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6 Steps To Restarting Your Trade Show Program

restart your trade show program

It’s been two years since economic turmoil spooked your management and they shut down or pulled back your trade show program to conserve cash.  But things are different now.  The economy is looking up, shows are getting more attendees, and exhibitors are reporting increasing numbers of interested prospects visiting their trade show displays.

That resurgence has you itching to get back into trade shows, to get face-to-face with hundreds, even thousands of prospects.  And since those prospects are also getting their budgets unfrozen, they’re eager to meet you, too.

But before you jump back in, don’t just dust off your 2008 plan.  So much has happened since then to your customers, and in your company, your trade shows, your industry, and the economy.  Instead, get a clean sheet of paper, grab a pencil, and consider these 6 points:

1.  Revised Marketing Objectives
Check to see if the marketing objectives that drove your old trade show program are still appropriate.  Are your marketing goals now focused on retaining clients, or were your clients so disproportionately hurt by the downturn that you’re targeting new customers now?  Do you have to build distribution or increase awareness in a stronger market you’re now expanding into?  Do you lack new products ready to launch, so you’ve got to take a different tack in your trade show booth?  If any of this rings true with you, go back to square one.  Huddle with your management team and determine your revamped goals for exhibiting, so you can adjust the rest of your trade show program.

2.  Revamped Trade Show Selection
While adjusting to the downturn, your company may have remade itself.  It could have retreated to its core market, or shifted its resources to focus on the stronger remaining markets.  Thus, some shows on your old schedule are unnecessary, and perhaps some new shows should be sought out.  Plus, the downturn affected show owners unequally.  You need to determine which shows are still strong, and have the resources to invest in bringing in and engaging attendees.  Also consider which shows you will choose if your budget is only partially restored.  And finally, if you are in the United States, consider trying more international trade shows, because emerging markets are growing twice as fast as the U.S.

3.  Reshaped Budget
Is your trade show budget completely restored, or only partially?  Even if you get it all back, you may wish to adjust how it’s spent based on the shows you keep and add, the size booth you need to meet your marketing goals, how beat-up or off-message your current trade show exhibit is, and how you’ll invest in promotions in this new era of social media.  And while you may be asked to bring fewer booth staffers, remember that you simply can’t take as many leads without the booth staffers to take them.

4.  Reinvigorated Exhibit Design
Based on your updated marketing objectives, recalibrated show selection, and revised budget, you may need to change your booth’s size, its marketing message, and even its shape (so its architecture better supports your new goals).  So pulling your old trade show display off the shelf may be counter-productive.  It might be time to look at getting a new trade show exhibit that better represents the new company you have evolved into. 

5.  Rebuilt Booth Staffing
Take a look at the desks around yours.  Is the entire crack team of booth staffers you once took to trade shows still intact?  Or were some of your best booth staffers “right sized” right out the door?  If so, you need to go on a recruiting mission to rebuild your team.  Your best bet?  Ask your remaining ace veterans who they’d choose.  They’ll know the like-minded candidates who have the right attitude, knowledge, and work ethic to best represent you on the show floor.

6. Reshaped Promotions
In the last two years, social media has reshaped the marketing world.  To what extent social media has taken hold in your target market will guide how much you need to shift your promotional activity into social media.  You may find you can get the same results reaching out to show attendees via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn than you can with emails, directory ads, and post card mailers.  You won’t know until you try. 

As marketers, we are not living in the same world we had before the downturn.  So you can’t go back to the same old trade show program you used to run.  I hope this gives you some ideas on how to not only restart, but even revitalize your trade show program as well.

What's Working In Exhibiting White PaperGet more ideas on restarting your trade show program from the 32-page white paper, What’s Working In Exhibiting.  This free report shares insights from exhibitors on how they’ve increased results and stretched their budgets.  Click here now to get your own copy.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

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