by Mark Bonacorso Tour any tradeshow and ask 100 exhibitors what they hope to accomplish. I’ll bet you even money the bulk of them don’t really know why they are there and what they hope to accomplish. February 23, 2005 -- After barely a two-month break, many of us in the industry are finding ourselves right in the thick of the winter and spring trade show season. With Graphics of the Americas just concluding, On Demand just around the corner, and PRINT 05 looming on the horizon, many of us involved in the industry are probably feeling like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming train. Why do some of us start twitching at the thought of tradeshow season? We probably work for companies or provide support services for companies that use tradeshows and industry events as some of their primary marketing vehicles. Now, displaying your products and services in front of thousands of tradeshow attendees is an excellent way of attracting prospects, getting together with customers, launching new products, and meeting with the trade press and analysts. But if you tour any tradeshow floor and ask 100 exhibitors what they hope to accomplish, I’ll bet you even money that the bulk of them don’t really know why they are there and what they hope to accomplish. Sound strange? It's not, really. Having managed a tradeshow department of a (now defunct) software company that exhibited at 24-30 shows a year, I regularly faced marketing managers and sales people that insisted that “we just have to” exhibit at this show. When I asked why and what they hoped to accomplish, the usual reply was one of the following: “Sales leads.” “Our competition is there.” “You know, we just have too!” “Why, what do you mean?” When the biological tradeshow clock tolls, we all run like lemmings towards the big cliff known as the exhibit floor. Simply put, many companies are driven by a biological “tradeshow clock" that rears its ugly head every quarter and compels the company to spend consequential amounts of money, time, and human resources participating in one or more of the 300 or so industry tradeshows taking place around the world. Moreover, many do so without a clear strategy of why they are exhibiting and what they hope to take away. In the end, the tradeshow or marketing manager is singled out, blamed, and everyone swears they’ll never do it again. However, once the season starts up again, the biological tradeshow clock tolls we all run like lemmings towards the big cliff known as the exhibit floor. By the Numbers Event marketing or exhibiting in tradeshows is by no means cheap. But with a clear strategy, measurable objectives, and by spreading out the responsibilities between sales, marketing, and PR; any exhibiting company can come away from a tradeshow feeling pretty good about what they invested. An old tradeshow manager once shared a secret formula for putting together rough budgets for tradeshows, it goes something like this (please note that I used this formula in the mid-to-late 1990’s and doesn’t take into account shipping and drayage for large hardware manufacturers). Today, with higher costs, these numbers may be higher. Like the car companies say, "Your Mileage May Vary." Square footage of exhibit space Multiplied by “flash factor” Equals roughly the cost for your company’s tradeshow participation not counting travel, meals, etc. 40’ x 40’ booth (1600 square feet) $100.00 (minimal, no-frills presence) $160,000 cost to exhibit 40’ x 40’ booth (1600 square feet) $200 (pretty good showing, some giveaways, maybe a pre-show mailing) $320.000 cost to exhibit 40’ x 40’ booth (1600 square feet) $300.00 (pull out the stops, live theatre demos, contests, nice giveaways, you name it) $480,000 cost to exhibit While many exhibitors will claim that sales leads are the primary objective for their tradeshow participation if you look at the costs above and just take the middle row, it seems that $320,000 is quite a bit to spend on sales leads. If you came away with 1000 sales “leads” that's $320 a pop, which, depending on the price of your product, may be a lot pay for a single, often unqualified, sales lead. So, what’s the answer? Develop a tradeshow strategy with clear and measurable objectives While gathering leads is a good objective, it shouldn’t be the only one. A good tradeshow strategy is a team effort, with shared risks, and rewards that should involve sales, marketing, and PR departments. Consider the following: Tradeshows are magnets for the industry media. Get the pre-registered press list or have your PR person get it and assign them the responsibility of getting your company’s executives into as many meetings with the press as humanly possible. If you keep your executives busy with press meetings there’s less likelihood of them standing around the booth, bored, and saying what a waste of money the show seems to be. More importantly, if you are introducing a new product or entering a new market, give the media a heads-up--they might well write about you after the show (stand by for next month’s column on media relations). This will sustain your company’s message in several of the publications you’ve met with, and hopefully be read by your prospects and customers long after you’ve packed up and left the show. On a similar note, assign your sales executives to find out which of their prospects or existing customers are attending the tradeshow. Again, make it their responsibility to have their sales team arrange meetings. Make them give you a number and then measure them once the show is concluded. The idea is occupy your sales folks with enough meetings that can drive business that they don’t have the energy to go out partying all night and not show up for booth duty the next day. (Yes, I've seen this happen.) Launch a new product or service at a tradeshow. Or at least drop significant hints that something new and important will be happening soon. You have thousands of potential prospects all in one place at one time. What better a captive audience could you want? Measure booth traffic not just leads. If you have a tradeshow with 30,000 total attendees and 10% of them come to your booth and have their cards swiped, that’s 3000 people that have seen your booth, your messages, maybe picked up some of your literature, and seen your company’s logo. If you start calling booth visitors leads, you’ll be sorry in the end as every visitor will have to be contacted and qualified. By the time that’s done, the 3000 people that came by your booth will end up being 100 qualified leads and if you spent $320,000 on the show, each lead would have cost you $3,200 each. For that price, you might as well fly the prospect to your offices on a first-class ticket, put them up in a suite at the best hotel, and hire Emeril to cook a meal tableside for them. Not that that approach might not be effective. In closing, plan what you do, do what you plan, and measure what you do!