When you are organizing a trade show, your primary goal might be to attract as many exhibitors and attendees as possible. But numbers alone do not guarantee success. If you have a lot of attendees, but very few of them match the target audience of your exhibitors (or offer an apt networking match), your exhibitors might not see the results they expected from your trade show.
Similarly, if the audience doesn’t find a fair number of relevant exhibitions they came for, they will be disappointed and might not attend your future trade show. Understanding this “symbiotic relationship” is just one aspect of learning how to get exhibitors for a trade show.
The first step in learning how to attract exhibitors to your trade show is to understand their perspectives. If you know why they might consider attending your trade show and what might put them off and drive them away to other trade shows and events, you can arrange/manage your trade show in a way that increases their success potential. Because their success is your success and happy exhibitors tend to become regulars.
Exhibitors attend trade shows for a wide variety of reasons, but one underlying and ever-present reason is that they wish to connect with their target audience. Trade shows and events offer businesses (exhibitors) to interact with their target audience directly and potentially build more meaningful relationships. So the presence of their target audience is one of the first things they look for in a trade show. This is easier to achieve in industry-specific trade shows where the bulk of the attendees might be the target audience. But the exhibitors will be fine even if your trade show has a diverse, varied pool of visitors, as long as they contain enough prospects.
Networking is another reason why exhibitors attend trade shows. The chance to meet and connect with their competitors, complementary businesses, and industry leaders is quite important for companies that are establishing or growing their presence.
An exhibitor might also attend a trade show simply to market something new. It might be a new product, service, new packages, etc. Some trade show exhibitors also focus on educating their customers (and peers) about their rebranding or repositioning. Either way, they can only create the maximum impact if the right audience is present.
As a show organizer, you are only partially responsible for the success of potential exhibitors in your trade show. You can offer the right environment and a good audience, but they are the ones that have to engage and connect with their target audience and put on a good show. That includes everything from well-prepared staff members attending the booth, a compelling booth design, good marketing material and approach, the right location, etc.
These are the things that get an exhibitor noticed in an exhibitor event or a trade show. What you can do, as an organizer, is offer the exhibitors support and, if needed, the right tools for the job, enhancing their potential for success. That might include:
- Efficient floor planning where all booths get adequate visibility.
- Clear directions and maps that help attendees find desired exhibitors.
- Offer packages that include fully-furnished booths (with furniture, LEDs, etc.) for exhibitors that might not be able to haul these things from regional or head offices.
- Providing venues to exhibitors that wish to conduct training sessions or educational demos for their target audience.
Understand what gets an exhibitor noticed in an exhibitor trade show, so even if you can’t provide them with the necessary tools, you may still offer them sufficient freedom and support.
Every successful strategy has both dos and don’ts. So knowing what disappoints an exhibitor and keeps them from attending is an important part of understanding how to get more exhibitors for a trade show.
Wrong Audience – Setting up a booth in a trade show can be a significant investment, and if it doesn’t help a business connect with the right audience, it can be a significant disappointment. It might happen if a trade show is clashing with another event that has diverted your audience (wrong scheduling) or if the audience is right but in the wrong mindset, i.e., more oriented towards education than promotion.
Low ROI – The wrong audience inevitably leads to low ROI, but it’s not the only thing. High costs of attending a trade show or hidden costs that an exhibitor has to suffer through after they’ve set up the booth can lead to low ROI. It might also alienate them from the organizers of future trade shows.
Mismanagement – A mismanaged trade show where the exhibitor has to spend a lot of time and resources simply to keep everything streamlined, and their focus is divided between their goals and what should be the organizer’s responsibility can be a huge disappointment.
Misleading information/stats – When exhibitors are looking for the right trade show to attend, the stats of the previous trade shows, especially related to the audience, are a key decision-making factor. If an organizer offers misleading information and stats to lure the exhibitors, it will impact the exhibitor’s performance. The organizer’s reputation will suffer a heavy blow.
Understanding what exhibitors want from a trade show and what disappoints them should give you plenty of insights on how to get exhibitors for a trade show. But there are a few other tangible steps you may have to take to attract exhibitors to your trade show.
