Trade Show Tips: Getting the Most Out of Your Investment

Andrew Stanten


I liken the trade show process to gardening. Once you’ve planted the seed, you’ve got to keep that garden well fed, watered and weeded to ensure that your flowers blossom and thrive … and were worth the effort.

The same goes for trade shows.

So, with that in mind, here are a few tips to get the most out of the investment to ensure your trade show season is successful:

1. Man your booth! At the LegalTech conference in January, the cost for a 10’x10’ booth was about $7,000. Add in display, shipping, giveaways, travel and lodging and it’s a sizable investment. So it shocked me to see booths unattended or – worse yet – manned with personnel head-down on their display tables.

I understand at trade shows you go out and have a good time with colleagues and clients. But please. Don’t miss the opportunity – and waste your investment – by sleeping in your booth. It makes your company look bad and leads will pass you by. Set standards of behavior for anyone staffing your booth.

2. Take the long-term view to trade shows. You can’t just arrive to the show on show day, pop up a backdrop and expect leads to roll in. Like those little flowers peeping up out of the ground, it takes weeks for those seeds to ready for their unveiling in the spring. Here’s a timeline to follow to keep your team on track:

  • Five months prior, pitch trade publications to get pre-show coverage.
  • Four months prior, plan your hook.
  • Three months prior, make dinner reservations at coveted restaurants in the host city.
  • Two months prior, create an ad to run in the show issue that pushes to a show-specific landing page on your website.
  • Six weeks prior, ensure your display is on message and matches overarching visual identity.
  • Five weeks prior, send an email to top prospects, inviting them to stop by the booth.
  • A month prior, send a customized invitation to top prospects inviting them to dinner at one of the restaurants you booked.

3. Plan your space. Now that your booth space has blossomed, get in the weeds. What’s your budget? How much space do you have? Prioritize needs. Be economical with space, but not tight.

Trade shows are crowded. Visitor attention spans are short. To help them remember you, keep your branding consistent. That means kiosks, backdrops, images and videos – even the clothing worn in the booth – must have the same look and feel.

For a (then) relatively small fish in a major B2B industry, we completed a whole new look. The booth design matched the website, show daily ads, pre-show email and direct mail. Throughout the show, people came to their booth saying, “Hey, I’ve heard of you!” Maybe they had, maybe they hadn’t. But they’d seen their memorable visual identity everywhere.

4. Reel ’em in. You can have the best product in the world, but if your booth and personnel aren’t inviting, potential leads will keep on walking. Make sure your booth is bright, engaging and inviting. Keep your messaging visible. Use imagery to expound upon words.

Signage should contain the distilled essence of your brand. Signage can’t do the selling – but your trade show team members can. Draw visitors in visually, then hook them verbally.

5. Measure effectiveness. Efforts don’t end after the show. Distribute a press release, follow up with prospects and media and take an ad out in the post-show issue of key trade magazines.

Most importantly, conduct a preliminary profit/loss review to determine whether the show was worth the investment.

We analyzed another client’s data on leads generated and how many of those resulted in new business and calculated a rough ROI from the show. From there, we compared the cost per conversion (CPC) from this particular trade show and the CPC from other efforts.

The data showed their professionally managed Google Ad Words and LinkedIn campaigns had a more attractive ROI than the trade show. Despite this, the client argued he needed to be at that show “because they have always been there.” Our recommendation – based on the data? Walk the floor, use common area rooms for meetings – but don’t exhibit.

Andrew Stanten

Andrew Stanten co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. As CEO, he ensures the right people are on board, delivering world-class marketing services to Altitude’s global client base, and staying true to Altitude’s mission, vision and values.
Andrew possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking. This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company quickly—and develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.
Andrew graduated from Syracuse University and earned his MBA from Lehigh University.