Planning for a Trade Show: A Quick Guide
Although a large number of industries are using "virtual" web-based trade shows in which announcements and demonstrations take place online, the traditional conference hall event is likely to be around for some years to come. And no doubt there are several you'll want to attend in-person in order to find out the latest and greatest trends and technologies in the masonry industry, the most obvious being the Masonry Showcase next March in Tampa!
Most people don't put too much planning into their time at a trade show, since the trip usually sneaks up on them before they know it and they're too busy worrying about the work they've left behind at the office. It helps, however, to leverage trade show time wisely, and follow a few recommendations before and during the show:
Time Management — Find out the show floor layout ahead of time, and highlight the booths of companies you want to visit. Many editors these days will plot out their progress through a conference hall from one vendor to another, giving themselves only 20-30 minutes at each stop. They've learned this method the hard way, after dashing from one end of the hall to another to make scheduled meeting stops. There's no reason you can't learn from their experience and map out your own strategy.
Goals — Know ahead of time what you want to accomplish at the event. Is it networking? General industry information gathering? Competitive surveillance? Knowing your primary purpose for attending will keep you focused. It's too easy to come away from a trade show with a bunch of cute giveaways but no pertinent data to help you out with your business.
Contact — Qualify the person providing you information when you visit a particular vendor's booth. Is he or she a sales person? Public relations person? Hired gun just for the show? Technical engineer? Make sure your informants have the background you need for the question you're posing. If there's a specific individual you really want to make contact with, call or email before the show and set up a specific time to meet in the booth.
Clothing — Everyone knows to wear comfortable shoes at a trade show. But the rest of your appearance will also dictate the treatment you receive. Do you wish to visit booths somewhat anonymously? Dress down. Want to receive VIP treatment? Dress up. It all depends on what your goal is — if you want to see what the competition is up to, you want to walk around "under the radar" and not dress too flashy. If you want to be treated with serious attention and respect as a prospective customer, however, you'll need to suit up accordingly. If you plan to network with potential partners/vendors, then dressing up is required for this objective as well.
Purchases — Don't make any impulse purchases on the trade show floor, even if there's a tempting discount offered. That's the same as buying a car or stereo on impulse. It's better to make the decision in the quiet of your office and not be pressured at the conference.
Badge Card — Hand over your attendee badge or "Expocard" only if you truly want to become an eternal item in a vendor's database for future mailings/contact. Every booth will try to scan you into their system for future mailings. Is this what you really want? Most of the mailings will be highly generalized letters and brochures. You can probably find better information on the company's website or through personal contacts.
Shipping — Scout out a business center on the show floor or in the hotel where you can have them box up and ship home the information you gather. This way you won't have to lug it through the hotel, airport or cab. And if you really want cute giveaways, you won't be limited by how much you can carry.
If you have a corporate account with any of the shipping companies, bring several shipping forms so you can save on the cost of those parcels. You can often arrange pickups through the hotel, using your account, which is much cheaper than using the Business Office at the trade show.
And if you have one of those removable luggage "wheelie" carts, hauling the boxes to the hotel won't be such a backbreaker. Even the smaller roll-around luggage can be used, when it's not carrying your clothes.
About the Author
Linda VandeVrede is the principal of VandeVrede Public Relations, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that serves clients nationwide. VandeVrede Public Relations offers expertise in public relations, crisis planning, issues management and analyst relations.