Association Studios just returned from our first time exhibiting at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo. More accurately, this was our first time as an exhibitor, period. The show floor was incredibly exciting and so many of the displays were jaw dropping. We’re talking about companies offering Build-a-Bear, bourbon tasting, and there was even one raffling a Mercedes-Benz lease!
If you are a first time exhibitor, and your budget can afford to give away luxury cars or expensive liquor, good for you! But this article isn’t really for you. On the other hand, if your marketing budget has a single comma, you should keep reading.
When I signed up Association Studios to be a first time event exhibitor at the ASAE conference in Salt Lake City, I wasn’t entirely sure how to actually set up my booth or even what should be in my booth. I looked on the internet and tried to find some answers about standard practices, booth setup, collateral I should print and bring, and everything else that came to mind.
I had lots of questions but there were few answers.
My first mistake was with collateral. I knew it made sense to leave something with the prospect, but how much do you have made? I was about to learn that all of my instincts on the matter were so, so wrong.
When we first started planning for the expo, I imagined hundreds, even thousands of people walking by our booth, stopping by for information about our services. I got my team to work and we created an amazing magazine-style brochure, with thick glossy pages and high-resolution, beautiful pictures. We got it all ready to print and I was going to pay for a few hundred copies. It was going to be expensive but worth it I thought.
Thankfully, a friend of mine and I were talking before I called the printer. I told him about my brochure, bragging a little about how nice it looked, and he immediately took the wind out of my sails. He told me I’d be wasting money by using such a nice brochure.
This didn’t make sense to me. Why wouldn’t you want to put your best foot forward? He said that a piece printed on nice paper is heavy, and conference goers get lots of collateral just like that, so they would be more likely to throw it away to shed the weight then to keep it. He recommended that we still print some copies, but plan to send them to the leads we get at the show instead.
Tip #1: Don’t print collateral for the show that’s big, heavy, and expensive. The ROI isn’t there.
He recommended that we use a postcard to hand out at the show, which made a lot of sense to me once he explained it. I took his advice and then promptly made my next mistake. In my head, I was still picturing thousands of people walking by our booth, each one taking a postcard, so I had 1500 post cards printed up. It seemed like a good amount if you don’t want to run out. What I mean is, you would rather have too many than too few. Well, we ended up giving out fewer than 100. We had to learn the hard way that not everyone who passes by a booth wants a postcard, no matter how much I smiled and engaged them! Our case carrying the postcards on the way to the event weighed 50 lbs, on the way back it also weighed 50 lbs. I guess now we have lots of extra postcards to send to clients.
Tip #2: Don’t print a ton of collateral, it’s expensive to ship home.
Once our collateral was set, we had to think about the booth design and setup. I naively assumed that all booths and displays were the same, but looked up some experts just to check.
I called up a company called Impact Displays and talked to a consultant named Chris Morita. Thankfully Chris is a true consultant and gave me the right advice to make our display a success. I could have dangerously gone with someone else and it would have been a disaster as a result. He doesn’t know I’m doing this, there’s no affiliation here, but if this is your first time, give Chris a call, he’ll make sure you know exactly what you need to setup a successful booth.
Tip #3: Call Chris Morita at Impact Displays to help set up your booth.
Next, since we are a video production company I needed a way to showcase our videos in the best way possible. I bought a 65-inch TV, which was about $2000, and only then looked into how much shipping a TV costs. It was almost as much as the TV. Deflated, I looked into renting a unit from the event, hoping it was cheaper.
It was, but not by much.
They wanted $2800 for a 40-inch monitor and stand, just for the weekend! Instead of paying that fee, our sales director John went to Best Buy and found a great deal on a 50-inch TV for just $400. I figured we could raffle it off at the end of the event and I still didn’t pay as much as the event TV rental.
Here’s the thing with national conferences and raffling larger items; no one wants to pay for shipping. Unless they live locally, the cost of shipping a TV usually outweighs the cost of the TV itself. Turns out we couldn’t even give the TV away and ended up shipping it back with us, at great expense, and now we have two new TVs that I never want to ship anywhere again.
Tip #4: Trade show rentals seem expensive, but they just might be worth it. Trust me.
When we setup our booth walked around the event space before the show started, we noticed that it’s split up between the hotels/visitors’ bureaus, and tech and services. Seeing the size of the other booths, and expense that goes into a huge booth space made us all a little nervous. Did we spend enough? Did we bring enough postcards? Should I have sprung for the magazine brochures? When you realize that you are competing with million dollar budgets, you start to worry.
But, after the first day I wasn’t worried about their huge budgets anymore, all thanks to the barcode scanners.
One expense that no one tells you about ahead of time is the need to pay for a special barcode scanner app that you download to your smartphone. The app costs $275, $100 for each additional phone, and you use this app to scan the barcodes on attendee’s name badges. It’s annoyingly expensive but the benefits are worth the cost. When you scan a barcode, you get access to all the attendee’s information and the information the event collects on the association as well.
By the end of the first day we had scanned 40 badges, which I thought was a decent but not an amazing amount of good leads. We talked to some exhibitors from a larger space down the way that was four times our size, had about a dozen employees working the booth, and a much larger marketing budget than ours. They only scanned 160 people, and I don’t think all those leads were as qualified as ours. They had a giveaway and loads of people were scanning their codes just to get in on the giveaway, not because they were interested in the company’s services.
We may have had a low number of scans but I would rather have a smaller number of qualified leads than hundreds of people who just want free stuff.
Tip #5: Don’t worry about the big guys, stick to your game plan and you will do just fine.
The next article will go beyond the practical tips and delve into perhaps the most important question; was it worth all the hassle and expense. My answer might surprise you.