Trade Show Tips for the Budget-Impaired

Identify the right trade show.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? On Trade Show News Network, a simple search can uncover over 40 trade shows for the aviation industry alone. It’s worth the time to sift through the results to see which trade shows might not be relevant off the bat. Narrow this list down to 2-3 really great events where your target audience will be in attendance. Next, contact the tradeshow organizers and ask for information. You’ll want to see preliminary brochures or conference programs available, along with an exhibitor list.

Plan your level of participation and stick to it.

The biggest reason companies don’t elect to participate in tradeshows is the difficulty determining a return on the investment. Once you’re on site, it is best to have cost overruns, especially if you’re a new exhibitor. With most events, the smallest exhibit space one can purchase is a 10-foot by 10-foot booth and show management usually provides a table and chairs along with pipe and drape and a very plain-looking sign with your company name. Although it seems like the basics, this is not enough to have a successful tradeshow. You’re not going to be satisfied with lowly pipe and drape when neighboring booths have fancy setups and flashing lights.
An inexpensive booth option is to purchase a pop-up booth with customized graphics, which offers portability and flexibility in a professional exhibit design, without breaking the bank. In most convention centers, if it takes you more than 30 minutes to set up a booth display, you’re required to hire union labor for the task, and this can be expensive. There’s money to be saved in a quick pop-up display. Plan your print handout materials wisely. Coordinate with tradeshow staff to determine how many press kits you’ll need for the press room and brochures and handouts for your booth. Too many companies waste good materials simply because they didn’t want to take the effort or expense to ship surplus materials home.
With larger trade shows like Comdex, Internet World, or FOSE, it’s easy for small players to get lost in a maze of gigantic, showy exhibits. In all cases, vendors like Microsoft, IBM, CDW-G and others offer a pavilion booth to small partners. If you have the opportunity to team with a big player your first time out, take it. Consider it an escorted debut. You benefit from being in the high traffic prime booth space under the big brand name, and your partner handles all the booth set-up, show management administration and on-site marketing to generate traffic to your station. The only downside is in some cases your branding is limited, however for smaller companies just entering the trade show marketing world, this is an outstanding way to start.

Work it.

Send at least two people to staff the booth. Nothing looks more unprofessional than an empty booth with a “be right back” sign when the exhibitor is off grabbing a quick lunch or taking a break. Also, it’s easier to draw a crowd when there’s more than one person. If you’re talking to customer A and customer B walks up, she’s not as likely to interrupt your discussion. Another booth person could engage her, and 4 people talking will attract the attention of Customer C down the aisle, who will make it a point to stop by. People are social creatures, and they’ll gravitate to a crowd just to see what’s happening in the booth.

It’s all in the follow through.

After two or three days of smiling, handshaking, card-collecting, and towing the company line, you’re going to be exhausted, but it’s not over yet. The secret of trade show success is in the follow through. Set a goal to follow up with all leads within the three-weeks following the event. While in your booth you will have either collected business cards or swiped attendee badges to get contact information. Use it. You can cost-effectively follow up with an email thanking them for visiting and inviting them to see your website.

This article, written by Tanya F. Hilery, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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