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6 Tips to Guarantee Trade Show Success

I recently had a crazy, whirlwind two days in Las Vegas.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective), it wasn’t one of those “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”-type trips.

I was there for a trade show. Several Jeneration PR clients were exhibiting at the conference, so I made the trip with my team to help gain exposure for our clients and their products.

And I noticed something interesting at this particular show: a select few brands had a very active presence—booths buzzing with potential customers and press, as well as significant social media engagement outside of the trade show floor.

Everyone at a trade show has an agenda, of course—and rightly so. Everyone’s looking to book their next client or make the next big sale.

But your objective should be even bigger.

Your company has made a big investment by participating in a trade show, so your ROI should be more than sales alone.

Here are my six tips for getting the most out of your trade show experience:

Plan Before the Show

The key to success in nearly every situation is to plan ahead, and your participating in trade shows should not be any different.

Of course, you should be analyzing your competition and reaching out to trade press to book in-person appointments, but before every show you should also consider:

  • Your overall budget: What will be the cost of your booth, booth staff, set-up, travel, meals, taxis, advertising and marketing collateral, and more?
  • Your objectives: What specifically do you want to get out of this trade show experience? Are you launching a product? Do you need sales? Or are you just looking to increase your brand’s visibility?
  • Your target audience: Who are the customers you’re looking to reach? How will you promote your trade show participation to those attending, or to other prospective and current customers?
  • Your booth display & staff training: Will you be furnishing a booth from scratch or renovating one you’ve used before? Will your staff be well-versed internal team members or a hired staff in need of message training?
  • Your advertising: How will you promote your company in the days leading up to, during, and after the trade show? Will you offer promotional products? Do you plan to garner coverage in a trade show journal?
  • Your lead generation method: How will you collect information from the prospective customers and press contacts you meet? Consider a customer intake form, business cards, and swipe machines, among other options.
  • Your follow-up: Once the buzz of the trade show floor has died down, how will you follow-up with the amazing contacts you’ve made? Prepare your follow-up method now.
Visiting with our client, Little Giraffe's VP of Sales Chris Brown at the ABC Kids Show in Las Vegas.

Visiting with our client, Little Giraffe’s VP of Sales Chris Brown at the ABC Kids Show in Las Vegas.

Promote Yourself and/or Your Company

Develop a promotional strategy that will carry consistently through all of your advertising and marketing efforts at the trade show. These are a few ideas you might consider:

  • Start with a theme that will provide added excitement and help heighten brand awareness. If you company is based in NYC, carry that vibe over to your booth to bring a bit of the Big Apple to wherever your trade show is. If your brand aesthetic is bright, fun & whimsical, create a Circus-theme and bring buyers & editors “Under the Big Top” to engage with your brand.
  • Lure attendees to your booth with “freebies”—nearly everyone loves candy, treats, and free stuff.
  • Invest in a branded tote bag that attendees can carry around the show, easily getting your logo in front of the eyes of potential customers and relevant media contacts.
  • Include your brand’s social media handles and relevant hashtags everywhere.
  • Consider keeping brand-new products behind closed doors to create an “air of mystery” and excitement. But be sure to invite important buyers and editors to get a special first-hand look at these brand-new products!

Partner Up

Chances are, your booth is set up near like-minded brands with similar target customers. So think beyond your booth—all of your biggest competitors are at this show too, likely in the booth right next to yours and likely with their eyes on you.

Instead of ignoring them, consider future collaborations, like a social media cross-promotion with your new booth buddy. Ask yourself: Who would be great strategic partners for your business?

Introduce yourself, shake hands and smile, exchange cards and follow up after the show, too! You never know when these new relationships will be valuable to you.

Provide Performers, Photos, Props, or Prizes

You can—and should—make your booth an unforgettable, interactive experience! Creating a unique experience will ensure you stand out among the crowd. Here’s how you can do it.

  • Create photo-worthy vignettes of your products and backdrops that inspire attendees to capture the mood of your space. Consider providing props in-line with your brand or theme and a specific hashtag folks can use should they choose to Instagram or tweet a photo of your set-up!
  • Host a giveaway to encourage people to come by your booth to enter—or pick up their prize.
  • Hire a performer that is aligned with your theme. Perhaps artists applying henna tattoos, or Flash Tattoos with your brand name, or airbrush artists personalizing T-shirts, tote bags & hats with your branding on them would draw a crowd.
  • Host an interactive product demo. Pull someone out of the crowd to participate, then give them your sample as a prize.
A Wall That Wowed: Jeneration PR client Piyo Piyo did it right with their stand-out, brand-specific trade show display.

A Wall That Wowed: Jeneration PR client Piyo Piyo did it right with their stand-out, brand-specific trade show display.

Prospects: Find ‘Em & Track ‘Em

Though I encourage getting more out of your trade show experience—including media coverage and future strategic partnerships—I haven’t forgotten the importance of getting sales.

And the good news is: You’ll likely get A LOT of sales leads at a trade show (especially if you follow all of my tips!).

Make sure you keep track of ‘em: every sales lead and every media lead and every partnership lead. You might think you’ll remember everyone, but I promise you that you won’t.

Tape business cards to a notebook and jot down notes immediately following every meeting: who you met, what you discussed, and how and when you need to follow up.

Don’t wait until the end of the day. Do it right then, right there. After every single meeting. Trust me on this. You won’t regret it.

Once the show is over and after your follow-up, enter these new leads into a CRM tool like Salesforce or Infusionsoft so you can keep track of these new leads and have the best chance of converting them to sales.

Press is Your Best Friend

It may not always seem like it, but members of the press are your best friends.

And trade shows are a huge opportunity to make new relationships with editors and secure great media exposure. I’ll tell you how:

  • Weeks before the show, book press appointments to ensure you have a stream of editors and bloggers stopping by your booth to see what’s new. Be sure to get their cell phone numbers too, so you can text them while they’re walking the floor!
  • Talk to editors: Find out what they’re working on right now or in the near future that might be a good fit for you.
  • Get business cards from every editor—and every person, really—that you meet at your booth. And, of course, always take notes so you remember the follow-up items for which you are responsible!
  • Engage on social media during the show! There’s likely an official trade show hashtag, so follow along to see who else is there. Engage with press (and potential customers too!) by liking and commenting on their images. Invite them to your booth (don’t forget to include your booth number!) and offer relevant takeaways: product samples, a press kit, product catalog, contact card, etc.

Post-Show Plan

Unfortunately, there’s no time to relax after the show! At least, not at first.

Once the boxes are packed, the excitement is over, and everyone heads home, most people tend to forget the follow-up.

Don’t let that be you. 

Get started on your post-show follow-up right away—follow through on everything you said you would when you said you would.

This is where your notes come in handy! Go through them and follow-up with each and every contact you met. Send a personal email or make a call about two-three days after the end of the show.

Stand out. And make the most of the time, energy, and money you spent to make these important new connections.


Trade shows are a huge financial and time commitment. They’re also a huge opportunity for brand awareness.

If you plan ahead, you can make sales, of course, but you can get even more out of the investment you made in this whirlwind experience by following my tips.

I hope you will!

How do you prepare for trade show season? Which one of the tips above will you incorporate into your next trade show trip? Let me know in the comments below!

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