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Next to direct sales, tradeshow exhibitions rate second in generating new and repeat sales for most companies, according to the Center for Exhibition Research (CEIR.) In fact, they report that tradeshow sales beat comparative spending on advertising, direct mail, and other marketing efforts. While the primary focus for the majority of tradeshow exhibitors is to generate qualified sales leads from the booth, it's been our experience that attacking a show from a number of different fronts delivers the most significant impact for achieving sales and business growth objectives.

To get every tradeshow you attend to really pay off, consider pursuing the following tactics:

1. Meet with Existing Customers

According to CEIR, 95 percent of executive decision-makers meet with their current suppliers at tradeshows. Within this same group of buyers, 77 percent indicate that they found at least one new supplier at an exhibit, so it is more important than ever to stay highly visible to your existing customer base or you may risk losing them to a sweet talking competitor.

First of all, make sure that your customers (as well as potential show attendees and prospects) know you are going to be exhibiting at a specific show. Use pre-show promotional teasers to stimulate interest and desire among current customers as well as prospective buyers. Develop interesting angles to motivate them to attend a demo or special event at your booth. Face time is an important ingredient in every sale, so whether you invite them to preview a new product, learn something new about an existing product, or participate in some other fun event at your booth, you need to get them there.

Tradeshows are also perfect opportunities to use entertainment as a tool for developing relationships - especially with hard-to-see-prospects. Another good tradeshow tactic is to spontaneously invite customers or prospects to join you for dinner or a social event so you can get to know them better in a relaxed environment.

2. Seek Media Exposure

Tradeshows often provide relatively open access to your targeted media. Work in advance to coordinate face-to-face meetings with key industry editors for purposes of building editor relationships, stimulating feature articles in various print media segments, and contributing to on-going media relations initiatives.

Tradeshows are tops in providing opportunities to leverage company executives, partners, customers, and prospects to dominate the show where it counts...onstage at the podium. Always seek speaking or panel moderating opportunities in advance to obtain greater industry and media exposure. If it is too late to secure a speaking opportunity for a given show, get details on how your company can lead one of next year's educational sessions.

3. Promote Brand Awareness and Visibility

Time big announcements and product launches to coincide with your most important tradeshows. (Hey! The press has to write about something, why not you?) Reporters covering a show may be required to deliver up to six stories a day. Make it easy for them to tell your story by bringing copies of your professional media kit and include in it relevant press releases, customer testimonials, articles, or customer case studies. Have them on hand in your booth for unexpected media drop-ins looking for a story. A good press kit makes you look professional and will help you differentiate your company and products on the basis of credibility and thought leadership. If it's downloadable from your website, or available in electronic format at your booth, your story will literally write (cut and paste) itself into the tradeshow news.

4. Compare Yourself to Other Exhibitors

Take a look at your competitors. Also check out the hottest booths that are creating tons of traffic and media attention. Why do these exhibits stand out? Is it location, style, messaging, promotional giveaways, collateral, or other specific information that might also be important to your sales and marketing initiatives? Are their exhibitors inspired, and yours burned out? Gauge your own performance relative to others. How many solid leads did your competitors and similar companies at the booths around you collect? Are your numbers comparable…why or why not? You may want your public relations agency to do this comparative research for you.

5. Network for Your Company and Its Most Important Employee

Go out of your way to initiate relationships with attendees from companies that aren't in the same line your company is in and get to know them better. You might find a surprising source of new customer leads or potential business partners for your company. Also, chances are you're not sitting on the last job you'll ever need to have and who you know - and more importantly who knows you - really does matter.

Joe Combs and Myla Wagner
are partners with combswagner, a San Francisco Bay Area based public relations and marketing strategy agency specializing in PR and market positioning for the health care and health care technology sectors. ( They can be reached at:, and

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Joe Combs is a public relations professional.

Myla Wagner is a public relations professional.