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Feb 06, 2001
How To

Should You Exhibit at Small Regional Shows? Six Factors to Consider First

SUMMARY: No summary available.
Most marketing-related vendors already work the big shows -- East and West coast @d:techs, DMA's NetMarketing, Jupiter's Online Advertising Forum, Iconocast's Web Attack and even sometimes Internet World.

However, now that many of the mighty SF and NY dot-coms are dying or pulling back, vendors are reaching out to a new client base, traditional companies and their agencies across the country. Many of whom don't necessarily attend the big online marketing events.

How can you reach new clients cost-effectively at smaller, regional events? We contacted Hank Dearden III, Co-Owner of Washington DC's DC Dot Comm event to get some answers. Dearden's background includes experience on both the show management-side and the exhibitor-side.

Dearden believes smaller, local events can have an edge over big ones for sales reps. He says, "Some of the big ones are just zoos. You never really get any quality time with attendees. You may just get a little tabletop at a smaller event, but at least you're not competing with a 20x90 booth with the cast of Cats screaming so you can't hear yourself think!

"Also at smaller shows there's often only one speaker track, so you can leave your booth and go in to listen. You can use that opportunity to hook the people sitting around you, to get them to come back to your booth -- rather than just standing in the hallway and flapping your arms at them.

"The point of any show," Dearden continues, " is to get leads. Maybe at a big show you'll get Proctor & Gamble with $800 million to spend, while at the local shows you'll meet ad agencies controlling tens of millions. They might be smaller fish, but the price per fish will be lower too."

Dearden gave us a useful check list to help determine whether you should attend a local show as an exhibitor:

1) Do you have a sales rep already in the area? Or, are you planning to use the show to evaluate whether you should hire a local rep? Either way, exhibiting may be a "no brainer."

Note: Dearden says "Send a sales rep -- not a marketer. Marketing people aren't used to being one-on-one with customers standing there. They're often scared to talk to the attendees."

2) How much time does the schedule allow for breaks and mingling? Dearden says, "Sometimes there's only a little 15 minute break twice in the day. That's not enough."

3) Will the physical layout of the event encourage traffic to visit the exhibit area? Dearden says, "I've seen show layouts where the food is in one place, the conference is in another and the exhibitors are in Siberia where no one walks over."

Your best bet: an event that serves at least one snack inside the exhibit area or forces traffic to walk through the area to get to other places of interest (the restrooms, registration, the exit.)

4) What is the show's prior attendee record and how do they plan to market tickets this year? Dearden says your best bet may be events owned or co-owned by local advertising clubs many of whose members will definitely show.

5) How much is the show charging for a tabletop? (DC Dot Comm charges $1,500 for a tabletop and two attendee tickets.) Do your math, divide potential attendees into the price and figure about half of them won't be people you'll want to meet (other vendor reps, folks with teeny budgets, etc.) Is the cost right for your budgeted cost-per lead?

6) How complicated is your product? Dearden says, "If you need to spend more time educating people about your product or concept, go with small shows. Play small ball. People who come to them don't want to be sold, they want to be educated."

Once you've made the decision to exhibit at a small show, how do you make the most of your little tabletop? Dearden notes that the company who made your big fancy booth for big fancy shows would certainly be able to do a small tabletop version for you; but it may not be worth the investment.

Instead he says, "One of the best things you can do is to rent the biggest monitor the table will hold, bring your notebook there and do demos. Run everything off your hard-drive (bring a zip disk if you have to) because most hotels will only provide dial-up connection and the last thing you want to do is a demo off of that!"

He notes that at the DC Dot Comm event, "Some people just sort of draped their banner in front of the table and laid out tchotchkes and that was that. I would get more creative than that. You have a chance to educate people -- use a monitor!"

Last but not least, if you are entering a local market that doesn't have a suitable event within your time schedule, Dearden recommends you contact the local ad club to see if you can do something in conjunction with them. It may end up being a lot more effective than just doing a standard trunk-show seminar or Webcast.
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