Bakers Journal

Trade Shows: A Game Plan

December 3, 2007
By Michelle Brisebois

Michelle Brisebois offers advice for getting the most out of trade shows.

12You’ve probably often wondered if participating in trade shows is worth the time, energy and expense.  It’s a good question, since events like this are often “resource hungry.” There are two good reasons to participate in a trade show. The first is lead generation and the second is awareness. You need to consider trade shows as part of the total marketing strategy and integrate them with your other activities. This is the piece of the puzzle most companies miss. Many companies simply pay for the space, set up the booth, press the flesh and wonder afterwards if it worked. Maximizing a trade show experience is best approached like any other goal – begin with the end in mind.

Any marketing activity is most successful when it’s well-planned, executed and measured. Trade shows are considered a direct marketing activity so start by deciding what you want to get out of the event. Is it to assist your sales teams in generating leads? Is the show part of your overall awareness strategy to attract alliances, partners, potential buyers, and to test new markets? Whatever your reason for participating, all of your tactical marketing efforts, including trade shows, should consistently be maximized for greatest results and should be woven into your overall marketing and business strategy. What is your budget for the show? Make sure to include the cost of the booth, materials to hand out, promotional materials to send before and after, product to sample and the cost of staff to work the booth. These costs don’t even include your fees to exhibit in the show itself. It’s easy to see how the expense can get quite steep very quickly.

Consider what audience you’ll be exposed to. Is it a show specifically targeted to your industry or is it a general small business show? The more targeted the show is to your specific business, the better. Exhibiting at a food show ensures those passing your booth are naturally more interested in your product or service. Look at the show’s materials carefully and understand what the attendance is expected to be. Does the show’s date conflict or compete with any other industry function that may cut expected attendance? What space will your booth occupy? What other exhibitors will you be close to? Once you’ve determined that this show would give you access to the audience you want to speak to, it’s a matter of deciding what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.


Avoid the temptation to display as many products as you can fit in your booth. As with any marketing message, the less clutter, the more effective it will be. If you’ve recently introduced a new product or service, a trade show is the ideal place to showcase it. Make sure that you can show your product to its fullest potential at the show. If it’s imperative that the product be served piping hot or within a certain time frame, you’ll want to make sure you can deliver on this expectation. Otherwise, you may not be putting your best foot forward.

It’s not necessary to spend huge amounts of money on fancy booths and signage. A little creativity can make it appealing and if you can add another element, such as music, it will create an extra buzz around your area to attract attention. Who will be your neighbours at the show? Find out early and contact them to see if it makes sense to share resources. If they offer a complementary service, you could partner on a nice raffle prize.

Send out invitations to key clients and prospects who may be interested in attending the show to let them know you will be exhibiting and what you will be sampling. If you’re holding a raffle or perhaps giving a series of demonstrations or talks at certain times, make sure prospects know about it. You’ll need to develop some nice materials as “take-aways.” Clients may love what you display at the show but if they’ve got something to read when they get home, it’ll reinforce the experience. If you have a website, make sure the web address is prominently displayed on the booth and on anything you give away. As people come to your booth, ask them for their e-mail addresses and permission to notify them of new product launches or promotions. A war chest of e-mail addresses to which to send an electronic newsletter will be well worth a good portion of the cost to exhibit. Your website will need to be updated to promote the fact you’re going to be at the show and then to feature the same products or services you exhibited. If you’re driving people to your website after the show, you want the site to reiterate your point.

Choose your staff to work the show carefully. You’ll want those people who are a bit outgoing but who don’t treat the show as a social event. If your salespeople are chatting with each other and ignoring the prospects entering the booth, that can leave a horrible impression as to expected service levels. Train staff to think of the booth as a “retail space” and treat it no differently than if they were actually at your store.

Finally, make sure you do a post game analysis. A month or two after the show, take a look at your original objectives and find out if they were accomplished. Perhaps you wanted to generate 150 new prospects from the show and make sales to 25 per cent of them? Maybe you wanted to increase sales of your newly featured product by five per cent – did it happen? Add up all of the costs to participate in the show and then look at the return on investment. Was it worth it? Could you have spent that money on a series of ads or promotions to accomplish the same objective?

The great thing about trade shows is that you’ve got huge numbers of people interested in your product or service all in one place travelling right past your booth. Exhibiting at a trade show is a bit like fishing in a lake teeming with fish. However, as with fishing, you have to make sure you’ve got the right bait and that the lake is stocked with the species you actually want to catch.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at OnTrend Strategies by e-mail at:

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