I’ve worked on the exhibit side of trade shows for more than 15 years and have been producing trade shows and conferences for several more. This advice — for those of you adding a trade-show element to your event or just trying to increase booth sales — comes from my experience on both sides of the aisle.
- You’re not selling empty space. You’re in the marketing business, not the real estate business. Have a conversation with potential exhibitors to find out what their marketing objectives are and discuss how your event can help realize them. Approaching your exhibit sales this way will differentiate you from other shows.
- Anchor exhibits. Even small companies have big aspirations. By bringing in large, well-known companies as exhibitors, you show them you mean business. Smaller companies will not feel they are taking such a big risk — especially on a new event.
- Be true to your attendees. It can be very tempting when you have a young event to take in any exhibitor that wants to be at your show. First and foremost, your event is for and about your attendees, not your sponsors and exhibitors. Example: I produce a health and fitness fair and have had to say no to an exhibitor who didn’t support that vision. Don’t be afraid to do the same.
- Don’t overdo it your first year. It’s better to book a smaller venue and sell out your space early than have a half-empty exhibit hall. There will be plenty of time to grow.
- Don’t say “no” when you can say “yes.” Let’s face it, many exhibitors won’t read their exhibit manual and will miss deadlines. Your job isn’t to be the enforcer. If there’s any way you can accommodate their request, do it. We had an exhibitor ask for electric they didn’t order two hours before the doors opened. We didn’t have to say yes, but we did because we could. They were among the first to sign up the next year.
- Offer exhibitors a registration discount if they take pre-show training. A successful exhibitor is a returning exhibitor. The more you can do to help them be successful, the better. We give $50 back to all exhibitors who participate in our free training. It’s worth it, because I know it will cost more than $50 to replace them if they don’t return next year.
- Collect post-show feedback. Have a team in place that will visit with every exhibitor at the end of the event before they’ve packed up and left. Have them conduct an in-person survey. Create a list of what your exhibitors liked most, what they liked least and what they’d want to see you add or do differently. And, most importantly, integrate that feedback into your game plan for the next show.
Remember, as a trade-show producer, you have two customers: your attendees and your exhibitors/sponsors. Both need to be taken care of, but not at the expense of each other. A room full of happy attendees will make it a great show for everyone. Unfortunately, just having a room full of happy exhibitors won’t do the same.
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The Practical Guide to Meeting Planning
Pages of handy-dandy checklists of essential items and best practices.