Trade shows, yes or no?

Jun 21, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 9.33.48 AMTake a look at the strategic plan, the budget, and the checklist, before making the decision on whether or not to attend. Attending trade shows can be a very expensive proposition, ranging from whether your firm sends only one person to having a booth and maybe hosting a hospitality event. So I get asked this question by my clients pretty often. And I have a definitive answer to the question: IT DEPENDS! There are a number of questions that I believe must be answered in making this decision. The checklist at right shows the questions I always ask myself in making – or helping a client make – the decision about trade show attendance. If you’re not sure about the answer to question #1, ask your accounting folks. They will know if the firm ever wrote a check for that event. And their records will show whether you registered one person, multiple people, or a booth. An email to firm leadership down to the department head level will give you the answer to question #2. If the answer to question #1 is “yes” and the answer to question #2 is “no,” this event might be an automatic “no go.” If questions #1 and #2 result in “yes” answers, look at questions #3 and #4. If either or both result in “yes” answers, the prospects of attending are looking rosier. If the answer to question #5 is “yes,” there is someone you have been trying to meet who will be at the show, this event might be an automatic “go.” How will you know? Ask the event sponsors. If it is within a month of the event, they will probably share the current registration list. If not, ask for a list of last year’s attendees to get an idea of who really attends. If there are other attendees you want to meet, keep a separate list of them. You will use that list later. For question #6, compare the description of the event and its attendees to your firm’s strategic plan. If there is convergence, it will be obvious. For questions #7 and #8, you might turn to your professional network – whether in your address book, or on LinkedIn or another online platform. Ask if others you know have attended this event and what they thought of it, whether they met people they wanted/needed to meet, whether opportunities to present or propose came from those meetings, etc. They will have useful insights about the event and the need for various levels of attendance and/or hospitality. An additional consideration for question #8 is exclusivity. At one municipal association, no attendee can host an event when there is a trade show event going on. So all the breakfast events are the same morning and all the cocktail parties are the same evening. Under such restrictions, attendees tend to “work their way down the hall,” stopping in each room for a drink and a snack and then moving on to see what’s in the next room. If you are lucky enough to be at either end of the hall, you may keep your visitors for a longer period of time. Otherwise, they will probably be in and out within 10 minutes, and may even make dinner plans with others. If you host an evening event, be sure to have 6-10 cards to give special attendees inviting them to join you for dinner later that evening. Otherwise, you could end up losing every prospect to someone else’s hospitality. The answer to question #9 depends on the level of hospitality you choose. If you just want someone to attend, who can wander the exhibit floor, giving out business cards and brochures, and maybe giving out dinner invitations, one person might be enough. If you take a booth, you need at least two, so the booth is always attended. If you choose to host a hospitality suite, you can always have additional people there just to help in the suite without having them give up work days and paying for them to attend the show. As for question #10, make sure your estimate also includes the salaries of anyone who attends for all the travel and attendance hours they spend, as well as the cost of your give-aways and any hospitality expenses. For question #11, I like to have one or two inexpensive items that I can keep on the table, and one more expensive item that I keep under the table and give only to those people who spend some time with me telling me about their firm’s needs and letting me share information on how my firm can help with those needs. These are the interactions more likely to result in an extended conversation later, an opportunity to present or propose, or even a contract for a specific project. Whether you decide to put a representative on the exhibit floor, host a booth or host a hospitality event, make sure to invite the people you listed in the answer to question #5. If you’re just having one or two people attend, you can still contact someone, express a desire to meet them for 10-15 minutes, and offer to “buy the first cup of coffee.” If one or two of the people you want to meet agree to meet you for coffee or a meal, you might consider attendance at the trade show well worth the price.

Bernie Siben, CPSM, is owner and principal consultant with the Siben Consult, LLC, an independent A/E marketing and strategic consultant located in Austin, Texas. He can be reached 559-901-9596 or at

This article is from issue 1150 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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