read unless they’re your absolute target market. Does this mean you shouldn’t include it? Of course you should – if you have room and it makes overall sense and is still engaging to your core target.

The fourth and final part of your graphic package in the hierarchy would be any supporting literature. In rare cases it might be a set of graphics with more detailed information, such as bullet points, that add to the overall description.

One additional piece which a lot of companies now add is the video element. Even though the video likely has a soundtrack, in most tradeshow environments the sound will either be ignored or lost in the ambient noise. It doesn’t mean that the soundtrack should be ignored or thought of as a throwaway piece of information, because it can be useful in other situations. It just means that as part of your overall tradeshow graphics package, the video should have strong images and an engaging storyline without having to rely on the soundtrack or narrator.

One final aside: it’s common for people to underestimate the cost of their graphic design and production, and because of that end up cutting corners.

If you really want your graphics to do the job they are capable of doing, be realistic about the budget and give them the impact they deserve.

Tradeshowguy Blog: A Look Back at ’09

Tradshowguy Blog was launched early in 2009 for several reasons. While it’s been almost a year – but not quite – I thought it might be a good time to turn the spectacles to the past year.

First, I started the blog because I had been itching for an outlet for thoughts, ideas, interviews and other assorted ‘stuff’ on or about the tradeshow industry.

Secondly, I was hoping to do some personal and company branding, for both myself and the company I work for in Salem, Oregon – Interpretive Exhibits.

Third – and more selfishly – I wanted to have some fun with the social media aspects of blogging.

No doubt I accomplished all, to my continuing satisfaction.

What I didn’t expect was that I would meet a ton of great people and start new friendships and relationships with them.

Tradeshowguy Blog has opened up a lot of doors to people and businesses I didn’t know existed.

Take Ken Newman of Magnet Productions. Ken found me through a Twitter search for tradeshow people one night last February. The next morning he sent out a tweet that caught my eye. Flattery! Buttering me up! What the hell?

So I went to his website, found his phone number and rang him up. Ken and I had a great conversation and while getting to know each other found we had much in common. Later in the summer I stopped and had a cup of coffee with him in San Francisco. We’ve struck up a long-distance friendship which will no doubt continue.

Then there’s Steve Farnsworth, also in San Francisco. I found Steve through a Twitter search for PR professionals. Turns out Steve stopped doing PR a couple of years back and now helps IT companies find their way through the Social Media landscape.

Steve helped a lot – he offered to publish one of my articles on his (very well-read) blog; he set up a Twitter chat with me; and he’s been very willing to have a few extended chats to share his thoughts about his Social Media experiences.

From there I can point to many people that I would never have met if not for my interest in hearing from different voices for my blog and podcast: Emilie Barta, tradeshow presenter; Jeffrey Brown of Tradeshow Blues; Karen Silvers, promotional products expert and distributor with Lee Wayne Company; David Schenberg of Busy; David Fugiel of Nimlok; Kenji Haroutunian of Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City; Jay Tokosch of Core-Apps; Mike Morrison of Smart Radio Now; Della Reese of DWA Tradeshow discussing ‘green’ tradeshow graphics; Heidi Thorne of Thorne Communications; and model and event tour organizer Tunisha Hubbard (who turned in the most popular podcast of the year on

There were others, of course. Guest posts included Dennis Salazar of Salazar Packaging, Roger Pike of Communication Steroids, Kevin Ehlers of Event Technologies, Rose Esposito of the Marcomm Group –  and more to come.

Fun videos – some I filmed, some that were done by others but made sense to share on the blog.

I also did a survey towards the end of the year that was intended to give insight into how tradeshow managers and organizers used Social Media in their tradeshow promotions and appearances. Much of that information should find its way into a webinar / teleseminar planned for the first quarter.

All in all, after almost a year of blogging on, I feel like I’m just getting started. Just finding my feet, as it were. Some posts got a lot of attention that surprised me. Some posts I thought would get great readership did not.

If you’ve made it this far – thank you! I appreciate your time and attention – and I don’t take it for granted.

Let’s see what we can get up to on 2010, eh? And, oh by the way – the proper way to say that is ‘Twenty-Ten.’ In case you were wondering.

Social Media Tradeshow Marketing Survey – Final Results

twitter logo vampire goth

Two dozen people responded to my short survey last month on how companies use Social Media in their tradeshow marketing. Admittedly, the results are not scientific. But I feel they are telling. Even with a couple dozen people you start to feel the pulse of how people are incorporating social media into their event marketing efforts.

