Trade shows are expensive, get your money's worth!

The owner of a very well known and respected, Arizona-based overlanding expedition outfitter asked my opinion on attending a trade show. This show is the first one ever to cater to his industry, which is a new and emerging market. The cost of attending a show, now matter how big or small the show and no matter how big or small the company, is always significant and the decision to attend to not attend a show needs to be carefully weighed as either decision has implications for your business — both short- and long-term.

I always advise clients that the value of a trade show is not in attendance, but rather in presence. If you are going to go, leverage every available opportunity. Here are a few ideas:

  • Speak on at least one panel
  • Find out what reporters, bloggers, industry analysts and influencers will be there and schedule meetings/briefings with them — tell them what you are doing and see what they think are the big/hot industry trends
  • Release news at the show and if you don’t have news to release, make some (I did NOT say “make some up”)
  • Sponsor a dinner or have an event
  • Live blog the event
  • Have podcasts or invite podcasters to do their show from your booth (if it is big enough)
  • Consider setting up a wifi hotspot (trust me, it will get attention)
  • Leverage the power of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Brightkite to open discussions with attendees and people who wish they were there.

For what it’s worth, my response is copied below:

You don’t go to a show to sell products (though you might consider having some for sale). You go to strengthen and solidify your brand, meet people and position your company.

Now that said, you need to evaluate whether those things are likely to happen at a given show and whether the benefit will outweigh the cost. Make no mistake, shows are expensive and you are wise to evaluate each opportunity to decide whether it makes sense for you to attend or not.

So let’s look at the show at hand. I have no idea what the costs are, but there is an obvious time cost. That is clearly your target market (pro), but I imagine people are more interested in manufacturers than vendors (con). Are you likely to gain customers by attending the show or lose customers to competitors by passing? I’m guessing “no” to both.

So the main reasons left to attend the show are to meet people and make sure the Sierra Expeditions brand is represented. Seems that in this case you can achieve those benefits by attending as an individual, being friendly, meeting people, etc. You get advertising presence in the camping area from your truck [which is very distinctive and branded].

If it were me, I would go just as yourself, camp the weekend, and bring a bunch of SE stickers to give to people, a box of shackles, tow straps and Quick Fists and other little things that people are likely to need and have a good time.

There are a lot of ways to have a productive and successful trade show without official presence. Just remember that while you maybe there as yourself, everyone will see you as representing your company, so don’t do anything crazy or stupid — it will become your new brand.

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