Monday, August 25, 2008

Walking a Show

"Walking a show" means just that: you are going to visit a trade show to learn more about it before you choose to exhibit. The idea is that if you get a feel for it by being there you will more than likely understand and make a better judgment of its value to your company than by just reading the contract or prospectus.

Learning about a show is not just knowing how much it's going to cost you in terms of space and expense to set up your exhibit and bring your staff there. It's about the environment. You should take the time to buy an airfare and a badge for the show floor because you want to learn:

  • Who attends the show
  • What's the flow on the show floor
  • Who the players are--big and small
  • Whether your competitors and partners are there
  • How the organizer handles things
Who attends? Are they mostly buyers or sellers? You can tell by badge color (pick up a show guide to find what colors mean what designation) who is an exhibitor, a buyer or a vendor. Do a quick analysis by counting badges as you walk the floor.

What's the flow? How does traffice move on the floor--to the right or left as they enter the hall? Is there more than one entrance to the show hall? Where are food concessions and restrooms? Is there meeting space in the hall or nearby in case you need to have a meeting outside your booth? Are the larges booths at the front and the smallest at the back--or do they intersperse the exhibits by size? Are there height limits to the exhibits? Can you have a hanging sign? Are there dead spots on the floor? Are you allowed to have more than one exhibit space? Can you have a cross-aisle exhibit? Is there a separate product showcase or demonstration area?

Who are the big players and the small players? Are the big players in the largest booths all positioned by the front entrance? Or do they choose to use the perimeter or sides of the hall? Are they also your competitors? Do they buy ad space in the hall, the show daily and the trade publications associated with the show? Where are the smaller booths? Are they small exhibitors but giants in the industry?

Partners and competitors. Which of yours are there? How big a presence do they have? Do they also hold receptions or have hospitality suites? Are they demonstrating in the separate demo area (if there is one)? Do you know anyone in their booths? Can you talk with them and ask about the show?

How does the organizer handle exhibitors? Is there a buzz on the floor about how good (or bad) things are going? Do they do things to help first-time exhibitors feel welcome or promote the show for them? Are they accessible (that is, are they out, active on the show floor or locked up in the show office)? Where is the show office in relation to the show floor? Is there separate meeting space? Is there a press room? How is space allocated and/or chosen? When are deposits due? What is the refund policy? Be sure to meet your show contact. Two of the more memorable show contacts to me are Allison Daniels at NACS and Shannon Burch at ASIS. Very good with their clients and understand what is going on on the show floor.

This should get you started.

Lesson learned: Know a show well before committing to it--cost is not always in dollars.