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photo credit: Catherinette Rings Steampunk

First we asked if your company is involved in Social Media, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube?

  • 95% said YES

Do you use Social Media to promote your tradeshow appearances?

  • 81% said YES

Does your company have an active blog (posting at least 5 – 10 times per month)?

  • 63% said YES

Does your company have a Facebook page?

  • 68% said YES

Does anyone at your company have a Twitter account that represents your company? (could be more than one person)

  • 81% said YES

Does your company have a YouTube channel?

  • 45% said YES

If you have a YouTube channel, how frequently do you post videos?

  • less than once a month – 81%
  • 2 – 3 times a month – 9%
  • twice a week of more – 9%

How important is it to your company to drive tradeshow sales using Social Media?

  • not important at all – 4%
  • we’re thinking about it, but uncommitted – 9%
  • looking at it closely and experimenting – 45%
  • we’re heavily involved and looking for more ways to use SM – 36%
  • none of the above – 4%

Are you interested in attending a webinar or teleseminar on using Social Media to clost more Biz at your Tradeshow?

  • 64% – YES
  • 36% – NO

If YES, what is the most important thing you’d like to have covered?

Comments included:

  • I would like content to go beyond the basics of what these social media platforms are and how to start an account and post, and focus specifically on fun, creative ways for the experiences user to drive traffic to the booth that will convice the company’s tradeshow manager of its value!
  • Case studies
  • Even though it’s really hard for me to do teleseminars/webinars since I’m on the road a lot, I’m always looking for ways to build show traffic and would do my best to participate. My main difficulty with using social media for shows, at the moment at least, is that my core client base is not even involved with social media. Many are on LinkedIn. But with that being a more stagnant social network, they set it and forget it. Some are on Facebook, but primarily for family, friends and to hook up with their high school buds. Twitter? Of my core “in person” network, I can name only 3 people — yes, 3 of my 230+ followers — that are even remotely active on Twitter and that’s not daily activity either. I don’t have a “blog” per se, but do have a weekly email newsletter that has an intensely loyal following of 50 or so from my in-person network. So that’s about as social as they get. What Twitter offers me is a new universe of social media aware people to network with. Many are in my home Chicago area, but it will be a while before we tweet up or start attending the same events. Always love your tweets. Thanks for being part of my social media network!
  • Real life case studies of how people are monetizing social media in events
  • Getting people to the booth
  • Facilitating inbound marketing using SM How will tools like foursquare affect 2010-11 event marketing? best practices in the showscape with SM?

The goal of the survey was to give me some food for thought and look to create a webinar that focuses on the needs of those who responded. Right now I’m working on the content and depending on the rest of my workload plan to roll out the webinar in late January or early February. If you’re subscribed to our newsletter you’ll be notified with plenty of time to sign up!

What’s Important in 2010?


I am amazed that we are already ten years into the new century. Not such a new century any more, is it? But every day brings new and exciting things. 2009 was the year of Exploding Social Media. Everybody seems to be getting into it big time.

Companies are jumping on board before the train pulls out of the station. They don’t want to be left behind.

Technology keeps leap-frogging itself. iPhones, Google phones, Droid phones; 3D movies, downloadable movies, marketplace changes…

So what does 2010 and beyond bring?

Maybe the question should be: what matters now?

Blogger, author and thinker Seth Godin asked that question of a lot of his friends and acquaintances. He’s assembled a new free e-book called “What Matters Now.”

In it, some 70 people share one-page chapters (essays?) with a one-word title. It’s funny, endearing, inspiring and a gas to read. Pick up your free copy now. And let a friend know. Seth is hoping to get the book into the hands of five million people!


When It Comes to Sustainable Packaging – There’s no business like show business!

Here’s a guest post by Dennis Salazar of Salazar Packaging of Plainfield, Il. Dennis caught my attention with a couple of tweets that steered me to his blog, which discusses sustainable packaging. Given that every tradeshow exhibitor has to deal with packaging in one way or another – shipping, product packaging, etc. – I asked if he’d be interested in contributing a guest column. Here’s Dennis’s contribution:


No, not the Ethel Merman variety of show business; I’m talking about the exhibit hall, hard floors and long hours type of show business. The type of show where the only thing more outrageously priced than a square foot of booth space is the five minute lunch you gulped down which consisted of a cold hot dog, served on a stale bun with a once carbonated soft drink that hasn’t been bubbly since the 2005 Auto Show.

