By Christina Welty, MA
I’ve worked with exhibitors for over a decade and there’s no doubt that they are the lifeblood of most associations. Without the support of the associate/industry members through exhibits and sponsorships, most associations could not continue having Annual Conventions each year.
So why is it that some meeting planners seem to focus little energy enhancing the experiences of the exhibitors? Most likely, this lack of energy is probably not deliberate. Hosting and managing an Annual Convention is a LOT of work and depending on the amount of staff, you may not have time to focus on everything. In this blog, I’ll share some strategies I’ve practiced and some tactics I’ve seen exhibitors use that have been successful. Some take quite a bit of time and money, but others do not and can make a BIG difference.
WHAT CAN MEETING PLANNERS DO?
1) Even though there are several different forms for exhibitors (booth furnishings, carpeting, electric, shipping anyone?), make sure to create one easy to read checklist with everything exhibitors will need to be prepared and have a successful show. I used to go so far as to title it “If you don’t read anything else, please read this!” Some people still don’t read, but it worked more often than not!
2) Website – Forms/information should be easy to find. No one wants to search for hours to find out how to ship items for the expo.
3) If appropriate, allow at least one person from each company to have a full conference registration so they have the ability to attend sessions and network. The registration does not have to include luncheons and other meal functions, but always make sure exhibitors know they can participate in the educational sessions.
4) Booth decorating contests – Choose a theme and give away a free booth for next year’s convention or a complimentary ad in your publication. You could also have a roving trophy that is awarded to the winner each year. It is crazy how competitive people can get!
5) More often than not, exhibitors want to talk with the decision-makers (directors, owners or buyers for the companies). While I believe you should be friendly to everyone (you never know when someone could move into one these positions!), a lot of people don’t have those same feelings. In my previous position, we created a form for the employees to complete, which listed booths they visited and which products/equipment they felt would work well in their district. After all, they were the ones who were going to be serving those products or using that equipment! They gave the form to their director and if it was a really popular item among the employees, the director might be more apt to consider it.
6) Have a reception or activity with exhibitors and decision-makers the night before the expo. It is a great way for the exhibitors to connect with their customers without the feeling of a sales pitch.
7) If your schedule allows, have exclusive time in the hall. If you have sessions at the same time as the expo, most attendees will be in those sessions getting credits and, you guessed it, NOT IN THE EXPO!
8) Thank you cards to vendors – Take your convention theme and create quarter page thank you cards with sayings such as “You’re Worth a Mint” or “Thanks for being our Lifesaver” with candy attached to them. Divide the list and have your board members help distribute the cards. You would be amazed that something so simple and relatively inexpensive is appreciated so much!
9) During exhibitor move-in, make time to go around to each booth (yes that can get very time-consuming!) Introduce yourself, thank
them for participating in the show and make sure they have everything they ordered from the show decorator, etc. Several exhibitors have remarked that they have been to other shows where they never saw the person from the office!
10) Coffee = expensive, but if it’s in your budget, have coffee for the exhibitors during setup and before the show opens. If you have a small show, try holding a simple breakfast for exhibitors in another room and have the president and president-elect attend. It doesn’t have to be anything special – just bagels, fruit, coffee, etc. to show you care. People love food!
WHAT CAN EXHIBITORS DO?
1) Exhibitors – Please, please, please have someone who is knowledgeable about your product or service at the booth. It is very frustrating for attendees when the person cannot answer basic questions. Also, if you are coordinating your company’s booth, but are not going to be onsite, please share the checklist and other FAQ’s so the onsite representative is informed and prepared.
2) Trivia – In order to get attendees involved, one booth created a Wheel of Knowledge to test attendees’ familiarity with terms and procedures. They gave out prizes and had great traffic at their booth.
Wheel of Knowledge in background
3) Speaking of prizes, purchase a couple of good giveaways – IPADs, Kindle, etc. – and give those out at your booth.
4) Give discounts for orders received from attendees up to 6 weeks after the show.
6) In the same vein, try to do hands-on demonstrations. Many people are visual and like to touch, see, and feel the product.
7) This last suggestion seems obvious, but it has happened on more than one occasion. Please do not read a book or play on your laptop during the expo! It is not inviting and you can guarantee that you will have little (if any) traffic at your booth.
If meeting planners and exhibitors support one another and use some of the tactics above, it can be a win-win situation for all involved. What strategies have worked for you?