Back-to-School List - 10 Tips for Trade Shows

There's a new year beginning now - the school year. Whether you have children attending for the first time or finishing university, it's always hectic to get into the back-to-school routine. And, if you don't have school in your family, there might be your own remembrance of the excitement of starting afresh and learning something new.

This is a great time to review your trade show program in the same way you prepare for school.

Pick Your School = Industry

It's a business school question - Are you a railroad or a transportation company? In other words, what business are you in? If you consider your industry a railroad, you will be concerned with rolling stock, laying track and logistics. If you consider your industry to be transportation, you will consider the railroad as a method of transportation - the same principles apply whether you run rail cars or airplanes. There's a engine, a carrier compartment, and now most importantly, customer focus. Railroads have to lay track, airlines have to have airfields, so there's difficulty in physically moving to meet customer demand. But railroads adapted by allowing piggybacking - truck trailers on flatbed rail cars. Airlines serve more markets with the hub and spoke system. You should look deeply into your own industry and determine customer focus for the next 12 weeks and 12 months.

Pick Your Classes = Shows

While your firm is part of an Industry, in times of slowing business there are two avenues you can take to garner more sales. One is to hunker down and bore deeply into your niche, the other is to expand into other industries. In both cases, you may want to look at trade shows beyond the ones you have on your current docket. For example, if going deeper into your industry niche, you can consider local or regional shows, international expos, or shows which focus on discrete research in your niche allowing you an intellectual advantage. If expanding into other industries, you have a wide range of choices but the advice is to research, research, research before investing.

Pick Your Teachers = Find the Best for You

Not all executives of Fortune 500 companies went to an Ivy League or MIT caliber school, but considering the vast number of colleges and universities, a disproportionate number of these executives are graduates of the elite universities. Translated to trade shows, that means you should align yourself with well regarded shows, organizers attuned to forward thinking, and professional organization and management.

Pick Your Major = Marketing Message

When you declare a major, it's your intention to complete the requirements and pursue a career in that field. People remember that you started off in theatre, switched to psychology, graduated in medieval history and then became a salesman. At a trade show, you don't get a second chance to change your marketing message. All the promotion before the show, the exhibit and goodies need to revolve around The Message. In essence, a trade show is not the time to change majors, confuse people and say "I really don't know what I'm doing here."

Pick Your Books = Marketing Tools

A trade show is not an isolated marketing event but a continuum of your marketing efforts, so you won't be limited to books. Along the way, your marketing tools are selected for the best impact on the right people, whether you use print, video or the Internet. Once you understand the demographics of your audience, you use the right medium for the message. For example, a firm with a high-tech operation will expect to see detailed information about your firm on your web site - it's the first place they will look A low-tech firm will expect print materials and detailed manuals. And, yes, there are still people who don't have computers, don't like computers and will never use the electronic goodies in your life as appreciatively as you do.

Pick Your Clothes = Exhibit

We always want to look our best. Just as your clothes are a representation of your personality, your position in a firm and your sense of style (how you view yourself), so too is your exhibit a representation of your company. It's the first physical impression many people have of your firm. It tells attendees at a glance if you're an ordinary company or a daring one. If you are high fashion (which may mean expensive and faddish) or if your firm has strong traditional roots. People absorb not only the color and the design of your exhibit but the language of the signage and the image of your graphics. They look at the presentation of the information you have available - whether it's simple brochures or high tech interactives. And they judge you both in a overall sense and by subconsciously picking apart those segments which they either strongly like or dislike.

Pick Your Friends = Staff

You can't always play with your buddies, but you do want to be in a group which balances strengths and weaknesses to get the job done. Selection of the right trade show staff is the most important factor in the success of a trade show. If your exhibit is an award winner design but your staff is bored, can't answer attendee's questions or is boorish, most people will walk away. Time is too short for the attendee to teach your staff proper trade show etiquette and sales techniques.

Stand Up to Playground Bullies = Pick Your Battles

During the trade show process, there will be times when you think something isn't fair, or is too expensive or really inconveniences you. Sometimes, it's because you don't understand the contracts and the flow of how a trade show is put together. When in doubt, just ask for an explanation. You don't have to take "That's the way it is..." for an answer. Find the top level of authority and make your concerns known. A losing battle for the current show includes contracts signed which obligate you to use certain labor pools at certain rates. You can make your views know for next year, but this year it is in stone. On the other hand, if you find a competitor next to you (this happens very rarely as show management is very conscious of this potential squabble), ask that one of you be moved. Make sure your complaints are legitimate. When you pick the right battles, you should win. Otherwise, you're just a whiner or a gossip.

Pick Your Sports = Extracurricular Activities

Trade shows are seldom just a time to set up an exhibit, showcase your products, and leave. Increasingly, trade shows are bracketed by educational sessions, social events, informal networking time and fund-raising. Golf and tennistournaments are becoming fashionable either as a fund-raiser or just social time. Firms will entertain clients during the non-show hours by utilizing a hotel Hospitality Suite or an off-site venue. It's easy to overload your calendar, overfill your glass and plate and think your only job is to have a good time. Wrong! You are your company's representative, so whatever behavior you demonstrate is what people perceive as acceptable by your company. It's best to be on your best behavior.

Pack Your Lunch = Take Care of Yourself

When you're on the road, it's easy to fall into the grab-a-bite routine as you rush through the airport. Or the I-deserve-this- dessert syndrome as you dine alone waiting for the next plane. Too much sugar, too much booze and too much stress take their toll whether you're going to or coming from a show. Experienced business travelers have these words of wisdom -

* Listen to your normal body clock as much possible

* Acknowledge when you need rest

* Drink lots of water and fluids

* Don't drink alcohol when flying

* Maintain an exercise routine, even if it's just walking around the airport

* Wear stylish and comfortable clothes - don't look like you just came from the gym. You will be more quickly accepted and get better service when you dress professionally

* Pack lightly. There are no naked people where you're going - there's always a store

* Have an emergency kit with you. Whether you have a headache, you arrive at the hotel past room service hours, or you feel lonely, take care of yourself. You should take a medicine kit, pocket knife, small flash light, snacks, extra ID and pictures of the family.

Going to school for the first time is scary but then it becomes routine. Keep a little bit of that first-time fear in your trade show routine. It will make you more aware of your surroundings and opportunities.

Julia O'Connor - Speaker, Author, Consultant - writes about practical aspects of trade shows. As president of Trade Show Training, inc,, now celebrating its 10th year, she works with companies in a variety of industries to improve their bottom line and marketing opportunities at trade shows.

Julia is an expert in the psychology of the trade show environment and uses this expertise in sales training and management seminars.

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