The fact is that I have seen very few companies work within the guidelines of sustainable packaging, the way people do when they are preparing for a show.

At the show exhibitors do green packaging right!

Here is what I have noticed about show exhibitors:

  • Most of the packaging for booth displays is wooden crates and wood is still considered the greenest packaging material because it is natural and renewable.
  • A booth display will be used over and over again for years with perhaps only minor changes to graphics. This means the wood used to ship it is also reused many times.
  • Even when a display is replaced, the company making the new display is very likely to re-crate the new model with the same wood.
  • Booth displays are painstakingly “right sized” so there is little wasted space or excess packaging material to be found. This saves money on everything from construction to the multiple shipments it is certain to experience.

Motive versus Results in Sustainable Packaging

There is a very small segment of green minded people who are more interested in the condition of the heart rather than the end result. For them it is not enough to do the right thing, you also have to do it for the right reasons.

Of course I care about the motivation behind a company’s green actions but I am equally concerned about what they are able to accomplish. I would rather see a company with strict financial motivation and great end results than a company with a sincere eco heart and mind, who talks the talk beautifully but has little green success.

If you closely examine most show packaging, you will agree it typically does an excellent job of satisfying critical sustainability requirements because it is renewable, minimal and reusable.

sustainable cartoon

With more than 30 years of industry experience, Dennis Salazar is founder and president of Salazar Packaging, Inc. He is a prolific writer and popular speaker on the topic of sustainable packaging. His blog, Inside Sustainable Packaging, has been acclaimed by both the green and packaging communities.

Dennis offers custom eco friendly packaging solutions at Salazar Packaging, Inc. and in-stock green packaging products at Globe Guard – the first internet store featuring all eco friendly packaging supplies.

Follow Dennis on Twitter.

Is Your Company on Facebook?

More and more companies are realizing the value and power of having a presence on Facebook. While many people see it as a duplication of their online efforts, I believe that’s the wrong way to look at it. With 350 million worldwide Facebook users, a significant part of your market is spending time – in some cases, a lot of time – on Facebook.

Yes, it’s another way to ‘touch’ your market. But look it this way: you have a website, you’re on Twitter (hopefully) and wondering what to do with your Facebook page. Being on Facebook allows people to become fans, and encourages feedback. The more fans, the more feedback. The more feedback, the more that is shared throughout those peoples’ networks. And you keep adding fans.

But what about B2B? Yes, there are active Facebook company B2B pages. Here’s a brief slide show that shows 10 examples of Facebook B2B pages, and looks into why your company should have a presence on Facebook:

If your company is B2C, you should definitely have a page on Facebook. It’s a great way to reach more people and spread more information and gather more feedback.

One example, gDiapers (disclosure: a client of ours at Interpretive Exhibits) has a very active Facebook page. They’re also on YouTube and Twitter, too. But when I first noticed their Facebook page just two short months ago, or less, they had right around 2900 fans. When I just looked a few moments ago, they’re just a few shy of 4000 fans. Which means they’re picking up about 500 a month. The conversation on the blog revolves around customer issues, new products, the occasional free coupon, ecstatic users and more.

Face it, Facebook is a great place to build on your brand and strengthen customer connections.

Shameless Plug Dept: We do a LOT here, man…


Sometime last year our shop foreman told me “We can do anything….they just gotta bring us an idea and we’ll figure it out.”

And yes, I’ve seen it time and time again. It’s true. The designers and fabricators at Interpretive Exhibits CAN and DO do amazing stuff all the time. Of course, much of it doesn’t relate directly to tradeshow exhibits. We do outdoor interpretive signage, museum and visitor center exhibits, custom built-in cabinetry for businesses and residences, large-scale digital graphics…the list really DOES go on and on.

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photo credit: Adam Swank

So I thought I would sidle up to the guy at the Shameless Plug Department and ask if it was all right to toss out a free PDF listing of the stuff we do. Sure, why not.

So here ’tis: a one-sheet, easily downloadable and printable, of what we can help you with here at Interpretive Exhibits. Yes, it is a shameless plug. But every now and then you gotta blow your own horn.

Grab the list of Interpretive Exhibits’ capabilities here. (opens in a new window)

And go here for a larger list of free downloads to help you in your tradeshow marketing efforts.

Take a look at just a few of our projects:


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