When I was a beginning exhibitor, I’ll never forget how I learned the importance of attendee promotions at one particular show. It was a local event which was open to the public, but took place over Mother’s Day weekend so it faced a lot of competing events around the city. On top of that, it was a new show, so hadn’t yet built a loyal following who looked forward to coming year after year. So while exhibitors had been promised a crowd of several thousand, it turned out to be more like a few hundred over the course of the multi-day event. My neighboring exhibitors were all grumbling about how pathetic the turnout was, yet traffic in my booth was somewhat steady.
What did I do differently? I sent personal invitations to my hottest prospects. Now I’m not talking hundreds of invitations — I only sent about 25 hand-addressed postcards. But 12 of those people came, and many thanked me for letting them know about the show — several saying that they hadn’t heard about it otherwise.
Which brings up two big questions:
- Had the show organizer really done all they could to promote the show throughout the community if that many people (who were all in the target demographic) hadn’t heard about it?
- What would attendance have been if all 100 or so exhibitors had bothered to personally invite people?
I compare it to the strategy of rolling a snowball down a hill: the more people who get involved, the more the momentum grows. Pretty soon potential attendees are seeing and hearing about the show everywhere until curiosity and the fear of missing out (FOMO) takes over.
Which brings me to the fact that in order to reach that level of ubiquity, it involves both exhibitors and the show organizer. Neither side is as effective unless they work in tandem.
Show organizers should definitely focus on creating buzz and building awareness within their target market. The methods may vary depending on whether it’s an association, trade, or consumer show. But it’s a sure thing that attendee promotion needs to take various forms: e-mail, direct mail (it still works!), advertising, social media, and more. It takes more exposure now than ever before because of limited attention spans and diverse platform options.
Some of the tools and techniques that successful shows are using these days include:
- Segmenting the audience into specific personas (as discussed in our last episode), then personalizing the communications
- Doing one-to-one personal outreach (phone calls often work great for this)
- Courting first-time attendees with incentives and tools that are customized to enhance their experience
- Creating and encouraging the use of a show-specific hashtag for all social media platforms
- Providing prewritten tweets and social media posts, along with quote memes (from session speakers or comments from last year’s attendees and/or exhibitors)
- Creating promotional referral codes for each exhibitor to give out to their contacts, which provide a registration discount for attendees (along with a way to track — and perhaps reward — the exhibitors who are most actively promoting)
But it’s not just show management’s job to promote the show! When exhibitors get on board, that’s when the momentum really begins to build. Most of the techniques listed here don’t work without exhibitor participation.
Remember it’s to everyone’s advantage to have a robust and active audience at the show. Don’t ever leave that up to chance, hoping that someone else will do the job of promoting for you.