March 6, 2015 Kevin Erb

Show and tell

Ah, the trade show. A thinly veiled junket. A free trip to somewhere warm. Where days are spent manning booths inside cavernous, windowless convention centers, making small trade_showtalk with uninterested visitors. Counting down the hours between expense-account meals.

At least, that’s what many people think of when they hear the term. Based on the great experiences we had just this week with our friends at Freightliner Custom Chassis at this year’s Work Truck Show, however, we think trade shows can be incredibly valuable for all kinds of organizations. The important first step, of course, is looking at them as key opportunities instead of extensive – and expensive – time wasters. From there, it can be as simple as following these steps.

  • Plan ahead. Seems silly to say that, but how often do you truly put together a dedicated, strategic plan around a big trade show or industry conference? This is more than planning which brochures and posters and tchotchkes you want to take with you; it’s defining real goals about what you and your team want to accomplish and how a successful event can be defined – and achieved.
  • Make some time to meet. Don’t just hide out in your own space, waiting for others to come to you. As part of your overall show strategy, identify key customers, thought leaders, members of the media, etc., that you would love to connect with in person. And then ask them to do just that. Send a personalized email and follow up with a phone call, asking for a few minutes to meet and talk.
  • Take a hike. Schedule time at least once a day to wander (with purpose) throughout the entire expanse of the convention floor. Stop at other booths or spaces randomly, taking in the experience the way someone would when visiting yours. Scout out competitors, vendors and potential partners. Take note of what you like about particular booth experiences and designs – as well as what you don’t like.
  • Share your adventures. It’s easy to think that trade shows and industry conferences exist in a vacuum – anyone and everyone who matters is already there. And yet rare is the instance where this is the case – there will always be people not attending the event, whether they’re industry media, potential or current customers, vendors/suppliers, etc. – this is why it’s so important to include them in your communications efforts during the event. Create a mini communications plan for the event, laying out how you’ll share what you’re up to via your social presence, your website, your media contacts, etc. Give those not there a sense of what they’re missing – be their eyes and ears.

By spending a little bit of extra time planning your team’s efforts and defining your goals, you can turn your next trade show or industry conference into a more successful and valuable utilization of everyone’s time and skills. You’ll certainly feel less guilty about expensing that nice steak dinner.