Non Profits — 14 August 2013

By Greg Albright, Production Solutions

Production Solutions hosted its very first exhibit booth in its 27-year history at the Direct Marketing Association of Washington’s  Bridge Conference, held August 1-2.

Greg Albright

Greg Albright

Our main goal for this sold out conference was to introduce our new digital marketing division, PS Digital, to the direct marketing and fundraising communities. The booth and our overall presence at the Bridge Conference was a hit… even with just a modest budget.

My experience as an attendee, but never an exhibitor at many direct marketing and fundraising conferences over three decades, has given me a very good understanding of the do’s and don’ts of enticing a qualified audience to an exhibit booth. Couple that with the experience of a seasoned branding and marketing professional, who has managed multi-million dollar conference exhibits in her past life, and what you get is a successful formula for maximizing your presence at a tradeshow or conference.

If you don’t believe me, an entrepreneur who has launched several new businesses but never had an exhibit booth, then take it from our Marketing Director, Sue Marchese, who has planned and orchestrated nearly 100 of them.

Up until this year’s Bridge, I would never, ever have worn a polo shirt to a conference. But I did this year to stay on-brand and draw attention to our new service offering.

I thought I’d share the “right hook” (insider’s insights) on how an exhibitor might get the best value out of a conference or tradeshow.

The PS Digital booth at the Bridge Conference

The PS Digital booth at the Bridge Conference

Sue and I sat down and came up with seven practical tips for exhibitors who want the most out of their next tradeshow booth:

1. Make it about the experience: At this year’s Bridge, keynote speaker Joseph Pine, author of Experience Economy, advised attendees to ”create an experience to make your company stand out.”

If you put up a booth and then don’t staff it, what kind of experience is that? And what kind of reflection might that have on the service you deliver? Entice and involve your visitors, whether it is conducting an interactive game, hosting a raffle, serving refreshments, or offering tired folks a comfy seat. Be creative, but make it experiential, not existential. Just building it and expecting them to come doesn’t work anymore.

2. Don’t just show up: You can’t wing an exhibit booth. People can tell when you do. It’s not just about standing out or puffing your chest larger than your booth neighbors. It is a reflection of you, your company, and the perceived value of your product or service.

If you want people to actually visit your booth, put thought into it. Hone your message, develop a strategy, set smart goals, make your booth visually appealing with simple, economical touches, and then market the heck out of it.

By marketing, we mean it doesn’t have to be an email after a postcard after an expensive eye-catcher. It can be as simple as a short call or email to your clients to invite them to stop by and visit you at the booth.

3. Don’t be a polo-wearing mannequin: Walk around, attend the educational sessions, see the keynote speakers, and share in the collective experiences of everyone at the conference. These are all great ways to attract and drive people to stop by your booth, and then engage them in interesting conversations while they are there.

4. Follow the “Golden Rule” at your booth: Remember that old foolproof adage about life: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Who would you like to talk to at an exhibit booth? Pushy strangers or approachable colleagues? What would you like to walk away with: A little knowledge to pique your interest and perhaps a little item to remember them by, or an earful about something that means nothing to you and a bagful of tchotchkes?

What is your value to your visitor? Make it all about the visitor, not about what you are selling.

5. Sponsorship is not just for Daddy Warbucks: There is often a greater return on investment in sponsoring something at a conference than paying for the exhibit booth and individual registrations separately.

Depending on the number of people from your company that usually attend, plus the cost of the exhibit space, you may find that the benefits of sponsorship (visibility and brand exposure, not to mention the free exhibit booth and complimentary registrations) far outweigh the costs of just exhibiting.

6. Raise your hand: Be a conference volunteer. If you have the time and enough staff onsite, why not participate as a greeter, or at the “Ask the Expert” table (like the SmartBARS at Bridge)?

Perhaps you can introduce a speaker or offer to give someone a break at your industry’s resource booth. It’s a great way to get additional visibility for your company. Better yet, if you have the bandwidth leading up to the conference, volunteer for a committee. This can open up invaluable pathways to leaders in your industry.

7. Don’t bail: Unless there is an unexpected emergency, don’t ever, ever break down your booth early.  It’s just bad form and unprofessional. You never know who you will meet in the last few hours at your booth.

Conferences are opportunities to learn and grow, not expensive burdens to endure. Exhibit booths are a brand marketer’s Disneyland. Take full advantage of the experience and the experience will benefit you in the end.

What do you do to rock your booth? Please share your tips, anecdotes, and advice here.

You can read more about direct marketing and fundraising on my Right Hook blog.


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About Author

Greg Albright, Production Solutions

Greg is an industry leader, innovator and philanthropist. As partner, founder and principal at Production Solutions, he has helped to shape the direct marketing industry for more than 25 years. Greg has won several awards for his tireless volunteerism and leadership, both within the industry and his community, and was awarded the industry’s highest honor – the Award for Distinguished Achievement in Direct Marketing (known as the Best of Direct) by the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DMAW) in 2012. Known for his signature move – the "Right Hook" around a colleague’s shoulder as he convincingly encourages a member of the industry to volunteer for an important cause or initiative – Greg hopes to inspire by sharing his secrets to a rich and rewarding career through industry engagement in his weekly "Right Hook" blog posts. It is through this engagement and enthusiasm that he was able to help his company and colleagues adapt and excel through the ongoing period of rapid evolution in the industry and in the marketplace. The Right Hook blog will also highlight the power of entrepreneurial curiosity, passion for innovation, and Greg’s deep belief that working together to innovate and integrate the direct marketing industry is the key to success.

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