Trade Show Strategy - 13 Questions To Ask Before You Exhibit

For many companies, large and small, the decision to exhibit is a knee-jerk reaction.  It’s been done for years, so signing up to exhibit again is automatic.  Like everything else, shows evolve and you should re-examine them annually to verify that they are still worth the investment.  If you determine the attendance remains worthwhile, consider whether you should modify the amount of space you are booking.  And if it’s a show in which you haven’t participated in the past, you should look at it with a different perspective.  First forays should usually be small to test the climate.

Some guidelines on pre-participation research for ‘new’ shows are:

  1. Request an exhibitor prospectus from show management. Is the management experienced, reputable, and financially sound?  Associations produce many industry-specific shows but others hire a separate company or trade show consultant firm.  A third group are for-profit events.
  2. Attend the show the year before you plan to exhibit and verify that this venue and the attending target audience will be good for you.
  3. Call some of your customers and ask which shows they attend. Is this show on the list?
  4. Ask if the show’s numbers were audited. Do they break out, with separate figures, attendees and exhibitors, or do they lump everyone together?  One show producer counts visitors every time the come through the door; three days produces three times the actual number of attendees.
  5. Look closely at previous years’ exhibitors. Are your competitors there?  Are there some exhibitors (non-competitive but in the same industry) you can contact for additional information?
  6. Where is the show taking place in relation to your market? If your company is national, does the show draw a national audience or a more regional one?
  7. How does show management promote attendance? Ask for specific details on local advertising and marketing. Make sure the management has a solid strategy in place for promoting the trade show.
  8. Are the seminar program offerings relevant to your customers? Is there an option for you to present a seminar? Be wary of overtly "sales-y" topics that may only serve to promote the presenter's product or service. Ideally, the seminars should be educational and relevant to the audience, thus ensuring a good turnout for the show.

Some guidelines on pre-participation research for existing shows, in addition to the above, are:

  1. Take a look at your show schedule. Are all the shows really necessary? Is the size of the current exhibit space really necessary?
  2. Ask show management for a breakdown of attendees’ job titles. Are they what they used to be?
  3. Is the audience still comprised of decision makers?
  4. Does the seminar schedule reflect visitors’ needs and concerns?
  5. Can you still expect a decent return on investment (ROI) from this trade show?

When compiling your research be sure to summarize your findings for your exhibit design team. Understanding your markets, shows and your competitors will help them design an exhibit marketing program that will set you apart from your competitors.