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Make the most of exhibiting at industry trade shows

News International-French

6 Apr 2011

Exhibiting at an industry trade show or fair is an excellent way to reach a large number of potential new customers and to strengthen relationships with existing customers, distributors or dealers. In today’s business environment, they also represent significant investments of time and money, the two most precious resources at any company, large or small.

(Published on January - February 2008 – JEC Magazine #38)




Gone are the days when companies could afford to simply show up at an event, stand around in the stand (booth) for three days talking to colleagues and head for the airport. Senior management expects a return on investment (ROI) for what can be hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for a single show.


As soon as you sign up for stand space at a trade fair, you should outline the goals you want to accomplish by exhibiting. The goals can be very specific metrics such as new business leads generated, as general as reinforcing the company’s image, or a combination. Build your specific plans for the show around these goals.


Communicating with attendees

Your stand is the main vehicle for communicating with show attendees. For the 3-4 days at each show, it is your place of business. Treat it with the same respect you would your corporate headquarters, large or small. When designing your exhibit, make sure your company name and logo are featured prominently and will be visible from all approaches in the hall. If possible, ensure that your logo receives special lighting to focus attention on it.


Keep graphics simple

The graphics you use in a stand are your on-site product and image advertising. They also show attendees what products/services you are promoting. In all aspects of marketing communications, it is imperative that a company says what it does (ads, website, literature, trade fairs).


The “Say What You Do” mantra is extremely important at a trade show. If you make resins or reinforcements, spray guns or software, make sure that a casual glance at your stand will quickly let attendees know what you’re selling.


More Information...
Phil Bridges has organized major trade show exhibits in the composites and other industries in North America, Brazil and Europe, including the JEC Composites Show.


His company, MATRIX MarCom, provides a full range of marketing communications services with a specific focus on the composites industry.


Never assume that everyone knows who you are and what you do. Say What You Do.


The graphics that you use in your stand should be simple and easy to comprehend. Using a header such as “SMC Solutions” at the top of a graphic promoting SMC products can catch the eye of attendees interested in SMC. A header of “High-Speed Pultrusion Resin” may pique the interest of a pultruder searching for a way to increase line speeds. The body of your graphics should be brief bullet points to communicate the main features and benefits of the products/services you’re promoting. Think of trade show graphics as “billboards” along a highway. Attendees at a show such as CCE, ICERP, SAMPE, JEC Composites or Composites & Polycon don’t have time to read long paragraphs of text on booth after booth.



Send your best people

With the high costs of travel, most companies can afford to send only a select number of employees to each show. Choose wisely when deciding who you’ll send. Don’t use show attendance as a reward (or a punishment).


Send the people you believe will provide the most value over the time spent at the show, not simply for customer meetings. Select people who can and will communicate with visitors to your stand, answering their questions and listening to their concerns. Send staff who understand your company’s goals for the show and will actively work to achieve them. Before each show, make sure you provide your staff with a training session to cover the goals of the show and to reinforce what is expected of each person “working” your booth. This meeting should be led by senior management to reinforce the importance and seriousness of performing well and meeting your show goals.


Capture leads and follow up

All major trade fairs employ attendee badges which can be scanned, to facilitate “lead generation.” Make it a priority for all of your staff that they scan the badge of every person who enters your booth. If your scanner provides a print-out of each record, make sure your staff always includes a hand-written note about the person’s interests and reasons for visiting your booth so you can follow-up on the lead after the show. The person who makes contact should record their name on the print-out as well.


After the show, make sure you follow up with all of your leads. Whether you do it by location, area of interest or other factors, assign each lead to be followed up by a specific person at your company. A good rule of thumb is to e-mail all of your contacts a week after the show concludes and to make personal calls within three weeks. The sooner you reach them, the greater their interest level in your company is likely to be. The leads you generate at a trade show can be pure gold, or dusty coal, depending on how proactive you are with them.


Choose CDs over printed material

Be selective in the type and amount of literature you take to a show. Attendees don’t have a lot of space to take a great deal of printed material home with them. Make hard copies of your product selectors or catalogues available in the booth, but don’t ship skids of brochures to the show. Research shows that 80+% of literature collected at trade shows never makes it back to attendees’ offices. Instead of mountains of printed material, consider distributing mini- CDs to all show attendees. A single, three-inch CD can hold a great deal of information ranging from company background and contact information to product selectors, catalogues, newsletters, case histories, technical papers and video.


Use multi-media

When exhibiting at a show, you are competing with all other exhibitors for attendees’ attention. People are naturally interested in moving images over static ones, so try to include video demonstrating your products in use or the products they go into. If you are a fabricator, show your manufacturing process, and be sure to include the final, finished product as well, the “beauty shot.”


Suppliers should include footage of customers using their materials to create a composite end-product. Footage of autos, boats, etc. in action can be used to illustrate the performance of your products, and to compare part profiles/surfaces. Video, animation or PowerPoint presentations should be limited to five minutes at the most. Attendees have a lot of ground to cover, so your message must be targeted and concise.


On-site guides are critical

A simple, but critical area that is often overlooked by exhibitors is the on-site guide or programme for each show. This is the guide used by attendees at the show to determine which stands they will visit. Your profile listing is often limited to 50-100 words, so you must be direct. Again, “Saying What You Do” is a must. It is advisable that the first line of this profile should include what you do. An example would be “ACME SMC, global producer of sheet moulding compound for transportation applications.” You can include your corporate tag line and other information after the opening, but make sure your core focus is clearly understood.



Presenting a positive image of your company at a trade show is always important, but maximizing your ROI depends on the amount of work you put into your presence.


The more you plan and train, the greater your return will be from exhibiting. By establishing goals and employing certain tactics to reach these goals, the investment you make in exhibiting at a show can yield remarkable results.