Tag Archives: Tradeshow Strategy

Looking Past the Tip of the Iceberg: Tradeshow Planning for Success

Which part of the iceberg is dangerous?

I often say to clients, and when presenting to tradeshow newbies: thinking about a tradeshow or conference in terms of “the day of” is like thinking about an iceberg in terms of what you see above the water.

It’s only the tip of what’s going on, and if you avoid thinking about (and handling) the rest of it, you are likely to have a very bad experience!

For specifics, check out:

Elements of Tradeshow Planning

Preparing for Your Tradeshow

and other items in our strategy, planning and preparation categories.

Or give us a call and see how we can help you step up your tradeshow exhibiting to success!


Deborah Elms (@D_Elms) is CEO and head of the Trade Show and Event Division of Imprinted Originals.  She is passionate about helping businesses grow by creating and retaining customers through the effective use of tradeshows & events, including high impact, professionally designed display booths, promotional marketing and guidance on what works and what does not.


The Face-to-Face Buzz of Tradeshows Large and Small

Within the last 8 days, I was both an attendee  – at the key annual tradeshow for the tradeshow industry, Exhibitor2011, and an exhibitor – at the SCWBEC Expo, a local show of women business owners.

As different as the shows were, what they had in common is what makes tradeshows so effective as a marketing platform.

Differences between the little trade show and the big? That’s easy.
  • The size of the hall: a Hyatt Regency ballroom vs. the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.
  • The type of show: local women-owned businesses, their prospects and those who want to sell to them vs. an industry tradeshow that draws international attendance.
  • Attendee Info. While touch-pad badge-scanning equipment was highlighted at Exhibitor2011, the local show relied on the time-honored method of exchanging business cards.
  • Displays. The local trade show was table-top displays at best, sometimes even handmade and occasionally just a carefully placed presentation of wares.
  • We were an exception, turning our area into a mini-booth to show rather than tell what we do with small versions of some of our high-impact easy-to-use fabric displays.  It’s pretty much not a tradeshow if I’m not collapsing and raising our sample  XSnap display with one hand and remarking that my pocketbook weighs more!
  • At Exhibitor2011, the typical booth was a 20′ x 20′ island display.  While convenience and ease of use were highlighted by the vendors I spent the most time querying on behalf of my clients — booth height is “back”.  There were more ceiling-hung fabric shapes and 2-story booths than in recent years, a sure sign of confidence.
  • As a “starter” tradeshow, there were a lot more exhibitors sitting down at the local show — but many were as savvy as their “big show” counterparts and stayed where they could interact and connect with their colleages and prospects.
The similarities? Here’s where the fun is:
  • Attendance was up! As we keep hearing across industries and shows this year.
  • Energy, tons of energy. There’s nothing like a hall of people in full meet-each-other mode to get the energy stirred up.  In one case, I shook hands (and shared a few hugs) with our vendors and potential vendors, putting faces to voices I’d sometimes “known” for years without meeting.  In the other case, it was handshakes and hugs with some of our own clients, networking colleagues, cross-referral partners — and potential clients for whom I won’t be just another voice or email from now on.
  • Information gathering. The passing of knowledge, shared experiences and in-depth questioning at live presentations, classes, workshops  — it’s the way that adults learn best.
  • Catching up. There were product updates, there was personal catching up, there was just the buzz of talking to people who are engaged in the same things you are, who understand and every once in a while can use the reality check of asking each other — so what’s new for you? What are you seeing and hearing these days? How can we help you better?
  • Sizing up. At the industry show, of course, I was focused on not just seeing products and learning about alternatives — I was sizing up the people, the presentation and the overall presence of my potential vendors.  Who has the kind of products we can trust to sell our clients, and who can we rely on?  At local shows, the information may be more informal.  Partnerships made at this show last year bore fruit in projects since.
  • What’s working? At any show, a mindful attendee or exhibitor arrives with a plan of what they intend to achieve, and then pays attention. What’s the competition doing?  Where are people being drawn, what’s catching their attention?  What are my peers saying? What’s fluff and what is the next thing I need to learn about now so I’ll be ready?
Does size matter?

I have to justify every show I attend or exhibit at. While I would never fly across the country to attend, much less exhibit, at a show with less than a hundred tables, and often with companies with small or non-existent trade show budgets, I might go to the next town, and there I could (and did) make and deepen viable connections.

