Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Exhibiting in a Tradeshow – A first-timer’s view

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in a small tradeshow as an exhibitor. Given that I am usually either attending the tradeshow as a participant or am part of the team organizing the event, being on the exhibitor side was quite interesting. Although many aspects of the experience were not unexpected, I did come away with a new respect for what exhibitors go through on a regular basis.

Setup time for my table was scheduled well in advance of the event start time – but that is nothing new for me. When I am onsite for a conference, I am always there long before the first scheduled activity (including exhibit setup!). Being a first-timer, though, I was paranoid about missing any of the scheduled exhibit hours, so I made sure I was back at my table well before any attendees would be able to come by. I didn’t want to miss anyone!

The evening reception was nice, though I was too busy manning my table to really enjoy the food much, and I saw enough traffic to feel like it was a good use of my time. What I found most interesting was that not all of the exhibitors had arrived and set up yet. Given that the reception represented the single largest block of exhibit time, I was a little surprised that more exhibitors were not present. However, I suspect that they believed that they would get enough exposure throughout the next day’s schedule.

The next day was a full schedule, too. Again, I am used to long hours onsite during a conference, so the early start and length of the day did not concern me. By the time the day’s first session began, all but one of the exhibitors had arrived and set up (I found out later that the one exhibitor missing had car trouble on the way, which is why they were not there). Flow throughout the day was steady, if slow. Traffic picked up a bit during the regular breaks for exhibit viewing and networking but I was amazed how many people skipped sessions to wander through the exhibit hall. As an attendee, I can’t think of a time when I have done that, though I suspect that I would if I was already familiar with the material being presented… The end result was that I did not get to go to many sessions myself – which was OK since I had heard most of the session content at similar previous events.

Was it worthwhile? I don’t know yet; time will tell. I did not feel that it was a waste of time, though. I got several good leads on potential business (I think) and, knowing that the planning cycle can take quite some time before an agency decides to do an event and hire it out, I do not expect to receive any RFPs from these contacts right away. But, if I can build good connections with them, the potential for work is there.

Would I do it again? Yes. (In fact, RDL will be exhibiting for the first time at CalSAE’s Seasonal Spectacular in Sacramento on December 7th – stop by and say “hi” to our owners: Linda and Cyndy!) Having done this once, I feel that we can only get better at our outreach and marketing by adding exhibiting to our efforts.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises