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Exhibiting at Conferences – Save Money without Looking Cheap

Submitted by on Tuesday, 28 October 2008No Comment

OK, so you’re interested in exhibiting at conferences.  GREAT IDEA.  Depending on your industry hitting the conference circuit can be a great way to reach high value customers and especially the influencers.

Why?  Generally only those who are serious about their industry or the topic will actually take the time and spend the money to go to a conference.  In addition, many people attend specifically to “find out what is new” which means hitting the exhibit floor.  One of the advantages of having a booth is that people who stop by actually want to hear about your new product or service…. you don’t have to be “that guy” pitching people in a social setting.

So, if you are a small business or a startup and you want to go to a conference, you probably are on a budget, and can’t afford the $50k big booth extravaganza that some of the big companies will have.  That is OK.  Shine and expensive signage and shwag are only a small part of the booth experience.

If you don’t have a lot of money, here are some ways to save, but still have a killer, professional booth:

  • Freeman is a rip-off.  If you don’t know them yet, you soon will, and spending $80 to RENT a chair for your booth will seem like a travesty.  This is where you can go cheap.  Don’t order chairs.  You shouldn’t be sitting anyways.  You should be on your feet talking to people.  Don’t pay extra for the “covering” of your table.  Steal the sheets (use the flat ones) from your hotel.  People won’t know the difference.  All you need to pay for is a table and carpet (usually carpet is required).
  • Get a professional banner.  This is really important.  You can get a banner for under $100 and it is definitely worth it.  Get a vinyl banner that is slightly smaller than the length of the booth (for a 10 foot booth go with a 9 foot banner).  Bring Bungie cords to hang it (string won’t work well).  You need one large, good sign so that people know who you are and will take you seriously.
  • DEMO YOUR PRODUCT.  If you are a website, have computers and steal some flatscreens from your office to increase the size of your demo if you are showing to more than one person.  To save $$ don’t ship them through Freeman.  Save the boxes and bring them with you as carry-on or checked luggage.  People like to interact, see touch and feel.  Even if your product seems self-explanatory.  Having people see, use and touch your product is better than any marketing materials you can EVER put together.
  • Have something for people to take – You can get 1000 postcards really cheap from sites like overnight prints or quality low-cost stickers from stickerrobot (beware their long lead times).  You don’t need a bunch of fancy material, just something for people to put in their hands as they walk away.
  • FORGET THE SHWAG – I know, I know, it seems so important.  Most people take it (because it is free) and then go home and throw it away.  Unless it is super useful and related, don’t bother.  People will stop by if you have an engaging and effective layout and staff, not because of what you give away free.  If you REALLY want to do shwag, think of something useful and related to what you do.  At photrade, we gave away lens brushes with our logo on it.  We only gave them to people who had DSLRs and looked like they would use them.  People liked them because they were useful and related to their cameras.
  • Don’t waste your time with gimicks.  You might come up with some *Killer* ideas for gimicky things that you can do with your booth.  People might remember your gimick, but they won’t remember you.  At ad:tech Chicago there was a company with a booth designed like an old fashioned Diner.  They had 60′s like waitresses who would give you pie and coffee or a Jones Soda.  I have no idea what they did.  I recall that there was some loose connection to why they had a diner and their product, but I can’t remember.  Save your money.  You don’t need to give people free pie or have an expensive booth for people to stop by.
  • Think of something CREATIVE and INTERESTING and RELATED to draw people INTO your booth.  For example, at our Photrade booth, we lined the back of the booth with photos from users on our website.  It cost us about $30 to buy all of the photos, and people would come right in to the booth (we had the table off to the side) and look at the photos.  Maybe you have photos of people using your product, or funny and interesting customer testimonials.  Be creative (not gimicky) and don’t overdo it.  Try to engage people and get them to come right inside your booth.
  • Have EVERYONE working the booth wear something with your logo on it.  Don’t have $$ or time?  Buy a bunch of plain T-shirts in your company color and put stickers (if you have them) on them.  Order some cheap ones on-line.  Don’t worry about having some to give away (people will probably ask if they look cool).  This helps to identify the people who are working.  It is important so that peope who stop by know right away who to approach.  This also creates a stronger brand impression.
  • DON’T HIRE BOOTH BABES – OK, someone is BOUND to disagree with me on this, but typically the peopel at these conferences are *experts* in their field.  Your booth babes won’t know enough about your product to do a good job selling it, which can make you look bad.  If you are short on people, recruit spouses (they probably know a TON about the product) or friends in the field.  These people will actually understand you product, although they might not be as hot as the booth babes :)

Check out Guy Kawasaki’s Photos from the BlogWorld08 Exhibit Hall – you can see a bunch of booth pictures (they were taken before it opened).

Do you have any tips?  Want to know more about what makes a good or a bad booth?  I’ll be at ad:tech next week, so stay tuned for the best and the worst booths at the exhibit hall.

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