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12 Trade Show and Event Promotion Mistakes to Avoid



  1. Giving away a low quality trinket. If you can only afford something that will break the second time your client uses it, save the money and buy coffee for your staff on the day of the show instead.  Another option may be to give your clients coupons for a discount on their next purchase and only give an inexpensive, but durable, giveaway to other clients such as a pen or branded post it notes.  You may not get points for originality, but it is better than being remembered as the company that had the water bottle that leaked.
  2. A drawing for something that has nothing to tie it back to your company or message. Everyone loves the tech giveaways, but they are more likely to draw everyone to your booth. This brings a potential for not reaching your target audience. Trust me, there are too many Apple Watch and iPad giveaways and they are not always relevant to the brand.  I once won an iPod.  I love it.  I can’t tell you the company that gave it to me (I feel a little bad about that). Instead create a giveaway that does tie into your branding.  For example, Skyline gave away donations to one of three charities the year we launched our “Helping the World Trade” core purpose at EXHIBITOR   While this was not related to trade shows, it did tie into our release of our core purpose of “Helping the World Trade” which in part is about sharing with our clients that we care about helping them and our communities succeed.
  3. Bringing a speaker that does not tie their presentation back to your product or service benefits or booth theme. Instead, consider having a knowledgeable speaker in your industry or someone who can help improve your customer’s productivity at work.  It is great to have someone who can draw a crowd, but they should also be able to draw the right crowd and give them a message that is relevant to your brand.  Consider an educational speaker or someone higher up in your company that can speak to your product in an entertaining way.  Another idea is to host a networking meeting for top clients and promote it via a special invitation just for them.  If your exhibit is large enough you can host it in your booth, otherwise reserve a room at a nearby restaurant after the show and spring for appetizers and their first beverage.
  4. Not having a social media hashtag for your show communications. #notleveragingyourinvestment. Make sure you include the hashtag for the trade show or event you are participating in and others for your company or relevant industry publications.  If you have a tagline for your theme, make sure to include that consistently in all your communications as well.  For example, if you are at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, you would use #CES #CES2016 @nameofyourcompany #Yourtradeshow/eventtheme
  5. Waiting until the day of the show to share that you are exhibiting at the show on social media. If you did not send anything to your followers at least four weeks before the show then they don’t have you on their radar.  You should ideally send at least 3 communications before the show via your different channels.  We recommend you focus on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.  However, depending on the nature of your product you may also want to do Pinterest.
  6. Not sharing what your message / draw is for visiting your booth well before the show starts. Make sure that your key message is consistent across all your communications: Pre-show promotion, industry advertising, event or trade show signage and publications and exhibit signage.  Do you have anything new to share?  Maybe a newer product or service?  Will you be providing demos or training in your booth?  Will there be hands on opportunities with product or face to face opportunities with key company representatives?  Whatever your key message, make sure potential attendees know about it.
  7. Poor giveaway branding. Do you think your client will use the giveaway? Is the look consistent enough with your brand that it will remind their client of what you do for them?  Are they so ugly that you hope they will not?  Make sure your branding is appropriate, legible and attractive.  Think about how long someone will hang on to the promotional piece and consider wear and tear before making your selection.  If you have a more formal brand, you would stay formal with your giveaway and messaging.  If you have a playful brand or if you are edgy, then show it.
  8. Not providing clients with a benefit statement or content that will help make their job easier or inform them why they should consider your product or service. It is surprising to see how often you get a promotional email or postcard and have a hard time figuring out what they do.   While some large companies may be able to leverage past communications and rely on their brand equity, Coca Cola for example.  In general, most companies should say what they do and their product/service or organization’s benefits.
  9. Not sending your best clients an invitation to visit your booth. You may assume that they already know about the show or that whether or not you send an invitation will not make a difference.  However, they are more likely to attend and visit you if you send them a personalized invitation.  Remember, they are busy and although they may have attended, or not, in the past you want to stay on their list of companies to consider.
  10. Not finding out client and attendee demographics to better select promotional items most relevant to them. Don’t assume that the latest popular gadget – or worse, the cheapest giveaway – should be your giveaway at your next show.  Take a moment to look at information about attendees provided by the show or information you have about your clients.  Then think about what they would appreciate when making your promotional material selection.
  11. Email promotions with bad hyperlinks, art that doesn’t display, bad redirects or high SPAM scores. Email promotions with high SPAM scores will go directly to recipient’s SPAM folders or can’t get through their firewall.  Work with your e-marketing or IT specialists to make sure your email promotions have the best chance of making it to their intended recipients.
  12. Not training your staff well before your event about what you are promoting and why. Make sure they know the overall objectives of the event.  What are your goals, target market, giveaways, who gets what and why?  I was shocked when an existing client came to our exhibit one year and told a staffer that he did not need to talk to anyone because he was already a client.  The booth staffer barely acknowledged him, turned around and moved on to the next person.  The appropriate response would have been to thank him for his business and make sure he got at least the same, or better, giveaway and messaging as new prospects.  Clearly, this staffer should have had better training.

Whatever you choose to do to draw customers to your trade show or event, be sure to always think of how it will affect your company perception in the long run, as well as your ability to get new leads.  Do you have a great way to do pre-, at- or post-show promotions?  Do you have recommendations of what not to do?  Let us know.  We would love to hear from you.

About the Author

Sofia Troutman was the Manager of Digital Marketing & Product Innovation for Skyline Exhibits in St. Paul, MInnesota.

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