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Trade Show Tips for Startups

By October 6, 2016March 30th, 2017Guide to PR, Tradeshow

This blog post is part of “The Ultimate Guide to Public Relations” blog series.

Exhibiting at a trade show for a new company is a little like launching a new company’s website. How do you reach people that don’t know you’re there? Also like a website, exhibiting at a trade show is all about generating traffic, leads, and sales. Here are some tips for how to grow all three, even when you’re new.

  1. Start early. The time to generate traffic is before the show, especially when you’re new and few attendees will be looking for you. Most events allow exhibitors to email to opt-in lists of attendees, either for free or for a fee. Even it if it costs some money to email attendees, it’s probably the best marketing investment you can make at a show. Reach out to people with a clear message about what you do and who it benefits, an invitation to your booth, and some preview of what they will find there.
  2. Go small. Don’t expect to make a big splash at a show like CES unless you have a really big budget (most startups don’t). Not only will you be dwarfed by the other exhibitors, you’ll likely be stuck in a poor location because trade show space is allocated based on seniority. Pick an event that is narrowly targeted to your ideal customers, whether an industry, technology, or geographical location. If you make medical devices, for example, don’t start with large healthcare trade shows, where medical devices are a small subset of the industry.
  3. Keep it short and sweet. Keep your message on your display direct and brief. Large, established companies can have more opaque messages, because most attendees already knows who they are. GE, for example, can say “Imagination at Work.” That doesn’t mean anything coming from an unknown company. “Cash for Gift Cards,” on the other and, tells any passer-by both what you do and the value you deliver.
  4. Use your shirts. One low-cost way to generate some buzz and traffic is by having multiple employees at a show wearing company shirts that echo the booth message. It can give the impression that your company is “everywhere” at the show and generate traffic. You’ll find people enter your booth and mention “I’ve seen you all over the place.”
  5. Use your booth wisely. Startups typically start with small booths, the 8 x 10 size. Depending on a show’s configuration, this can relegate you to a section of the show with rows of booths that look like a Turkish bazaar, full of hawkers trying to sell their wares. To stand out, offer some respite for the visitors. Instead of crowding your booth with literature and products, use furniture to create an inviting, more intimate vibe. This also communicates that your company can deliver the kind of personal experience large companies can’t.
  6. Giveaway value. The best way to use giveaways is to use something that both qualifies and engages visitors–something related to your business and that your target audience would likely appreciate and that will draw them into your booth. Think outside the squeezy ball. A company that makes fishing equipment might giveaway branded fishing lures. The people who will want them are probably people who fish, right? The giveaway attracts the right audience and gives them something they might actually use. An alternative giveaway strategy is to give away things that will carry your brand around the show and even back to the office–a branded water bottle, for example. Avoid things that will be dropped into a bag and given to the attendee’s children.

Even in the age of all things digital, trade shows remain a powerful marketing channel. When an entire industry or business segment gathers in one place for a few days, it can also be a cost-effective, efficient channel. For startups, the challenge is getting found, and getting found by the right people. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

This blog post is part of “The Ultimate Guide to Public Relations” blog series.