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A Small Company’s 5 Tips For A Successful Conference Exhibit

A Small Company’s 5 Tips For A Successful Conference Exhibit

Imagine the scene: thousands of attendees – read, potential customers, business leads and critical networking contacts - all gathered at your industry’s key annual conference. It is the place for you to present your business to all your important contacts and prospects.

As the business development lead, you are tasked with building an effective event marketing plan of action. How will you deliver an excellent brand presence, craft a memorable marketing story, create a booth experience, invest in unique and fun swag, and bring home leads? How do you knock it out of the ballpark?

Conference exhibits are expensive marketing efforts. As a small company, if you are investing the $10-$20k on a 3-day industry event, you need to ensure a great ROI. You need to do your research to find the right audience for your story. Once you commit to participating at a conference, assemble your team (includes the attendees, the backup marketing team), decide your goals for the conference, craft your story and establish the budget. The effectiveness of your preparation will have a profound effect on the success of your firm’s participation at the conference. 

While it may look like a huge project, there are ways to ensure you meet your goals. Here is a simple checklist that you can use as you prepare for your next tradeshow.

1. Production Book

An organized conference plan will make it easier for you and the entire team to be aware of outstanding tasks and expectations. The Production Book I developed for my firm’s exhibit at the recent SIFMA C&L Annual Meeting included:

  • Goals
  • Venue logistics
  • Budget and detailed timeline
  • Travel plans
  • Staging design and selection of swag
  • Vendor information: all purchases, rentals and contractors not provided by the event
  • Team schedule
  • The all important checklist to ensure success

The production book takes a while to put together the first year, but in subsequent years, it will be the best planning tool for your team to work from.

2. Publicize

Six weeks before the event, send a mailer to your firm’s contact database announcing your participation as an exhibitor and encourage them to attend. Make sure the conference organizers are on that list, this is a great way to promote your firm within the organization.

Three to four weeks before the event, send a “please stop by our booth” postcard to the conference attendees. We postmarked ours 2 weeks in advance so that people would get it at least one week before traveling, but close enough to the day that they would not forget. Ours invited guests to drop off a card to be eligible for a raffle at the end of the event.

Make use of all your social media tools to publicize your participation. Use the conference #hashtag to increase virtual exposure for your company. Be sure to include photos to gain greater awareness to your postings. If possible, create a short teaser video – a minute or two – that includes your booth’s number, why people should stop by and who from your company will be in attendance.

3. Brand

Establish a budget for memorable booth design conveying your culture and brand message.

creatively staged booth will attract more attention. Remember, your booth is akin to your business card. Take the time and effort – and make the investment – to produce a booth that reflects well upon your company.

Make sure there are two people on the exhibit floor at all times. Never leave your booth unattended, especially at breakfast and during breaks. During the networking breaks, attendees rush in to grab a coffee and a snack. Remember, they just came out of a panel, it is so easy to chat over coffee. How was the panel? What did you enjoy best? (ahead of time familiarize yourself with the topics and the speakers)

Budget for useful and unique giveaways that don’t break the bank. At a recent financial services compliance and legal conference, I ordered cooling eye masks and “Anti-Regulatory Headache Pills” (green candy). It was a hit.

Put your logo on everything you bring to the conference. It’s akin to guerilla marketing. Everywhere your booth guests go, your logo will go with them.

4. Promote, Execute and Network

Promote your key competitive advantage and the overall brand and culture:

  • Tweet, post to LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram and #hashtag before and throughout the conference
  • Post commentary and sound bites as a way to reach the attendees

Execute a successful “Friendraising” campaign by preparing ahead of time:

  • Identify prospects: research and try to set up meeting
  • Identify potential partners: how can you work with them? These include the other vendors in the exhibit hall, make sure to stop by their booths and connect
  • The rest: connect with these folks at the social events. Never discount these folks as they may be key to growing your network

Network: enjoy meeting new folks, help others connect, grow your brand

Please please do not forget to always carry your business cards.

5. Follow-up

Probably the most important tip of all. Ensure that on your return, you connect with the people with whom you have met. Be sure to connect with them on LinkedIn. Send an email message post-event, even if it’s to say thank you for taking the time to meet with you. Cultivate the contact and convert them into business leads or, better yet, business.

A conference exhibit, while a tremendous investment, also has the potential to showcase your company’s competitive advantage to your target industry. But in order to convert this investment into revenue, you will need a well-executed conference plan.

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Katherina B Ansink is a leading business development and relationship management strategist with 20 plus years of direct experience in financial services. She is the director of business development at a New York City regulatory change management firm that provides strategic consulting services to the banking and financial services industry. Follow her on Twitter @kbansink.


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Community Discussion
Jennefer Witter

Great advice - thanks for sharing.

May 5, 2016