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Ready To Say “No” To A Free Booth Staffer?

Why would you say no to free?  If the following scenario is happening to you, you should.

Every year you have a show in the same distant city, and every year your boss says, “Use old such-and-such from the local office as a booth staffer.  That way we don’t have to pay for airfare and hotel to send someone from here.”

At first you thought it was a good idea, too — a way to save about a thousand dollars.  But after a couple of years, you’ve realized that old such-and-such is actually a horrible trade show booth staffer.   How horrible?

  • He hides inside the booth and doesn’t try to engage attendees
  • He’s got a negative attitude, is unapproachable and unwelcoming
  • He’s got poor product knowledge
  • He spends all his time talking (and complaining) to your other booth staffers, tying them up, too
  • He gets a fraction of the leads of other booth staffers
  • He doesn’t write notes on the lead cards from the few conversations he gets

Unfortunately, your boss hasn’t figured out the problem yet, and won’t unless you tell her.  To get the best staff that you need, you’ll have to point out to your boss the true cost of this “free” staffer, and make the case for spending the extra money to get a worthwhile staffer instead.

The hidden cost of a poor performing trade show booth staffer

While you saved on airfare and hotel, you have other, bigger costs you’ve now incurred:

  • You miss out on potentially dozens of leads, and the sales from those leads, that a better booth staffer would get.
  • Attendees who do talk to the poor booth staffer will form a poorer opinion of your company
  • Other booth staffers will be dragged down by the bad booth staffer’s attitude, and they will in turn get fewer leads

The average cost of a trade show lead is $212, according to  If that poor performing booth staffer only took about 5 leads at that show each of the past two year, but your average staffers are getting about 25 (my guesstimates based on experience, yours may vary), you can make the case to your boss that a better staffer would add $4,240 in value to your marketing.  Here’s how:  25-5=20 leads, times $212 cost per lead, equals $4,240 in extra value.   That’s over 4 times more value, by spending the $1,000 to “ship” a proven booth staffer there.

If there is no one else on your staff available to replace him, consider hiring a local trade show host or hostess (a professionally dressed, self-motivated oasis of sunshine).  If you’re concerned they don’t know enough about your products, you can train them enough to engage visitors, and then they’ll feed the rest of your booth staff with more leads.  They may even live in the show city and not require travel expenses, and end up costing you less than paying for your own staffer’s travel expenses.

So be willing to say no to a “free” booth staffer if he can’t get the job done.  Only bring booth staffers who are up to the task, even if that means paying more to get them there.  You’ll get more leads, your ROI will improve, your other booth staffers will do better, and you’ll present a better image for your company.

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.

5 responses to “Ready To Say “No” To A Free Booth Staffer?

  1. I completely agree with what you say, Mike.

    There is no better way to ruin a trade show experience than to have the wrong staffers in your booth. They are the people who “make it or break it!” All the money in the world cannot make up for a lack of excitement, dedication, knowledge, or desire to succeed within the people that are standing in your booth and promoting your company. If they are not welcoming and ready to engage the attendees of a show, the attendees (i.e. potential customers) will just walk on by the booth. Talk about missed opportunity!

    I also agree with your recommendation to hire outside talent to supplement your company employees, although these individuals have to be held accountable for the same level of dedication and success, if not more than, your company employees. Thorough screening must be done before hiring anyone from outside the company, or else you just have another bad booth staffer. An experienced, results driven trade show professional will make a huge difference in the success of your trade show strategy, just as an inexperienced, cheap, lazy, or not bright person will be a waste of money, if not detrimental to your booth.

    1. Emilie,

      Thanks for expanding on the peril exhibitors face from a brand and image perspective when they bring sub-standard booth staffers to the show. It’s truly a lost opportunity. And you raise a good point about also screening your hired booth staffers. They are not all created equal, either.

  2. Mike,
    Having the right talent in your booth is crucial. Do not over look the opportunities in these tough economic times to utilize some extremely talented people who have been placed on the side lines and could benefit both your budget conscious boss and give these talented people a chance to shine and a great networking opportunity. Bottom line: Free or not screen, screen and screen again.

  3. Great article, Mike.

    With the expense required to exhibit at a convention or trade show these days, I can understand why a company would want to “save money” by sending a free staffer (or so-and-so’s niece who has no training/interest but could be paid minimum wage, etc). Unfortunately, as you’ve mentioned, many companies don’t know that this is actually costing them more – especially when those staffers aren’t directly monitored, it’s easier to blame the economy or something else for low return on investment.

    I hope your discussion of dollars and cents will inspire companies to reevaluate their current practices. Whether it’s better pre-show training for current staff, selecting a competent addition for the team, or at least some thorough post-show evaluation, as others have said, an improvement in staffing can make all of the difference in a company’s bottom line.

    1. Thanks, Robyn. What a thought, sending someone’s unprepared and unmotivated niece to represent a company she doesn’t even work for! By just focusing on cost, cost, cost and defaulting to the cheapest staffer they can, a company would sabotage all the other trade show marketing efforts.

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