Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 02 2012

Exhibits Are Not Just About What's New

David McMillin

October 02, 2012

Despite some struggles to increase attendance across the industry, the latest report from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reveals that your attendees and your exhibitors still want to come together face-to-face. However, buyers and sellers also need a compelling reason to invest in show participation, and those personal encounters rely on one crucial component: the future.

"Trade shows should always be about what's happening in the next 12 months and preparing attendees for the next year," Mary Pat Heftman, executive vice president, convention at National Restaurant Association, says.

"As show organizers, we are really in business with the attendee," Heftman adds. "You have to make the promise to your attendees about the value that they'll receive by participating."

Participants at the PCMA Exhibits Manager Think Tank, held on August 29th in Chicago, debated how to make good on that promise. Whether you host a trade show or you have an exhibit hall at your annual educational meeting, here are three recommendations to demonstrate value while creating more opportunities for your exhibitors.

1) Before the Show: New Product Previews

Arm your meeting marketing materials with a spotlight of the never-before-seen products and services that will be on your show floor.

As attendees receive your communications, you'll help foster a feeling that they can't afford to miss these products. Add a dedicated area on your website that includes images, profiles of product debuts and interviews with exhibiting companies about why their product is revolutionary. Use Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts to draw even more attention to these tools.

Across all of your messaging, be sure to educate your prospective attendees that your show is the place to turn to navigate their changing needs. Your exhibitors will appreciate the additional online presence and brand awareness, too.

2) During the Show: Exhibits in Action

Of course, your attendees want to do more than see - - they want to experience these new tools and technologies to understand how they may benefit their organizations.

While some of your exhibitors may already be conducting product demonstrations, analyze your exhibit floor to determine how to create more opportunities for your attendees to actually use these products. Transform your exhibit hall from a "first-hand viewing" to "hands-on doing" area. At the 2012 NRA Convention, Heftman invited big-name culinary experts such as Rick Bayless and Mike Isabella to the show for live learning demonstrations.

Outside of what's directly in front of attendees, consider the digital space. If you're working on a mobile app for your convention, be creative about brainstorming ways to continue that product interaction after they leave the hall. Can attendees scan a bar code or QR code to unlock another capability from a product? Can they easily download product specs or pricing information rather than carry another handout?

3) After the Show: Innovation Awards

To continue the conversation about those product debuts and extend the life of your show, consider highlighting the most forward-thinking products with some type of innovation award.

Invite experts to vote for category winners, and announce the recipients in your post-meeting marketing. You'll help distinguish certain companies and encourage non-award winners to enter their emerging products in next year's competition. You may even create additional leads for your exhibitors by inspiring non-attendees to learn more about these products. 

Looking for more useful advice for your next show? Learn how to adjust your exhibitors' expectations in more coverage from the Exhibits Manager Think Tank.

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