To Booth or Not to Booth: Evaluating Trade Shows

Written by Maureen Paulsen on Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Trade shows and conferences have become a cottage industry of their own—with a ‘must attend’ and ‘can’t miss’ event happening in your city seemingly every month.  Trade show organizers hoping to sell you a spot on their exhibit hall floor (or a pricey sponsorship) can sometimes make you feel like your business will crumble if you’re not at their next event.

Exhibiting at the right trade show can put you face to face with qualified prospects and build your database of leads.  Exhibiting at the wrong one can leave you with nothing more than a lighter marketing budget.

If you’re just getting started with trade shows or are having trouble deciding which ones make sense for your company, here are a few quick tips to assess events:

Check out the speaker list.  High profile speakers who are respected authorities in your industry will probably attract attendees that you want to meet.

Examine the past exhibitor/sponsor list. If all of your competitors routinely participate in a trade show, they’re likely to be getting some bang for their buck.

Ask for a list of past attendees.  Trade show organizers probably won’t share names and contact info, but they may send you a blinded list with company names and titles of past attendees.  If your business targets C-level decision makers, an event that is primarily attended by middle managers isn’t worth your time and money.

Find out if you’ll receive a pre or post-event attendee list.  Some events will provide you with an opportunity to market to registered attendees before the show or will provide a post-show attendee list.  While not a deal breaker, getting the list is a nice bonus particularly for larger conventions and events where all attendees may not make it to your booth.

Factor in the total cost to exhibit.  Once you’ve decided to have a presence at an event, be sure to weigh all of the costs of being there.  Beyond your booth or exhibit space cost, think about signage, exhibit design, giveaways, prizes, printed materials, labor to set up your display, electrical costs, travel for employees and the opportunity cost for them to be away from the office.

Ask for a better deal.  Trade show organizers will usually negotiate—particularly when it comes to sponsorships or other trade show visibility options like underwriting a coffee break, lanyards, etc.

When in doubt, start small.  If you have a limited budget or are unsure whether to take the plunge on a new or unknown event, ask the organizer for a complimentary or discounted admissions pass because you’re assessing becoming a future exhibitor.  Check out the crowd and see if the event is a fit for you.  If so, plan for a bigger presence next year.

About Maureen Paulsen

Maureen PaulsenMaureen brings 15 years of marketing and communications experience to her role, where she develops brand strategies and communications programs for a diverse group of clients. She specializes in creating innovative marketing and advertising campaign concepts. Maureen oversees content development and provides art direction for client collateral, Web and advertising to ensure brand consistency across all media formats. In 2011, she received a Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications.

Prior to joining MPD Ventures, Maureen worked as the Marketing Communications Manager for one of the largest law firms in Texas, where she led a major rebranding initiative. Her past experience includes freelance writing focusing on consumer and personal finance issues, as well as project management for a Boston-based energy services provider.

Maureen serves on the board of directors of Dallas non-profit agency Attitudes & Attire. She earned her undergraduate degree in English and Art History at Wellesley College.