A trade show’s and organizer’s reputation is one of the first things exhibitors look into. If it’s your first trade show, you may have to leverage your own reputation and connections to get exhibitors to attend. If it’s a recurring trade show, then the success of past shows and events (marketed the right way) can help you establish a healthy reputation that potential exhibitors might trust. Testimonials and reviews can be a great asset in reputation management.
The more data potential exhibitors have about your trade show, the better. This will help them research and make it easier for them to evaluate if your trade show is the right match. Demographic data and information regarding the past attendees is the first thing exhibitors might look into to ensure your show will have the right audience for them. Similarly, a clear and comprehensive pricing system that includes all the potential expenses exhibitors will have to take care of is important. This transparency will help exhibitors plan better and will present you in a favorable light.
The larger, more relevant the audience is, the better. That’s the key to an exhibitor’s success in your trading show, and if you can ensure it, you are likely to attract a decent number of investors. You can do that through effective marketing, offering incentives and entertainment to attendees, arranging educational sessions, scheduling the show at the right time, screening potential attendees for relevance, etc.
As a trade show organizer, you will have to market the event/trade show to both attendees and exhibitors, often at the same time. You need to make sure you don’t misrepresent or overcommit, but you will also need to provide some accurate information (like how many exhibitors will be there). The tone of your marketing needs to be different for either group. For attendees, you should create anticipation and excitement. In contrast, exhibitor marketing needs to be more data-driven.
If you can secure sponsorship from well-known names in your field, either through your professional connections or by creating an enticing sponsor package, you can lend a lot of credibility to your show. Even endorsements at the right forums can do wonders for your exhibitor and attendee numbers.
If you have already arranged some successful events in the past and have healthy relationships with some exhibitors, you can ask them to bring more exhibitors to the fold. It can either be pure word-of-mouth marketing or incentive-based motivation. You can also leverage any other industry connections you may have, including your past employers, peers, clients, etc.
This is more about getting the same exhibitors for future events and trade shows. If you offer them a compelling experience through efficient and supportive management, they are highly likely to come back again.
If you have followed the steps/tips above, you can be reasonably sure that you will meet your exhibitor targets. However, if you wish to go above and beyond to attract even more exhibitors to your trade show, there are a few things you can do.
Cast A Wider Net – Look beyond the existing, readily available circle of exhibitors. Start inviting businesses from complimenting industries (interested in the same target audience). You can also grow your geographic reach.
Offer Incentives To Out-of-town Exhibitors – Many exhibitors choose not to attend because the distance runs up the overhead costs, especially if they have to haul a lot of stuff and stay at hotels. If you can offer decent accommodations, furnished booths, and on-site marketing support, you might get a lot more exhibitors.
Go For A Larger/More Diverse Audience – A larger audience is the key to attracting a larger number of exhibitors. If you only allow industry members to attend, broaden the definition of the industry. You can also open the trade show to the public for part of the time.
Merge Digital With Physical – Holograms and virtual booths (used by remote companies) in conventional trade shows are not very common yet, but they do have the potential to help you attract a lot more potential exhibitors.
The cost to be an exhibitor at a trade show varies drastically from one show to another and is quite different for different exhibitors. It depends on a number of factors, including:
- Type of booth (In-line, Peninsula, Perimeter/Corner, Island).
- Area of the booth.
- Whether the booth is custom-made or rented.
- Furniture and flooring.
- Registration fee/cost of attending the trade show.
- Additional fees are associated with marketing and secondary spaces.
One estimate for 2022 costs associated with exhibitor trade shows is between $20 and $138 per square foot (median – $59/square foot). But there are other costs as well.
- Preparing, transporting, and setting up the booth.
- Marketing material.
- Traveling, food, and accommodation.
These costs vary based on the nature of the exhibition, proximity, exhibitor’s budget, and some other factors.
When you are focused on how to get exhibitors for a trade show, don’t forget that getting them to attend your trade show once is not enough. You need to impress them with your management and audience to ensure that they are interested in coming back for your other trade shows and events as well.
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