Trade Show Success: Driving Innovation Through Outsourcing

We are living in an age of trade show clutter. By some estimates, there are more than 14,000 trade show options available to attendees. The need has never been greater to create a distinctive and compelling reason for attendees to come to your show. Yet many association executives are so engrossed in day to day operations and membership support that they lack the time, objectivity, perspective and outside experience needed to develop a truly innovative event. The result is a laundry-list of look-alike shows, expos and events. Given the difficulties this situation can bring, what is an association executive to do?

According to a recent study, more and more association executives and meeting planners are turning to outside talent to increase attendance, attract sponsors, and drive member engagement. Over 80% of associations are outsourcing at least some trade show functions including event strategy and marketing, exhibit installation and dismantling, graphic design, multimedia and video, advertising and sponsorship sales, membership technology, and tradeshow management are some of the most commonly outsourced services.

Outsourcing offers associations managers several key advantages:

• Expertise in specialized areas. Staying on top of the latest membership technology and presentation tools is both costly and complex job. By turning to specialists in this area, your show will have the advantage of cutting-edge thinking and tools without having to make an ongoing investment in these areas.

• The ability to focus on core business functions. Delegating specific functions to external specialists, frees your internal team to focus on your core mission: serving your members and their needs.

• Risk mitigation. Outsourcing to a skilled partner reduces the risk of having the same functions performed by in-house staff that may lack the expertise and competency needed to succeed in that area.

• Cost savings. Most associations only host a few major event during the year. Using an outside specialist on an as needed basis is more cost effective than hiring permanent staff for a temporary need.

ExpoPlus is a full-service events company. We coordinate closely with Bodden Partners, our parent company that specializes in marketing communications and public relations. Together we offer our clients an end-to-end solution to meet all their event needs. If you would like help planning a distinctive event that will stand out from the clutter, increase attendance, attract sponsors and drive member engagement, contact us for a free consultation.

The Show’s Over, Now What?

As an exhibitor there are no shortage of trade shows for you to pick from. So once you set up an exhibit schedule, how do you keep from second-guessing yourself? How do you know if the trade shows you are attending are the best ones for your company? And once the show is over, how do you know if it was a success or not?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we encourage exhibitors to create a nine-step exhibit strategy that will help you narrow down the options, prioritize and organize your trade show calendar. But even after all the planning, you still need go back to measure and compare final results to your original expectations. In this blog post and in several upcoming posts, we will consider four post-show evaluation criteria to continuously refine and improve your trade show marketing results.

Measuring the Trade Show ROI

There are many ways to calculate the ROI of a trade show. Some are hard measures while others are more subjective. What were your strategic goals and objectives in attending this show? Where those goals met? How many leads did the show generate? What was the quality of those leads? Did you meet your sales goals? What was the average value of those sales? What is the estimated revenue that will generated from this trade show?

However calculating trade show ROI doesn’t stop with sales. What impact did exhibiting at this trade show have on your brand? How many branding impressions were generated? How many people in total visited your booth? How many attendees were exposed to your company and its message, even if they didn’t come to the booth? Of all the people who were exposed to your brand, what percentage of them fit your target profile? What is the value of that exposure? How much would it have cost to generate the same exposure using traditional marketing channels such as print advertising or TV commercials? How does the engagement generated through exhibiting compare to the typical level of engagement you have in other marketing channels? What is the value of that engagements? In other words, what would it have cost to generate the same level of engagement in other channels?

Were you a show sponsor? Did you use pre-show marketing? If you sent out direct mail or digital messages that invited attendees to attend your booth in exchange for a special offer or gift, how much response did that marketing generate? What was the quality of that booth traffic? Did you promote your booth on social or other marketing channels during the show? What was the impact and effectiveness of those efforts? Of the different promotions and marketing channels you used, which was the most effective? What implications do these findings have for future marketing efforts?

What was the level of press coverage at the show? Did your company receive any mentions or have interaction with the press? What is the value of that publicity? Your marketing or public relations department should be able to give you some benchmark guidelines for these calculations.

Not all of these calculations are possible for every trade show or every exhibitor. Nor is it necessary for you to measure every variable in order to determine if this particular trade show or event should remain on your calendar or not. The key is to determine in advance what metrics are most appropriate for your company and your needs. The more measurements you have, the stronger your business case will be to continue attending this trade show in the future or whether you need to research alternatives.

If you would like help with any element of your trade show strategy, our experienced team would be happy to provide you with a free, custom consultation. Contact us today.

How to Create a Follow-up Plan That Gets Results

Follow up is essential to meeting your original trade show objectives and time is of the essence. Your lead is very likely to have visited with one or more of your competitors. According to some industry estimates by the time exhibitors do post-show lead-fulfillment, 43% of prospects have already made a purchase. Any delay in following up may cost you a sale.

The key to follow up begins even before your exhibit opens. Decide ahead of time how you will follow up with different types of leads. For example, you might place your less qualified leads in a lead nurturing campaign, while your hottest leads are handled immediately by sales. Create your lead nurturing campaign before you leave for the show.

The follow up campaign should be integrated into your overall exhibit strategy and integrate with your booth message. Our typical follow-up campaigns consist of email, social and phone follow-up.  The type of follow up, frequency and duration will depend on the quality of the lead.

Prepare your new contacts for future follow up while you are still at the show. You could say something as simple as “I really enjoyed our conversation. There is an article (or other piece of content) that I think will be helpful to you. Look for it in your inbox.” If possible, email the information that same day. At the latest, send it out as soon as you return to the office.

As you are collecting contact information at the show, ask people if they are on Twitter, LinkedIn or whatever social accounts you use for business. Ideally, while still at the show, send them a personalized invitation to connect with a reminder of where and how you met. Once you are connected, be sure to share content with them and promote their content to your followers.

High quality leads who are ready to buy should be turned over immediately to the sales team. Ideally a member of the sales team was at the show and could take an order on-site. Otherwise, a sales call should be set for the prospect’s first availability.

If you exhibit at several different trade shows, keep track of which show is generating the most leads and the most sales. You will likely find that although some shows generate a lot of leads, they may be low quality leads that don’t convert to sales while others shows are real money-makers. This data will help you decide where to concentrate your efforts and where you can safely afford to cut back. If a particular show is consistently delivering results, you may want to consider increasing your investment there, perhaps using a larger booth in order to bring more staff, buying a more prominent location or considering sponsorship.

Would you like to improve the effectiveness of your trade show marketing? Contact us today for a free consultation. 

How to Engage Visitors at Your Booth

Many first time and infrequent exhibitors are unsure what is the most effective way to engage a person when they walk by the booth. We encourage exhibitors to treat a visitor as they would a guest at their home. Welcome them, take a genuine interest in them and look for ways to serve them.

We encourage exhibitors to use icebreakers that put the focus of the conversation on the visitor, rather than on the company, product or service they are trying to sell. Openers such as “What brings you to the show today” will get the prospect talking about their needs and in the process may reveal an opportunity for you to demonstrate how you can help them. Since the majority of attendees have spent weeks planning to attend the show, most will be able to articulate what they hope to learn from it. Whereas asking “what brings you to our booth” may put the person on the defensive and elicit the dreaded “I’m just looking” reply.

On the other hand, some visitors may take the initiative, walk up and ask, “So tell me what does your company do.” Rather than recite the laundry list of your product features, we find it more effective to pick one or two compelling benefits that will strongly resonate with your audience.

In order to do so, you need to have done some advance research into the type of people attending the show and the key challenges they are facing. For example, if you are exhibiting at a teacher’s conference, you might reply “We help teachers make math fun.” If you are at a small business show you might say, “We help companies find the money to grow.” This short, but compelling statement, will almost always tease the person into asking for more.

The number of ways to engage booth visitors is limited only by your imagination. Bodden Partners has over 40 years’ experience designing and implementing booth traffic programs. If you would like help with an upcoming event, meeting or trade show, contact us for a free consultation.

9 Insider Tips for Picking the Right Trade Show for Your Exhibit

With an estimated 14,000 shows to choose from, picking the right shows for your trade show calendar can be a daunting task. However your exhibit strategy can help you narrow down the options, and prioritize and organize your trade show calendar.

  1. Identify your target customers and the shows they attend. Work with your sales team to identify your product’s buyers, key decision makers and influencers. Another tip is to reach out to some of your best customers and ask which shows they attend.
  2. Consult industry listings. Trade Show Network News offers a comprehensive search tool that will help you organize your search by industry, number of attendees and location. The database includes show dates and links to show websites. Most show sites provide an overview of attendee demographics and purchasing authority.  While on the show’s website, check its history.  A good show will have a track record of drawing industry leaders and key influencers year after year.
  3. Keep an eye on the competition. Most shows provide a list of previous exhibitors. If a particular show is drawing your top competitors, it is likely because a high concentration of potential customers will also be attending. Missing the show could put you at a competitive disadvantage. Exhibiting in the same venue as competitors will also give your booth staff the opportunity to roam the exhibit hall and gather competitive intelligence. In addition to the exhibitor list, check the speaker roster for competitive companies.
  4. Creating profiles of product buyers and decision makers. Most shows provide detailed attendee demographics. You can examine data on the industries, titles and purchasing power of the show’s attendees.
  5. Use show timing to narrow down your options. If your product is affected by seasonality or other purchasing patterns, you can narrow show dates to those most closely aligned with your sales cycle. You can also align your trade show calendar to coincide with new product launches, product improvements or other newsworthy developments
  6. Consider regional vs. national shows.   If your product as a regional or location-specific target, keep in mind that as a general rule of thumb, an estimated 40-60% of attendees come from a 200-mile radius of the show location. Regional or local shows are considerably less expensive and visibility is much higher. Competition is often intense at large national shows. On the other hand, some of our clients have found that regional shows give them the opportunity to be the only exhibitor representing their field.
  7. Even after going through the above steps, some companies still find they have more trade show options than they do budget. The following tips will help you further narrow down the options and finalize your trade show calendar.
  8. Look for opportunities to extend visibility. Selecting events with pre-during-and-post show marketing opportunities will extend your visibility and presence beyond your both. Sponsorships provide branding and lead generation opportunities which can be tailored to fit almost any budget.
  9. Select show and venues with lead retrieval services. If you do not have your own lead retrieval devices, make sure the event offers options for lead capture. Published reports show that up to 70% of sales leads captured at an event are not followed up on by a sales person. This is mainly due to an ineffective lead management process, before, during and after the event.  An automated lead retrieval system will enable you calculate ROI for the event, update your CRM system, and most importantly, close more sales.

If you need a customized solution, we would be happy to help you. Contact Barbara Stroup for a free consultation.


Pre-Show Planning: Leveraging the Theme

In our previous post, we talked about the importance of understanding your audience. We recommended that before planning your trade show experience, exhibitors should speak with the Association and become familiar with their marketing message to the attendee pre-event as well as onsite.

An example of the effectiveness of this strategy can be seen in the annual National Education Association Annual Meeting and Expo. NEA Expo, which opens two days before the Annual Meeting, is the largest education trade show in the county.  NEA announces the theme for the Annual Meeting months in advance of the event. This year’s meeting was designed to launch a member-led movement in which all delegates were called to step forth as “champions for public education.”

ExpoPlus and Bodden Partners worked with exhibitors to incorporate the champions theme into the exhibit floor experience. The NEA Member Benefits area of the floor was completely designed and engineered to leverage the Champions theme and extend it into each vendor’s both. Pre-expo communications, on-site floor signage and booth signage, booth activities and post-event follow-up communications all revolved around, emphasized and celebrated attendees as champions.

In addition to recognizing all attendees as champions, a special contest was held on the exhibit floor. Delegates were invited to become champions for the exclusive benefits, products and services they had learned about during the Expo. A state based competition was held to see which state could generate the most product champions. Representatives from winning state won a trophy as well as a cash prize.  43% of delegates took the pledge and became enrolled as Champions and product advocates.

If you would like more suggestions on structuring your trade show marketing plan, continue following this blog or contact Barbara Stroup for a customized consultation.

Attracting Millennials to Your Next Conference

Attracting Millienals to ConferencesAssociations and event marketers are preparing for a massive generational shift in the workforce which could have a profound impact on meeting attendance. By next year it is estimated that half of the employees in the world will have been born after 1980. The US workforce is expected to reach that benchmark by 2020.  

