UNLOCK TRADE SHOW SUCCESS: Engage With Coordinated Pre-Show Promotion


Tradeshows begin long before the exhibit hall doors open. For you, the exhibitor, it starts six months or more in advance with purchasing floor space and taking charge of the dreaded trade show binder. Form upon form may have you overwhelmed but you have got to do more than just show up and pray attendees drift into your booth.

According to Ed Marquez, President of Mark Bric Display, “The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) reports that 76% of attendees have created an agenda for their show booth visits before they arrive”. You will see attendees working their agendas. It could be with tell-tale old school highlighted floorplans, it could be lists on their smart phones, but rest assured, most of them are on a mission and have made plans. If you want to be on their list and part of their plan, you need to promote early. Your team needs to inform and invite targeted attendees well before they ever set foot in the exhibit hall – really, before they get in the car, train, or plane to travel to the show. Remember the show is not just the booths; it’s show events, keynote speakers, educational sessions and sometimes the exciting venues themselves. All are competing for time and attention.

Message, means, and method for accomplishing your pre-show promotion objectives should be discussed in the foundational sales and marketing strategy meetings prior to attending the show. If this is not happening, make the suggestion to try something new and encourage your management teams to give pre-show planning some thought. You may just end up the hero of garnering qualified leads for your company.

Ruth P. Stevens, expert in customer acquisition and retention as well as the author of Maximizing Lead Generation  mentions in an How to Triple the Effectiveness of Your Trade Show Marketing Program  that, “Using direct marketing to promote your attendance at the show in advance can double, triple, even quadruple the results of your overall trade show investment.” Who wouldn’t want that jump in ROI?

Where can you start? Target your audience. Know who it is you want to talk to then do what you must to get them into your space at the show. Of course, as a primary step, use the show attendee list. It should be a good fit; after all you chose to attend the show so that group is at least in the right ballpark. A target rich resource actually lies closer to home and can narrow the field for you – look over your internal mailing lists, your email lists, your sales and customer services databases. These pre-qualified list resources are often overlooked. Use your lists to email, call and invite; use whatever method your budget can support. If you take a moment to think about it, you already know who you want to target. Engage existing customers who are active, reward them. Energize customers who haven’t purchased in a while, stimulate them with an offer of a discount or a lunch meeting at your expense. Spur these folks into action. Examine prior targeted campaign lists you’ve utilized and invite those who you know could use your product but have never taken the plunge to do business with you. Invite them to come see you at the show and match a friendly face to your company. To know you is to love you, right?

Once you’ve acknowledged and organized the groups you want to focus on attracting and inviting to your booth, choose a few strategies to get them there. Ed Marquez, President of Mark Bric Display encourages “One of the easiest things to do, even if you have a very small budget is to take advantage of the ‘Free Passes’ for show entrance that the show usually provides to you as part of your exhibitor package. They are already printed with all the show info and are designed to save your targeted audience money, at no cost to you!” Obviously, you may want to dress the free passes up a little with a company sticker or other piece of collateral. Certainly mail it with a letter inviting them to attend and meet with you while they are there. Or even mention a specific promotion.  Marquez continues, “The more points of pre-show exposure the better. It all goes toward building good show presence.”

One of the most popular and possibly overused tactics is doing some sort of give away. Now if done well, and selectively, these can be a phenomenal draw. Pre-show marketing dollars will have to be invested in promoting the give-away program to ensure the audience will want to exchange a pre-show promo piece for the real give-away. No one is going to flock to your booth for a pen, squishy football, or a piece of candy. Ed Marquez cautions, “Premiums, aka giveaways, often are not generally effective. If you do try it, it needs to be worthwhile and not be an item that will end up as a 5 year olds play toy when the target audience member returns home. It should be relatable to both company and product so that when that attendee looks at it again, they remember you, your company and the product or service you were trying to sell them to begin with!”

You may wonder, “What should I attempt to do pre-show, especially if we have never done pre-show marketing before this?” Find things that fit your company personality and budget and do those things. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It may work for you and you can incorporate it into all future shows, or you may realize it doesn’t work and you can try a different approach next time. The key is to realize, you may not be able to do everything…but you can and should do something.


Unlock your tradeshow success and boost your ROI with one or more of these simple ideas for pre-show promotion:

  • Create and print a sticker with show name, date, city, location of show and your booth number. Put it on everything you can…this includes all of your communication and collateral: mailings, invoices, flyers, price lists, packages etc. If you have outside sales people give them a supply to use in the same manner.
  • Promote your show attendance on all of you electronic and social media. Try to come up with a catch phrase that is relevant to your company, product and show objectives and use it across the board. Comment, post, blog, send an extra email specifically about the show. This is extremely easy and cost effective.
  • Send out free show entry passes, or discount registration offers to for the trade show. Usually these are printed and provided by show management – if you have not seen them, it is worth your time to call and ask if these are available for you to use.
  • Advertise in industry trade publication pre-show issues – remember this must be planned well in advance.
  • Try some form of give-away: send a postcard or coupon, a key, a puzzle piece or other symbolic small item that can be redeemed for a more significant gift at the booth. This works best if you are selective and target only certain attendees for this promotion. Choose those who are likely to convert into qualified purchasing leads.
  • Make a one-time only or a time-limited incentive, to foster urgency: “Discounts for Orders Placed at the Show…” or “First 50 people get…”
  • Implement a telemarketing push. Start at least a month in advance and start calling existing clients and set up meetings/appointments at the trade show. These can be in the booth, or elsewhere. Perhaps a lunch meeting or agree to attend a seminar with a few clients …do what needs to be done to get face time. These calls can be made by salespeople, customer service reps or even your receptionist – make the method fit your resources.

– By Stacy Poole, Marketing Professional at Mark Bric Display Corp.

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