What are some key questions to ask show management to ensure my company is exhibiting at the right trade shows, and that it’s squeezing every ounce of effectiveness out of each one?
Show management can offer loads of information for exhibitors, including everything from peak show hours and promotional tips to attendee demographics and competitive intelligence. However, shows don’t usually offer this information as part of the space-rental process. What exhibitors typically receive is a show prospectus containing a menu of options, deadlines, stipulations, and service-order forms.
So to glean anything more insightful, you have to ask some key questions. Through your discussions with show management, not only will you gain information to assist you in making decisions about your show participation, but also you might discover new opportunities to make your program more successful. Here, then, are five questions to ask show management before you make the commitment to exhibit.
1. What are some of the most effective strategies exhibitors have employed at this show?
Any show-management rep with a finger on the pulse of his/her event should be able to speak to exhibiting strategies that have proven successful. In fact, management has a unique perspective on what works and what doesn’t, so take note of these tactics and ask your rep why each strategy worked, and how you might create something similarly effective for your own program.
If your rep is unable to discuss successful strategies, this means: a) your rep is out of touch with the show, and/or b) exhibitors’ tactics don’t work. If the rep is clueless about the trade show, it’s unlikely that he or she can offer any assistance in developing an effective strategy for your program.
And if exhibitors aren’t employing successful marketing strategies, it might mean that show management has done little to implement programs to assist exhibitors’ efforts. Bottom line, be wary of any trade show in which management is unaware of – or worse yet, unconcerned with – what exhibitors are doing.
2. How does the association/show producer promote this event, and how does it stay in contact with attendees throughout the year?
When you sign an exhibit-space contract, you’re investing in far more than space on concrete. You’re also paying for the promotional strategies show management will implement to ensure that the event is filled with prospective buyers. Thus, if management does little to promote the show to attendees and it’s not continually attempting to grow or maintain its attendee base, you’re essentially paying for a service that is not being delivered.
The second half of this question can provide insight into management’s level of interaction with attendees as well as promotional opportunities that might exist outside of the show. If show management is in regular contact with the industry, you can expect that it is familiar with attendee needs and motivations.
If show management regularly communicates with attendees, also ask how your company might be involved with such communications. You might be able to generate awareness all year long as opposed to just during show hours.
3. What sponsorship opportunities are available that seem appropriate to my company’s needs, and what can you do to customize them?
Show-management reps will likely have a laundry list of sponsorships to sell you. The key question, however, is whether management can assist you in finding a sponsorship that helps you meet your goals – and how willing management is to custom fit (or create) a sponsorship that’s aligned with your objectives for the show.
Granted, sometimes a cookie-cutter sponsorship is just what you need. But more often than not, a little tweak here or there will result in a win-win situation for both parties, as you’ll get a tailored sponsorship, and show management will still get its sponsorship dollars. While you can’t expect management to accommodate your every whim, there should be at least some give and take. A rigid stance regarding sponsorships might also suggest that management is more concerned with revenue than with your needs. In these instances, you might concern yourself with other trade show options rather than renting this concrete.
4. How does the show audit itself?
Any trade show can claim to have thousands of qualified attendees. What separates fact from fiction in the trade show world is a third-party audit.
There are three third-party auditors for the exhibition industry: Business Publications Auditing Worldwide (BPA), Veris Consulting LLC, and Exhibit Surveys Inc., each of which is certified by The Exhibition & Event Industry Audit Council (EEIAC), an independent organization that monitors audit standards and certifies audits. The auditor samples the trade show’s registration database and contacts attendees to validate attendance and demographic data. Next, the auditor prepares a report indicating the show’s certified attendance and demographic figures, such as: total attendance, attendee demographic and geographic information, number of exhibitors, net space, etc.
Unfortunately, not all shows are audited by third-party vendors. (And the only way to remedy the situation is for exhibitors to insist that show management audit all shows in the future.) But if a show you’re considering is among the nonaudited masses, you still want a solid understanding of how its bean counters have arrived at numbers regarding attendee demographics and attendance figures. Ask management to explain its number-crunching efforts in detail to gain a gut-level feel for whether the figures are mostly fact or fiction.
5. Which of my company’s main competitors are exhibiting, and what strategies do they employ?
While show management certainly shouldn’t throw your competitors under the bus, your rep should be able to relay whatever information is typically available to attendees. For example, reps should be able to talk about the size and location of competitors’ booth spaces and any significant strategies exhibitors have implemented in years past. Reps might even be able to tell you about competitors’ presentation schedules or traffic-building activities.
Such knowledge can help you better plan not only your location and footprint size, but also your presentation schedules and even your key in-booth activities. For example, if you don’t want to compete with the behemoth brand breathing down your neck, you can pick a booth space on the other side of the exhibit hall. Or, maybe you’d like to take advantage of the giant crowds that a major exhibitor will draw, so you can devise a strategy to funnel some of its traffic your way or specifically craft graphics to illustrate your products’ benefits over that competitor’s offerings.
The answers to these five important questions will surely reveal a treasure trove of information regarding the show that would have otherwise been unavailable to you. However, show management’s inability to thoroughly answer these questions should also ring a few alarm bells, either prompting you to pose additional follow-up questions or bypass participation in the trade show altogether.
- Dax Callner, independent marketing strategist, New York