Therefore it is not surprising that association executives are searching for ways to attract, connect with and retain the next generation of members and conference attendees. In a survey, 74% of association executives said they were concerned about attracting younger members but less than half of them felt confident in their ability to do so.

Ye the answer may be surprising simple and easily addressed. A recent survey of Millennials found that more than half believe they would benefit from having a professional mentor, but only about one-third said their bosses or supervisors were willing to serve in that role. The desire for career guidance is a crucial gap that associations and professional conferences can fill.

Our event marketing team can help make create and market your next event to attract a wide variety of attendees, including Millennials. For more information, contact Barbara Stroup

Make Your Business Case for Attending Industry Conferences

It’s no secret that people are cutting back on attending conferences. Even if your organization has a bulletproof marketing plan for enticing your membership, it won’t work if prospective participants can’t convince the people holding the purse strings.

All too often, people who want to attend a conference simply submit a request and cross their fingers. As a meeting professional, you can help your members by showing them how to put together a business case for why they should attend your conference—and how to get the most out of the event once they’re there. (And note this: As a meeting professional, you also can use this strategy yourself, to get approval for the meeting industry education and networking conferences you personally want to attend each year.)

All prospective conference attendees should show their leaders how conference participation will relate directly to the strategies and objectives of their own organizations. That way, they can articulate the value of their continued professional development.

Imagine your organization sending an e-mail or pamphlet to your membership that contains information like this:

How to Get Approval to Attend This Year’s Annual Conference
In our current economic climate, getting approval to attend meetings may be more challenging for you now than it has been in the past. Here are three steps you can use to build a business case for attending our Annual Meeting:

1. Write down the three to five most important strategies or issues being addressed in your organization right now. Think about how you personally contribute to those strategies. How is your work aligned with the larger organization’s strategy or mission? Make a list of these “personal contributions to strategy.”
2. Review our proposed agenda for the conference and mark the sessions you want to attend that relate to your list of “personal contributions to strategy,” and also make a note of speakers or other people at the meeting you would like to meet.
3. Write a short business case for how attending these sessions and meeting these people will help you contribute to the organization’s strategy. Use this business case to make your request for attending the meeting.

For example, part of your business case might read as follows: “At present, our organization is highly focused on cost savings. My personal contribution to this organizational strategy is to be responsible for finding ways to reduce sales costs. At the XYZ annual conference there is a session entitled, ‘Using Technology to Maximize Sales Efficiencies,’ and an expert, Sarah Smith, will be running the session. I would like to attend Smith’s session and also meet with her privately in order to get ideas about maximizing the cost savings we could receive from using technology in my area.”

Preparing for the Meeting
Once you get approval, you should prepare properly for the conference because you’re going to need to demonstrate to the person who’s paying your way that you received the benefits outlined in your business case. Here are some things you can do to prepare for the conference:

1. Make a list of people you’d like to meet at the conference and why you want to meet them. Don’t be shy about approaching presenters and other “luminaries.” They are more accessible than you might think, especially if you make plans with them in advance.
2. About one to two weeks prior to the conference, contact the people on your list. Make a specific plan for a meal, coffee, or a time and place to get together.
3. One week prior to the meeting, make a personal agenda for yourself that includes the people you’re meeting as well as which sessions you’ll be attending. Be sure to include cellphone numbers or any other contact information you may need for any last-minute changes to your schedule.
4. When you’re at the meeting, try to stick to your schedule as much as possible and take notes during the educational sessions and during your private conversations. However, leave some “white space” on your calendar in case you encounter new people at the meeting with whom you’d like to spend some time.

After the Meeting
1. Immediately following the conference (perhaps on the airplane ride home), write or dictate a concise summary of what happened at the conference and how you will use the information you received and contacts you made to further the strategies of your organization. It’s important to write this one- or two-page summary quickly, while the information is fresh in your mind. Use the notes you took at the meeting to help you.
2. Submit the summary to the person who sponsored your attendance, thanking him or her for the opportunity. The purpose of this summary is to make your next conference request even easier than the first. Once your executives understand that you mean business when you attend a conference, they’ll be more likely to quickly approve your participation at future events.
3. If the knowledge you gained might also be useful to others in your organization, consider rewriting portions of your summary as a blog or Twitter post.

