Thursday, March 17, 2011

Trade Show Sponsors Regularly Flush Money Down The Toilet

Sponsoring a conference, convention, seminar or other business gatherings is a fantastic way for a company to gain exposure, connect with prospects, visit with clients, access to industry experts, and showcase their products and services.

Often these sponsorships include a booth on the trade show floor, or in the networking area.  These booths are not just a fancy place to place brochures, but instead a home base which will be the first impression of your company to all in attendance.  How you present yourself 100% of the time at your booth can impact your return on investment for your sponsorship.

I am usually appalled at the raging failure that occurs when companies are sponsoring events.  The level of opportunities lost via poor trade show booth execution must be in the billions of dollars annually.  I regularly am asked to work with sales and marketing teams who are making a big investment in an industry trade show to make sure they understand the importance of how they present themselves to maximize their conference participation.  Often employees roll their eyes at the nuances that I believe cause companies to be wasting money.... but the little things matter and people are always watching (While employees roll their eyes, owners and managers nod their heads!)

I spent an hour walking the trade show floor this week at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin, Texas.  There were easily over 400 companies who had booths, and most missed out on maximizing the conference through their lack-luster presentation and booth design.

Boring does not get noticed.  Investing in a sponsorship is about more than having your name on the wall of a booth with a table of key-chains and candy bowls.  In an era when many companies have elaborate booth design, a poster and brochures just does not make the grade.

But worse that the booth's design is how the people who staff the booth present themselves.  After witnessing over a dozen company displays with nobody in their booth or people on their phones and laptops I began photographing these massive booth failures.

My intention was to post these photos on this blog, but after 40 such pictures, I began to worry about my photo essay getting someone fired.  I am not sure what it costs to have a booth at a major event like SXSW, but I assume any CEO who sees pictures of their employees at a trade show reading books, texting, typing wildly on a laptop, chatting on the phone, or nearly sleeping might not be happy.  I would never want to be the cause of someone losing their job, so I am not posting the pictures.

While many booths did have outward facing people, and some engaged in conversations with other convention attendees, only ONE booth had a person who stepped out and engaged me in a conversation that was both friendly and inviting.  I almost could not believe it after roaming nearly all the rows of booths.

His name was Paul Chambers from Quotegine.  He was amazingly friendly, and made me want to learn more about his company.  They have an interesting technology for small business that allows them to create and manage the proposal process in a way that levels the field with larger companies.  I am actually interested in learning more.

I shared my photo essay with Paul and told him he was the only person in over 400 booths who really got it right.  I wanted to tell his boss about his being a FANTASTIC employee (and worthy of a raise) but it turns out that Paul is the CEO of the company.

Interesting, huh?

This piece of information about Paul being the CEO of Quotegine and his working so hard to maximize the investment of being at the conference was not lost on me.

Some with whom I shared my photo essay did defend the booth workers by pointing out that they day before had been a busy day, and that many of the attendees might be tired.  One person said that those on laptops and phones need to keep up with work, but for decades trade shows existed without wireless access... so I don't buy that you cannot stay off the electronics for the time you are working a shift at a booth.

If your company is spending money to have a booth at a trade show, you need to raise the bar or just flush the money down the toilet.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 


thomsinger said...

Although several have requested to see the photos, I will not post them. But one involves a guy reading a book, and another is of a woman with her chair turned with her back to the isle as she reads a magazine.

Brian Sparks said...

I have both designed and staffed trade show booths, and I've seen exactly what you witnessed way too many times. I think the caliber of booth workers is probably better at higher-end, industry-specific trade shows that attract larger companies, vs. events like SXSW that probably attract a higher percentage of small, inexperienced start-ups with small budgets and fewer professional staff.

The worst is when someone hires a temp. I once worked next to a booth of a woman trying to sell her book, except she was never at the booth and hired untrained temp workers (a different one each day!) who knew nothing about the product and had zero motivation. I doubt a single product was sold. Complete waste.

A former boss of mine was militant that booth workers should NEVER sit down inside their booth, under any circumstances (much less talk on the phone, eat, drink, etc.). While I'll admit that's extremely difficult after long days standing at a long convention, it's probably the most important thing you can do to project professionalism.

Amber Fogarty said...

One of your best blogs ever! As someone who has coordinated the trade show presence for several companies over the years, I became known for my no-nonsense approach that included no:
- sitting
- chewing gum
- eating or drinking (except water and even that had to be done discreetly)
- using cell phones or laptops

Those who staffed booths with me called me names, but always recognized (and liked to talk about) other companies that broke all of my rules! I guarantee that we generated more leads than most companies at those shows because we worked hard to maximize our investment.

GREAT post that all marketing professionals need to read!

Xtreme Xhibits said...

Sponsoring a conference can be quite an undertaking, but can really make a difference in any business.