For entrepreneurs across every industry, trade shows loom as a large, tempting, but sometimes overwhelming idea. On one hand, they are a vast watering hole for partners, end-users and the press. On the other hand, the costs associated with trade shows are sometimes daunting for smaller companies and startups.
So what’s the deal with trade shows, anyway? Are they as great as they seem? Are they worth the money and effort? The short answer is yes — if it’s a good fit for your business. The trick to real success is to find the right show to begin with. As with most marketing and PR strategies, defining your target market is the most important preparatory step to getting the most out of your trade show experience.
If you’re still on the fence about whether a trade show is the right opportunity for you, here are some surprising benefits of trade shows, no matter your company size.
1. A peek at the competition.
While your focus is on your own product and the interactions and prospects at the show, being in close proximity to other companies marketing to the same crowd is an added bonus. It gives you the opportunity to scope out what is new and interesting in the marketplace, so you can come up with a plan for counteracting it.
2. Press coverage.
The same competition and new technology that you are able to observe draws another crowd of definite interest — the press. A large concentration of reporters writing specifically about your industry is a great opportunity for business owners to capitalize on. If you are able to land a few interviews, or even mentions in a broader story, the trade show becomes one of the cheapest ways to do PR and marketing. Sending out a well-crafted press release, or even a softer “media alert” ahead of time, can help you make the most out of the media attention at a trade event.
3. Potential partnerships.
While the main function of a trade show is to get your product in front of a concentrated audience, shows are also a great place to meet other entrepreneurs who are producing complementary products and services to yours. In many cases, a creative businessperson can take these potential competitors and merge ideas to make both of your companies more successful than they were before.
4. Increased exposure.
Small and mid-sized companies can often latch on to the energy of a large event and make their own presence feel bigger. The media is already covering the trade show. Customers and other companies are tweeting about it, and people are searching for news surrounding it. This means that your own press coverage, tweets and blog posts will come up in searches at an increased rate. People may pay attention to your product because it is part of the larger story, where otherwise they wouldn’t have noticed it at all.
The extra entry fee for product awards is very often worth it. If you’ve got something innovative and effective, going after the awards at trade shows not only increases your exposure at the show, it gives you something to talk about for the whole year. Awards give you the kind of validation that customers love to see.
Trade shows have a way of focusing effort. Great PR and marketing often come down to events. You put a stake in the ground that doesn’t move, and stretch your goals towards that stake. This creates pressure and deadlines that will naturally generate outcomes, such as case studies, positioning statements, product development and other collateral. Deadlines drive progression in a company. An event may be just the flag your team needs to go after.
Before you attend a show, determine what you really need to get out of it to make it worth your time. Think in terms of sales leads, press coverage, new customers, partnerships, etc. Don’t outrun your budget with sponsorships, extra advertising and other add-ons. A good PR effort will get you the coverage you need without spending more money. Set solid goals, and constantly evaluate so that every event is a building block for your business.