Attendees travel on their stomachs

Offering some kind of food or beverage at a trade show is one of the best ways to attract and keep attendees in your booth. But in order to maximize your investment in a food & beverage promotion you've got to have a strategy. Ideally, you don't want to serve just "anyone." Here are some ideas to make sure that your hospitality will be appreciated by those who are most likely to buy from you.

Postcards. These are billboards you send through the mail. Postcards are powerful communication tools because they don't have to be opened to be effective. A casual glance can drive home your message.

Mail a series of postcards over several weeks. The most effective schedule is: Six weeks, two weeks, and one week before the show. Use First Class postage to make sure your messages arrive on time. Place a map showing the location of your booth on the back of the postcard, along with a description of what you will be serving. Ask visitors to bring the card as a qualification for your hospitality. The address on the back of the postcard also helps break the ice by introducing the visitor to your sales staff.

E-mail. Send a series of e-mails, with printable coupons attached, to prospects and customers. Be sure you include a subject line emphasizing that the e-mail contains an invitation for hospitality. Again, a series of e-mails works much better than just one. The e-mails should become increasingly detailed, but all should describe why the recipients will want to visit your booth, what they'll enjoy or experience when they do, and how to find you.

Newsletters and Web Sites. Promote your hospitality in your newsletters and on your Web site before the show. Use printable coupons on your Web site or insert coupons in your newsletter. Also include a map and directions to your exhibit booth.

Letters and Calls. Encourage your sales staff to send personalized invitations to their individual mailing lists. Provide them with sample letters and e-mail copy, and encourage them to check in by phone with key clients shortly before the show.

Marketing Partners. Ask your marketing partners to promote your exhibit hospitality in materials they either mail to their customers before the show or distribute at the event itself.

Show Advertising. Add invitations and coupons to any advertising you run in the trade show program or daily newsletters. Consider promoting your booth hospitality on hotel room door hangers or in information packages that convention services often distribute to the hotel rooms of trade show attendees.

Exhibit Coupons. Use coupons to qualify those who enjoy your hospitality. Coupons and tickets provide an easy way to track response. Coding your coupons permits you to identify the source of your visitors. Knowing who visited your exhibit permits your staff to follow up with them after the show. And, next year, you can send personalized e-mails to those who visited your exhibit the previous year.