Making Pre-show Promotion Stand Out

There's a lot of pressure on marketing departments today: A tightening economy and increasingly competitive environment means that every promotional effort must generate a positive return. Every decision has to be viewed critically, and that includes the decision to participate in tradeshows.

For most exhibitors, show participation must generate a positive, demonstrable ROI if exhibiting is to remain a viable part of the marketing strategy. This means taking advantage of every opportunity to maximize the return on participation: before, during, and after the show. Many exhibitors do a great job at the show, but lackluster or non-existent efforts prior to and after the event sabotage their efforts. For those marketing professionals who believe in the core value of exhibiting and the face-to-face relationship building that is part and parcel of exhibiting, there should be renewed emphasis placed on the value of pre-show promotion.

Pre-show promotion is the single most valuable step any exhibitor can take to help drive traffic to the exhibit, up the percentage of high-value, qualified leads, and ensure a positive ROI. After all, to start and reinforce valuable business relationships, exhibitors have to have contact with the show attendees. They need a reason to visit booths—to pinpoint and find one booth out of the hundreds on the show floor. Pre-show marketing can provide that reason.

This isn't exactly news—and although the vast majority of exhibitors aren't doing any pre-show promotion, those companies that are have been steadily increasing their efforts. How can your exhibitors' pre-show promotion stand out in a crowded environment?

Here's a tip sheet with three effective strategies that should be a part of every exhibitors' packet you distribute.

Smart E-Mail

E-mail is everywhere, and almost everyone checks their e-mail several times a day. Despite this, few exhibitors are making use of e-mail as a tool to promote their participation in a tradeshow. They need to mention any show specials as well as events, classes, and seminars their organizations are a part of. Use strategically timed e-mails to remind clients and potential clients to visit their booth at the tradeshow.

Timing is crucial. Reminder e-mails should not be sent too early, as they'll be overlooked, but sending e-mails too late isn't any better. Aim for three e-mails, one a month before the show, one a week before the show, and one a day or two before the show.

Remind exhibitors not to forget the signature line on their regular, everyday business e-mail. Altering it to include a mention of their tradeshow participation is a subtle yet effective way to promote the event.

Trade Journal Inserts

Any time you conduct a direct mail campaign, you do so with the knowledge that the vast majority of your efforts go unseen. The lion's share of direct mailings are never delivered, much less read. Considered junk mail, it winds up in the trash, where it doesn't do you, the exhibitor, or your prospective attendee any good.

Industry journals, on the other hand, are almost always delivered. They're also consistently read at a much higher rate than most direct mail efforts. Some savvy exhibitors have begun promoting their tradeshow participation with trade journal inserts. These small postcard-sized advertisements are tucked into the journals before they're mailed, highlighting upcoming show appearances. This isn't commonplace yet, so exhibitors that use inserts will benefit from being unique and targeted. A very cost-effective strategy!

Lumpy Mail

Lumpy mail has a funny name, but it's a powerful pre-show promotional strategy. It involves sending a mailing that is literally lumpy—an envelope containing something, anything, generates curiosity in the recipient. One exhibitor actually sent potential attendees a message in a plastic bottle—and got a great response rate. Encourage your exhibitors to consider what "lumps" they can send to your attendees.

One use of the lumpy mail strategy involves including a premium item the prospective attendee has to bring to a booth to exchange for another, higher value item. A variation of this is to send an item that is useless on its own—one glove, for example—along with the message that the missing component—the second glove—can be picked up at the booth.

Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, based in Lake Placid, NY, is an internationally recognized expert working with companies to increase their profitability at tradeshows. She is also the author of Riches in Niches: How to Make it BIG in a Small Market and Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies. To contact her, visit

Originally published Aug. 1, 2008

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