In tradeshows, as in most of marketing and sales, it isn’t about the 96 who are not your target, that you have nothing to sell to, buy from or learn from. It’s about the 4 who make the time worth your while.

I don’t go to Exhibitor every year, but I attempt to every few years to check things out for myself.

All the emails I get about new products, all the searches of the web I can make, and all the webinars I can attend, never make up for what I can make happen at a tradeshow.

It’s that face-to-face interaction that makes it all come alive, whether I’m an attendee looking for vendors or an exhibitor looking for prospects.


HIA 09 2

Deborah Elms (@D_Elms) is CEO and head of the Trade Show and Event Division of Imprinted Originals.  She is passionate about helping businesses grow by creating and retaining customers through the effective use of tradeshows & events, including high impact, professionally designed display booths, promotional marketing and guidance on what works and what does not.


Could A “Moat” Destroy Your Tradeshow ROI?

The Case of the Mysterious ROI-Destroying Moat

This happens all too often at trade shows, and it’s heartbreaking.  A simple but major mistake leads to disappointing results. 

Here’s the situation:  a business spends good money to purchase a display and have it professionally designed  to catch the eye of its best prospects so they will stop and start a conversation.

But then, without a second thought, the table that the trade show has provided is placed across the front of the booth space, with piles of literature and/or promotional products scattered across it, and salespeople sitting behind it.

Here’s the problem:  instead of using their entire space to interact with prospects, to get to know them better and gain their confidence, these exhibitors have essentially set up a moat – with their sales force stationed like defenders of the castle on one side, and their prospects on the other side, stuck in the aisle.

With such poor possibilities for genuine interaction, it’s unlikely that enough useful information will be collected to turn the people who have passed by the booth into genuine leads.

The ROI from such a show will almost certainly be low, and another exhibitor will conclude “trade shows don’t work for me”.

How can you make sure not to make the same mistake?

  • Design your booth layout in advance.
  • Train your staff on how to optimize the use of your space.
  • Situate your table to the side, if needed; never sit behind it!
  • Don’t leave literature or promotional products sitting around – be sure to swap them for a business card or badge swipe.

What if – as an occasional client of ours insists – your prospects are touchy-feely, non-verbal types (think engineers) and you think it’s easier to start a conversation if product is “close by”?

Even if physical props are important to engaging your prospects, you still don’t want to block the entire front of your booth. Use a small table as near to the front of the booth as you find necessary, and then if you need more table or counter space, add it to the sides.  A counter-height cocktail table can be a perfect compromise which sets the right tone.

The moat makes your prospect a long-distance audience.

Taking away the moat makes a conversation easier to start, and reminds you or your booth staff that the point IS to invite your prospects into your castle territory.

If you would like more detail on these points, or help with your particular booth arrangement  — feel free to give us a call.  We’re always happy to help with your Exhibiting Success!


Deborah Elms is CEO and head of the Trade Show and Event Division of Imprinted Originals.  She is passionate about helping businesses and non-profit organizations create and retain customers through the effective use of tradeshows & events.




I recently attended a presentation by sales expert Duane Cashin,  which riveted the entrepreneurs at the TAB Long Island Prosperity Series on March 9th, 2010.  (The Alternative Board is a peer advisory group for business owners.)

He spoke about “Sales in The New Normal” to a room eager to understand the new world as business owners.

It got me thinking about the trends our clients are facing in sales, marketing, and exhibiting, and I jotted these notes down afterwards.  There may be deeper and longer thoughts later.

1) The “New Normal” in selling:  your product or service is not just competing with your competitors’ products but with other budget items, so you must make a compelling business case for its purchase.  (This was one of Duane Cashin’s key ideas.)

2) The “New Normal” in marketing:  in a networked, social media-oriented marketplace, communication is not one way from you to your client, and it isn’t even 2 way; communications are multi-node integrated experiences between many different conversations, plus traditional forms of marketing communications.

(This is informed by Duane’s presentation, but also grown from experiences I had at #EventCamp2010, explorations with #eventprofs in Twitter and my own observations)

3) The “New Normal” in tradeshow exhibiting and other events – my thoughts:

In the “New Normal”, exhibitors need to produce better results with less budget, staff and time.   They’re competing for budget with every other marketing project, and marketing is competing with every other idea that can impact the bottom line.

