The Herald Bulletin

July 3, 2013

Susan Miller: Do more than just show up at trade shows

The Herald Bulletin

---- — Woody Allen famously stated that 80 percent of success in life is simply showing up. That’s just another example of how the “real world” differs from show business.

Most every employee with any tenure knows that today’s competitive workplace requires more than showing up. The same holds true for industry events, whether it’s a trade association or an industry show. Gone are the days when you can slap on a “Hello, my name is,” tag and call yourself a networker.

Attending industry shows and events is a pivotal part of building relationships and cultivating customers. However, if your participation is limited to purchasing booth space or walking the aisles, you’ll marginalize your investment.

A profitable business networking experience is about more than a decked-out exhibit or expensive promotional giveaways. Over the past decade, I’ve seen start-ups with small tabletop displays outshine exhibitors with synchronized dancers, pulsating colored fountains and beer gardens.

What transforms a trade show from three eight-hour days in a convention center into a profitable, customer-yielding marketing tool? The following tips can help you maximize your business show investment.

-- Conduct research. There is no better venue for learning about your competition and your prospects’ needs than a trade show. Concerned that you’ll be recognized checking out the competition? Hire a few interns to conduct “man on the street” surveys among attendees. This strategy yielded insights that helped a security manufacturer move from start-up to No. 1 in market share in 18 months.

-- Work the on-site media. Contact the event sponsor and ask for a list of registered media. Then call these outlets and schedule chats with them at the show. This tactic helped a Geist-area software company generate exposure on a national cable home improvement show. If no media list is available, hang out near the press or media hospitality lounge.

-- Sponsor a contest or competition. A manufacturer might stage a spectacle where visitors put your product to the test. One furnace manufacturer rigged a furnace with problems and invited certified technicians to solve the problem in the least amount of time, thus showing off their proficiency under pressure.

-- Entice VIPs to stop by. Trade shows are tough, even for attendees. Secure a list of registered attendees and select VIPs to receive a “trade show survival pack.” Fill a mini-cooler with goodies. Bottled water, candy bars, aspirin, antacids, and your press kit on a thumb drive are all reasonable items to include.

-- Bring in the experts: Is there a well-known expert or celebrity that is passionate about your subject? Check out various speakers bureaus (the Internet is a great place to start) to identify recognized experts to speak or appear at your event.

Replace simply “showing up” with these ideas and your trade show results will most certainly begin trending upward.

Susan Miller is owner of Ewing Miller Communications, an Anderson marketing firm. Her column appears the first Thursday of each month. Contact her at