Attending conferences is one of the best ways of responding to times of increased uncertainty. Conferences are all about collaboration and learning—essential ingredients for innovation, economic recovery, and organizational success.

Mary Boone is president of Boone Associates, Essex, Conn. She has been an expert in interactive meeting design for over two decades. At the height of the meetings crisis in 2008, she wrote a white paper, The Four Elements of Strategic Value for Meetings and Events, which is included in the curriculum for MPI’s CMM designation. She is also the author of several books, including “Managing Interactively” (McGraw-Hill) and “Leadership and the Computer” (Prima Publishing), and numerous other award-winning articles and publications. If you have any questions about this article, please contact her at or via Twitter @maryboone.

3 reasons why digital campaign ideas fail

JT Anderson ContactFollow this author

Creative Posted on October 01, 2012 inShare.864 PrintShareCommentAs I write this, I am looking at a poster. Every year, an industry publication releases a digital issue that contains some great posters and infographics that I often find useful and put up on the wall of my office for reference. One from 2011 had an ad on the bottom of it that read, “Creativity Meet Ubiquity.” The ad seemed to infer that you can achieve that advertising omnipresence known as “ubiquity” simply by blasting your ad across all digital platforms — as if ubiquity was some great Holy Grail that we advertising professionals (especially creatives) have been looking for our entire careers.

As the executive creative director of a digitally focused agency, my challenge is to come up with new and persuasive ideas specific to the online medium. I find myself staring at this poster on my wall, often late at night, while trying to devise an execution that will break through the clutter. What I need is something relevant, something useful, something entertaining and unique, something that will make a difference for my clients, something — creative.

Connect with the industry. Want to meet the companies that are driving the future of digital marketing? Attend the iMedia Breakthrough Summit, Oct. 14-17. Request your invitation today. Honestly, I am never really going for ubiquity.

Ubiquity has had many names: the “breakthrough,” the “Big Idea,” “Media Agnostic.” It has been associated with the notion that if we repeat a message or experience across all platforms, it will have a greater effect. In fact, ubiquity is something that just feels right. It feels so right that it can’t be wrong — right? And yet, we’ve witnessed countless cookie cutter executions over the years that pander to the lowest common denominator of what “the idea” is. On this road paved with good intentions, many mistakes are made. Here are three of the biggest:

Defining an idea too narrowly
Campaign ideas are concepts, sometimes great ones. They are themes that evoke thoughts and feelings and connect the person experiencing them to the heart of the message. You see execution after execution of a great campaign across numerous media and can just feel how they are all connected. Perhaps they share an actor or model, a visual style, or a few words of copy, and this provides a through-line that ties the executions together. But do they really have to share any of these things in order to convey the same idea?

This is a slippery slope. If using the same actor again and again was all it took to create a memorable and moving campaign, then TV spots could just be print ads that advertisers showed for 30 or 60 seconds. Great TV spots start with an understanding of the inherent power that this particular medium has to offer and what people want when they’re engaging with it. So too should campaigns that run online. Start your brainstorming with these questions: What is the core theme of your idea, and how is it best represented in each of the unique media you plan to include in your campaign? What is your audience doing with those media, and what does it want from them? Showing an ad made for TV to an online audience isn’t necessarily wrong. But it also isn’t necessarily right.

Believing that people want ubiquity
We don’t go to an Italian restaurant when we’re hungry for a burrito, nor should we expect consumers to embrace campaigns that aren’t specific to their media environment. While it’s true that with enough money, frequency, and repetition a marketer can make just about any execution memorable, most clients don’t have that luxury, and bombastic campaigns that win buzz and awards don’t always serve the needs of the client. I try to judge my team’s digital executions by asking if they are media-smart, media-simple, and media-specific. You might not make the biggest splash in the pond by following this rule, but you will catch the right fish. Digital and interactive are not one channel, but rather a collection of platforms and experiences that appeal not only to different people, but also to different states of mind. Not only do you have to ask who your audience is, but also what your customers are looking for when you connect with them.

Falling in love
Keep in mind that your “media-specific execution” is not a “media-agnostic idea.” Sometimes in this job you feel so great about the ad you’ve just helped create that you want to share it with the whole wide world, but you have to be careful not to love it to the detriment of your overall campaign.

