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Best of NAMA 2023

It’s an age-old problem. Seated around a conference table, you contemplate how you’ll make your trade show booth worth the thousands of dollars you’re likely to spend on a show. Surely the Europeans who started the trade show tradition thousands of years ago faced a similar dilemma of how to get people to a booth.


Four kiosks, including one that offered beef samples, tied into the theme of "Everyday Hero" at the NCBA booth at the 1999 American Dietetic Association show, attracting 3,100 visitors.
The foundation for success begins long before the show’s opening. Sharlet Teigen, owner of S.R. Brown Marketing Communications, Camp Crook, S.D., coordinates the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association booth at the American Dietetic Association convention. She says an elaborate booth isn’t necessarily needed. "A message that appeals to the audience can mean more than all the elaborate graphics and giveaways," she says.

"You need to look at your booth as an investment," she continues. "If you use cheap graphics and signs, that’s a turnoff. You don’t want your audience to say, ‘Did they go behind the barn and stencil that out? Is that all I mean to them?’"

Equally important is researching your customer. Barbara Charlet, international market development coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture in Oklahoma City, says, "When you go to a foreign country for a show, you should already know who the major importers, distributors or buyers for your product are and who would be your competition." She adds that you should contact your target audience, inform them of your booth number and arrange a visit.

"I’m noticing people seem to look for specific products and I’m not convinced they are attracted to our booth over the next," she says.

Pre-show marketing must be specific, direct and timely, says Raymond Carrington, exhibits manager for New Holland North America Inc., New Holland, Penn. His efforts range from promoting the show’s theme to highlighting products to potential attendees through direct mail. For example, the company mailed 13,500 invitations to area farmers for a 1998 Farm Progress show. If farmers tried a Genesis tractor, they received a stadium blanket.


"Merely hoping customers will come to you just doesn’t work," Carrington says. "You have to entice them to your site. Give people a reason to walk in and look around. We give them something to go home and talk about, and perhaps, a reason to visit their New Holland dealer."

After initiating a Ride and Drive tractor event in the late 1980s when market share was low, booth traffic increased incredibly. In this event, visitors test-drive products on a course designed to highlight new features. "We determined it was a great way to get competitive users into the seat of a New Holland tractor without the usual sales pressure. We believed when a prospective customer sat in the seat and actually drove our tractors, they would be significantly impressed to follow up with their local dealer."

He says the company’s Skid Steer Rodeo also is a big hit, attracting 800 to 1,000 people daily. The rodeo puts New Holland skid steer loaders against competitors. "It can cause people to do crazy things like pull out a checkbook and offer to purchase right on the spot or want to trade in a competitive unit they purchased a week earlier."

Teigen uses a similar philosophy from Rhea & Kaiser’s Tony Fillipi on trade shows. He says you must create an event that interests your audience no matter what size your booth.

The NCBA booth accomplished this goal. More than one-third of all ADA attendees spent time at the booth. Ten minutes after the show’s opening, more than 200 dietitians were waiting in line with a card that had been mailed two weeks before the event.

To receive a $2.53 T-shirt, the dietitians visited four areas of the booth and had the card initialed at each area. The first area sampled products and featured a meat case with branded products. The second area provided resource packets. The third kiosk connected to a conference seminar held before the show. At the seminar, people were told to visit the booth to order a free copy of an educational video kit program. The fourth area walked dietitians through the Web site. More than 98 percent of the dietitians visiting the booth also signed up to receive an electronic newsletter. Once they finished this area, they received a T-shirt. Teigen says she noticed dietitians wearing the shirts in the hotel workout room shortly after they received them.

On-site promotion can pay off. In 1998, NCBA used door drops at the ADA show. Carefully used humor tied in the show’s Kansas City location with beef. "Imagine you’re a dietitian and you come in from an intense meeting," Teigen visualizes. "Under your door is a flier that says, ‘Wanna strip?’" She says dietitians showed up at the booth in volume to sign up for drawings for Kansas City strip steaks.

New Holland’s Raymond Carrington says that exhibits should be inviting and highlight products that are important to that region, showcasing new products and the brand.
Carrington says a special promotion is effective if tied to the product you want to promote. "One of our promotions was a drawing for a year’s use of a New Holland Genesis tractor when people asked for an instant quote on any piece of equipment."

Such utilitarian promotions are becoming more popular according to Charlet. "I would say a tremendous volume of little giveaways end up in the trash. I think probably one prize might go farther than giveaways to which 99 percent have no interest in your product," she says.

She also notices a trend away from giving literature to everyone.

Europeans rarely give out samples or giveaways, Charlet says. And she’s seeing a similar new trend for Americans. She says Europeans still attract traffic to their booths.

"Maybe they’re more aggressive out in the aisles looking for people," she says. "If you don’t plan to spend time in the booth, you’re wasting your money. The worst thing a company can do is just watch the crowd go by."

Carrington adds, "Don’t wait for customers to come to you. Go out and say hello. People manning the booth must be knowledgeable and want to help the customer with questions. Above all, smile."

NCBA uses local beef council nutritionists and other dietitians who can speak the audience’s language to work in the booth. Teigen says, "You’re connecting with the audience when they say the beef industry respects us enough to have our peers working their booth."

She says they use the Saturn philosophy to talk to visitors. Staff at the booth developed a one-minute soft-sell pitch. "It’s that good old inverted pyramid theme," she explains. "Say what’s important first and let them go."


Charlet says the most critical task is following up after the show. "Send people literature they asked for and thank you’s or call to see if there’s anything else you can do," she says.

New Holland follows up with post-show marketing reinforcing earlier advertising and the trade show message. "This creates an indelible image in the viewer’s mind and continues to strengthen the product and brand identity," Carrington says.

Trade show evaluation can be judged by quantity or quality after the show, Teigen says. "Because the dietitians had to work for it, we knew we were getting people who truly wanted what we offered. We don’t feel like we always have to talk to everybody. We want to talk to who counts.

"It’s a tough situation when your only measurement of success is how many things were given away. Did they walk away thinking that all we wanted to do was cram this cheap key chain in their hand and say hi and bye? Or did they walk away thinking: ‘These guys are a class act. These are the type of people I want my business to be associated with.’" AM

Lisa Bryant, owner of The Cowboy Connection, is a communications consultant in Oklahoma City, Okla.

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