Exhibitors need to be more nimble, more targeted, and quicker to differentiate themselves with their prospects.  How?  They must compete less on the superiority of their products or services and more on their ability to “get” – and help with – their own prospects’ “New Normal” in order to make a connection.

Got questions on how the “New Normal” is impacting you?  Or need ideas on how to implement?  Let’s start a conversation.  Reach out at http://www.twitter.com/d_elms, leave a comment, or call (631) 979-0283 or (888) 912-9116.


Deborah Elms is CEO and head of the Trade Show and Event Division of Imprinted Originals.  She is passionate about helping businesses, non-profit organizations and associations create and retain customers through the effective use of tradeshows & events.


Duane Cashin http://twitpic.com/1cmqrq next to one of displays Imprinted Originals designed and produced for TAB Prosperity Event (as well as for most of the sponsors).  Duane Cashin’s website: http://www.duanecashin.com

Duane after his presentation.  (Like the bannerstand?)

The Alternative Board of Suffolk County:  http://www.tabny.com

The Alternative Board of Naussau County: http://www.tabli.com



Deborah Elms, CEO of Imprinted Originals, will be co-presenting at the HIA (Hauppauge Industrial Association)’s Pre-Trade Show Seminar on April 28th.

Her topic will be “Effective Exhibiting – Designing Your Graphics and Setting Up Your Booth For Success”.

Other presenters will include:  Arthur Germain, Principal & Chief Brandteller- Communication Strategy Group & Rich Isaac, President- Sandler Sales Long Island.  Additional information on tradeshow setup and organization will be provided by the HIA Staff; Marty Greenstein- Event Pros Group; and Adam Michelin- SmartSource.

Note: The Hauppauge Industrial Association is the largest industrial park East of the Mississippi.  It will be holding its 22nd Annual Long Island Business Trade Show and Conference on May 27:  http://www.hia-li.org



Trade shows give you the chance to meet new prospects, reinforce existing customer relationships, and expand product or brand awareness.

But let’s face it – trade shows also cost time, money and effort. When all of these are tight, you might be tempted to decide they just aren’t worth it.

Before you decide trade shows just aren’t worth it – take a look at some facts.

The average cost to close a sale originating at a trade show is less than 2/3 the cost for leads from other sources.

75% of people attending trade shows arrive with a specific goal in mind.
Closing a sale from a trade show lead takes an average of 1.6 personal sales visits versus 3.7 for non-show leads.

You can talk with as many prospects in an hour as normally takes a day.

More numbers about trade show attendees (from industry surveys):

  • 95% of decision makers look for their current vendors at shows
  • 88% of attendees, on average, have not been contacted by your sales staff in the previous year
  • 87% share information they learned at shows; 64% talk to at least 6 other people
  • 77% found at least one new supplier at their last show
  • 76% asked for quotes
  • 72% say show attendance influences their buying decision
  • 71% of attendees can authorize or approve purchases
  • 70% of attendees are planning on buying at least one product
  • 51% of executive decision makers request a follow-up visit
  • 50% are there to see what’s new
  • 46% of decision makers make purchase decisions at a show
  • 26% signed purchase orders as a direct result of a show


1. Trade shows shorten the sales cycle so each sale costs less to close;
2. Attendees are arriving these days to meet specific needs;
3. Shows are the next best thing to bringing prospects to your office!

If 57% of attendees only attend one show a year, and 40% of the people at any show are first-time attendees – you have to ask yourself, will they meet (and remember) you or your competitor?

Do yourself a favor – exhibit at trade shows!

To be successful in making connections that lead to sales through trade shows and networking events, read our other Tips on Selecting, Preparing for, and Following Up After Trade Shows.

And if you need help – with your booth (from table top to 20 foot gullwing) or with imprinted apparel, memorable giveways, or table coverings, call the Tangible Branding Experts at Imprinted Originals, LLC.

Sources: Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Data Strategies and Group, Exhibit Surveys, and Lorimer Consulting Group



Do you give away promotional items to visitors to your trade show booth?  If you do, what should you give?

It has become such a commonplace that “something” should be given out at a show that all too often just “anything” is.  In that case, it probably won’t do any good.