During the Olympics, many of us were captivated by Nike’s “Jogger” ad — part of its “Find Your Greatness” campaign. Some experienced it for the first time on TV, while others saw it when a friend or loved one was inspired to share it through social media. Either way, this was positive exposure, because Nike’s message spanned all media: Find your own greatness. But Nike wasn’t blinded by its love of what is undoubtedly a great advertising message. If viewers were curious enough to continue to after watching the ad, they were fed a set of challenges that unfold over time, inviting them to find their own greatness. Consumers were given an introduction to the range of Nike Plus products that might help them attain their own personal best. Online, it was those interactive challenges that made the campaign great — challenges that were presented in a way that was unique to the digital medium. Nike not only continued the journey, but it also led customers further down the buying path with an interactive experience that was its own node in the interconnected message.

We’ve all been down this path with other brands. We’ve all seen a TV spot and gone online, only to find the very same original message on the screen. Yes, we loved that TV ad — loved it enough to actively search out more information online — but do we really need to see it again? Nike’s creative team can be forever proud of catching lightning in a bottle and achieving a rare moment in advertising history where it found its own greatness. It can be equally proud of not selling its audience short online and allowing that amazing TV spot to be an appropriate part of an even greater overall campaign.

Now if you will excuse me, I have a poster to take down.

JT Anderson is VP executive creative director for Enlighten.

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“Drawing three lamps in book on a black background” image via Shutterstock.

Exhibits Are Not Just About What’s New

By David McMillin, Staff Writer
Professional Convention Management Association

Despite some struggles to increase attendance across the industry, the latest report from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reveals that your attendees and your exhibitors still want to come together face-to-face. However, buyers and sellers also need a compelling reason to invest in show participation, and those personal encounters rely on one crucial component: the future.

“Trade shows should always be about what’s happening in the next 12 months and preparing attendees for the next year,” Mary Pat Heftman, executive vice president, convention at National Restaurant Association, says.

“As show organizers, we are really in business with the attendee,” Heftman adds. “You have to make the promise to your attendees about the value that they’ll receive by participating.”

Participants at the PCMA Exhibits Manager Think Tank, held on August 29th in Chicago, debated how to make good on that promise. Whether you host a trade show or you have an exhibit hall at your annual educational meeting, here are three recommendations to demonstrate value while creating more opportunities for your exhibitors.

1) Before the Show: New Product Previews

Arm your meeting marketing materials with a spotlight of the never-before-seen products and services that will be on your show floor.

As attendees receive your communications, you’ll help foster a feeling that they can’t afford to miss these products. Add a dedicated area on your website that includes images, profiles of product debuts and interviews with exhibiting companies about why their product is revolutionary. Use Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts to draw even more attention to these tools.

Across all of your messaging, be sure to educate your prospective attendees that your show is the place to turn to navigate their changing needs. Your exhibitors will appreciate the additional online presence and brand awareness, too.

2) During the Show: Exhibits in Action

Of course, your attendees want to do more than see – - they want to experience these new tools and technologies to understand how they may benefit their organizations.

While some of your exhibitors may already be conducting product demonstrations, analyze your exhibit floor to determine how to create more opportunities for your attendees to actually use these products. Transform your exhibit hall from a “first-hand viewing” to “hands-on doing” area. At the 2012 NRA Convention, Heftman invited big-name culinary experts such as Rick Bayless and Mike Isabella to the show for live learning demonstrations.

Outside of what’s directly in front of attendees, consider the digital space. If you’re working on a mobile app for your convention, be creative about brainstorming ways to continue that product interaction after they leave the hall. Can attendees scan a bar code or QR code to unlock another capability from a product? Can they easily download product specs or pricing information rather than carry another handout?

3) After the Show: Innovation Awards

To continue the conversation about those product debuts and extend the life of your show, consider highlighting the most forward-thinking products with some type of innovation award.

Invite experts to vote for category winners, and announce the recipients in your post-meeting marketing. You’ll help distinguish certain companies and encourage non-award winners to enter their emerging products in next year’s competition. You may even create additional leads for your exhibitors by inspiring non-attendees to learn more about these products.

Looking for more useful advice for your next show? Learn how to adjust your exhibitors’ expectations in more coverage from the Exhibits Manager Think Tank.