• The Best Trade Show Promotions

    POSTED June 21, 2013

    Stand out from the crowd with these trade show promotions!

Have you ever walked by a pink panther or purple zebra at a trade show and thought, "What a great promotion?" Before you get too excited, ask yourself if you remember what the brand was. Anything coming to mind? Probably not, unless there was something else that grabbed your attention- something related to the product or service that was offered. No matter how cool a promotion may be, if it doesn’t connect you back to the booth’s purpose, it just doesn’t work.

Consistent Brand Strategy
"Strategy comes first," says Peggy Swords, president of Excalibur Exhibits, a Houston-based trade show and event marketing firm. "Promo items come second. What do you want to accomplish at the event? Define your objectives first, so that your promo item supports your theme versus the other way around."

>> For example, one client- a natural products ingredient manufacturer- needed to introduce a new line of sweeteners to food scientists at major food manufacturing companies. In an effort to consistently brand the product’s tagline, "The Natural Way to Do Sweet," the booth was designed to look like a farmers market with wooden fruit crates as display backdrops. The giveaway items were inexpensive, from matchbook-sized folders of sweeteners to 12-inch by 12-inch sample boxes of products so attendees could experiment with their own recipes. On-site chefs offered custom-created recipe cards. "With this multi-tier approach, the company reached almost everyone at the show without investing a huge amount in promotional products," Swords says. >>

Sometimes, however, the strategy has less to do with a recognizable brand and everything to do with getting noticed. Steve Bailey, Imagecraft Exhibits marketing director, recalls a booth created for a local company called SpineSmith. The company was relatively unknown, but wanted to incite curiosity and get people to stay in the booth long enough to learn about the business. Austin-based Imagecraft created a "black box" booth that kept all the company’s promotional materials out of view- unless attendees walked inside.

Target Promotions to Your Desired Audience
"Select your promo item based on relevance to the target audience. While an engineer will love your Swiss Army knife tool, a food blogger may not," Swords says. "Let your audience demographics drive your selection process. No matter who the audience is, promotional items should be useful, unique and current."

At the 2012 Offshore Technology Conference, for example, the target audience included engineers, drilling contractors, pipeline operators and related vendors. "Highly technical prospects," says Swords, "so an iPhone holder was a useful and branded promotion the prospect would keep on his or her desk, raising visibility. And, because of the quantity ordered, the price point per piece was around $1 each."

Always Capture Information
A fishbowl where visitors toss in business cards is a more useful promotional tool than any promotional item that doesn’t require interaction with a salesperson. Kim O’Quinn, president of Storyteller Communications, recalls being at a convention where a vendor was giving out hair-care products, but neglected to collect any information from attendees. The vendor couldn’t follow up with anyone who grabbed a product because the booth was left unmanned.

Simple entry slips that garner attendee information, from titles and telephone numbers to emails and interests, can be used for giveaways such as an iPod or iPad. The money paid for a hot tech product could be less than 500 keychains, says O’Quinn, yet it provides an incentive that allows a company to capture information.

O’Quinn finds interactive kiosks highly effective in educating trade-show-goers, as well as in capturing information. Companies can add their own software; kiosks generally run anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 and are available for either rental or purchase.

Tier Giveaways Based on Relevance
"Hot prospects get one promotional item. Tire-kickers get another," says Swords. "Let the value of the potential business prospect determine the value of the incentive item. Keep the high-value item locked up and safe."

>> Example: A pipeline company is targeting engineers at major producers. Targeted prospects are identified prior to the show and invited via email, phone and direct mail to come by the booth. Those prospects receive a personalized leather portfolio or computer bag. The other guests who stop by the booth, complete a survey and watch a demo receive a leather iPhone stand. The lower priced incentive is still a desired item, but not as expensive as a custom piece tailored to an individual prospect.>>

"The process for distribution needs to be clearly conveyed to all booth staff prior to the event," Swords says. Most importantly, everyone who received a promotional item had interaction with a member of the sales team.

"The goal is to encourage interaction between booth staffer and prospect. Qualify attendees by requiring an action in return for receiving the item," Swords says. "They earn the item in return for providing contact information, opting in to your newsletter or watching a demo. Promo items are a reward, not a right. Plus, prospects will place a higher value on an item they have to earn."

If entertainment is part of the booth, money is best spent on workshop or teaching opportunities, adds Bailey. After you provide information on the product, the information capture can take place. The important thing is that people stay in the booth longer and require quality interaction.

Evaluate the Total Cost of an Item
"When selecting a promotional item, be sure to consider the entire cost of the item," Swords says. "Artwork design, setup costs, printing and shipping all should be factored into the final budget."

>> Consider the actual cost of a seemingly inexpensive premium: A tote bag is priced at $1.46 each for a 450 quantity. In addition to the $657 price, if you look closely, you will also find a $75 debossing charge. If you want two colors in the logo, add another $75. If you want the logo in more than one place, add another $1 per piece. A shipping charge may be assessed, depending on the vendor, and is based either on weight or speed. >>

"The original $657 price could easily top $1,000," Swords adds. "Then you need to decide whether $1,000 is worth the potential exposure."

Watch Out for Money Wasters
"Don’t buy cheap items just to have something to give away. Cheap pens and water bottles that leak will reflect badly upon you, not the manufacturer," Swords says. "Quality always wins out over quantity." You never want to be the company remembered for causing an ink-stained shirt from a leaky pen.

"Remember that humor is not universal," she says. "Just because you think something is funny or witty, doesn’t mean your target audience will. It’s always best to play it safe with products meant to be humorous."

Anything remotely offensive will never be displayed in an office, Bailey says. Then it’s thrown away and you’ve lost value in your promotion, he says.

An easy way to waste money on a promotion is to give out a promotional product that doesn’t contain product information. "Make sure company contact information is clearly visible on promotional items, especially social media addresses," says Swords.

Always remember that your goal is to create an image for your product that drives potential clients toward you. If the promotion doesn’t do that, it’s not worth it- regardless of cost.

The key to maximizing success (and limiting risk) is for marketers to better understand how their audiovisual team works. 

It is almost event day. You are excited, but you are also stressed.

You have spent the last few months preparing for your live stream: that big product launch, quarterly Town Hall, or video conference that your boss needs to go well. Your marketing and communications teams have been working hard, and everything appears ready.


Located smack dab in the middle of Dallas and Fort Worth, less than a three-hour flight from either the West or East Coasts, is the city of Irving.


In 1927, Hilton Hotels’ founder Conrad Hilton said, "Abilene, Texas, will be well prepared to handle large conventions and please the most fastidious visitor." Nearly 95 years later, Abilene has fulfilled this vision and is excited to welcome back the Hilton family of hotels in the heart of downtown Abilene with a recently announced DoubleTree by Hilton.