You hear from your friends in the industry that a particular conference was really good… strong educational sessions, impressive roster of attendees, good networking. Sounds like an event where you need to exhibit next year, doesn’t it?
Like most every other marketing decision, the answer is, “It depends.” Before you plunk down your firm’s hard-earned money and commit several days of your time, take a few minutes to answer these questions to make sure it’s the right event for you…
1. Who attends this event? Is the average attendee (based on the kind of company they work for and their title) also your targeted audience? If not, then skip it. To know for sure, get a breakdown of last year’s attendees. Better yet, if the event organizer conducts a post-conference survey, make sure to get a copy of the results.
2. How many attend this event (not including booth personnel*)? Assuming you will connect with a certain percentage of the attendees (est. 20-25%) while exhibiting, are there enough potential contacts to make it worthwhile?
* Unless the exhibitors are also in your target audience.
3. Who has exhibited over the past 3 years? Are the past exhibitors the kinds of firms (including your competitors) that sell to your same target audience? Are there a high percentage of repeat exhibitors? If so, that’s a good sign of an event that delivers value. Get a floorplan showing the already-committed exhibiting companies for the coming event.
4. What kind of ‘exhibitor support’ does the event organizer provide?
- Marketing: What will the event organizer do to help you be successful – both your firm specifically and the event overall. Ask for an outline of the conference marketing plan.
- Activities: Are there on-the-exhibit-floor activities (e.g. cocktail reception, breakfast, etc.) to attract and keep attendees in the exhibit hall?
- Speaking: Are there speaking opportunities specifically for exhibitors? Even if there’s a cost, it might be worth considering.
5. What’s the event venue… both the facility and the city? Is the city a place you want to go to (attendees will be asking themselves that same question)? Is it a cost-effective city to fly to? Is it a union town (a consideration for booth set-up/tear-down)? Are there places nearby for entertaining clients? Is the exhibit hall in a hotel, attached to the hotel or someplace altogether different? Was the room designed as a public hall or converted from something else? We once exhibited in a parking-garage-turned-exhibit-hall… absolutely horrible!
6. What’s the conference program look like? Good speakers? The kind of topics that will attract your target audience? Does the session schedule leave ample time for attendees to visit the exhibit hall?
7. What does it cost to exhibit? Depending on the event, booth space fees range from a few thousand dollars to $12-13,000 for an 8’x10’ space. Considering all of the other related expenses – travel, lodging, meals, entertainment – is it worth it? It might be, if you think the ROI will be there.
8. What’s the history of the event? You’re looking for a track record of growth (both with attendance and the number of exhibitors). If a conference is on the decline… walk away – failing events are virtually impossible to revive. Is it a brand new event? Reconsider – let others work out the first-time bugs.
9. Most importantly, do the conference organizers treat the exhibitors as an integral part of the event or are they simply looked at as a way to generate revenue and help the event make money? While the exhibits are absolutely a revenue generator for every event organizer, walk away if you feel taken advantage of…
… if there isn’t much exhibit time built in to the conference agenda.
… if they don’t support and promote the exhibits/exhibitors the way they do the conference overall.
… if they nickel and dime you (e.g. charging you just to have a second person work the booth with you).
… if they don’t provide any details about past events (e.g. attendee breakdown, actual attendance and exhibitor counts, etc.).
We’re big fans of exhibiting… done right, exhibiting can be an outstanding marketing vehicle that can help you to generate highly-qualified sales leads, launch a new product or service, generate market awareness and support your association. But before you invest the time and money to exhibit at a conference, take the time to do a little ‘due diligence’ to make sure it’s the right event for your firm.
Good luck and good exhibiting.