Let’s take a closer look.

First, why use promotional giveaways?

  • The obvious answer, first – they attract people to your booth
  • They reinforce your brand, products, or services in customers’ minds
  • They promote what you offer as an alternative to their current supplier
  • They promote goodwill
  • They can educate or inform about new products and services
  • They return with prospect to home or office to keep your message and your contact information in sight

Essential Rules of Giveaways

There are a few key points to remember when you select promotional items for your business or organization, whether for holiday thank you’s or as trade show giveaways.

The most successful giveaways should:

  • Be easily linked in your prospect’s mind to your product or service
  • Provide something that will be of value or interest to them
  • Do something clever or fun that will catch their eye or create goodwill

Next, let’s look at how to link your goals for a show with the items you select.

#1 Are you trying to get as many people as possible into your booth?

If your business is consumer oriented, uses a “mass marketing” business model, or is new and trying to introduce its products or services as widely as possible – you want high booth volume.

In this case, you need a giveaway that is generally well-received but not too expensive because of the quantities required.

Candy provides a strong draw, as do fun or interactive items. But remember, though these will get people in your booth – they won’t do anything in themselves to make them remember you. If your goal is simply to attract lots of people – to fill out a questionnaire or to hand a coupon, for instance, then you do not need an imprinted giveaway.

If your goal is to draw lots of people you plan to qualify further, though, you probably will want a second item, imprinted with your company’s brand or product information, to be given only to those who have qualified.

#2 Are you looking for a particular kind of prospect?

If your services or products are geared only to specific industries or individuals, then your goal is to find viable prospects without giving out a lot of costly gifts or spending too much time with inappropriate visitors.

An excellent way to have your prospects pre-qualify themselves is by offering something that matches their needs or interests, but has little appeal to others.

Provide a gift that your prospect will take and keep on hand long past the end of the show – but make sure it is clearly branded to keep your company name in your prospect’s mind or it is a waste of your money.

For example, once upon a time, I received a “Dogbert” stress toy at a show. I kept it for years because it was well targeted to my professional profile, in the software industry – but since it did not have a company name or logo, all those years of potential positive branding were lost to whoever decided to “save” on the expense of imprinting.

#3 Are you looking to reinforce relationships and promote your brand through increased product/service knowledge?

In this case, your promotional goal is to get specific information to current customers to motivate them to expand your relationship, say through an upgrade or add-on purchase. In addition, this is a situation in which you could clearly benefit from the planning and execution of a pre-show promotion.

A pre-show promotion works by advertising your involvement with the show in advance, to current customers and known prospects. This usually involves an enticement to bring them to your booth. If they bring the coupon you have sent or emailed them, or mention a particular offer number, for instance, they will receive a special gift.

A twist on this theme is to send part of a gift to them, with the remainder available at the show. An amazing percentage of people will arrive with half of their imprinted gift or puzzle piece, ready to receive the rest of the item. This may be the chance you have been waiting for to talk with specific high-profile prospects.

#4 Are you looking for increased name recognition?

An established vendor in a niche market might take a giveaway and add a spin to it to grab buzz at a show.

For instance, one manufacturer at a clothing industry show gave away hundreds of bright red shirts, along with raffle tickets. They offered a cash prize once an hour to someone spotted wearing the shirt in the convention hall.  Near the end of the show, they drew a raffle ticket for a new highend laptop.  To win, you had to be wearing your red shirt, of course!

This whole process was expensive – but by the end of the show there was close to 100% recognition of what had been a lesser player in that industry because by the final day of the show, there were literally hundreds of people wearing identical red shirts.

Who Will They Call?

If you consider your show goals and your target audience carefully, your giveaways can not only help get the right people into your booth, but also be kept long past the day of the show.

Promotional products that make it back to the office or to the home for use and/or viewing by your prospect have been shown to be associated not just with more “eyeballs” on your brand, but with increased likelihood of giving you a call, when the time is right, and your product or service is needed.

Should you use promotional products at trade shows?

Only you can decide if they make sense in your overall plan.  If budgets are tight, it’s far better to spend money on your booth and getting professional graphic design than to purchase “stuff” blindly.

If you use your giveaways as part of your strategy, they can help you reach and communicate with your prospects for a more successful trade show!