Any sales, marketing or public relations specialist can tell that for certain companies targeting the business to business segment, getting a booth at a trade show or conference is highly overrated and very often a waste of money. When you have a product with a significant price tag attached, that needs to be tested and compared to others in its branch, which cannot be implemented without a solid and comprehensive support contract, an implementation plan or without quite a few technical discussions, and no one will buy it at a trade show, out of a strong and uncontrollable impulse. There are certain cases where the decision to buy was made prior to the event, and the actual purchase happens due to certain discounts made for the trade show. But in most cases, the event, be it conference, exhibition or seminar, is merely a meeting place to discuss details and then finalize the transaction back at the headquarters.

Given all this, what can the booth actually do for you? There are some benefits: better brand exposure, a certain privileged status, the possibility your package includes a list with the name of all those who have visited the exhibition and so on. But when comparing these benefits against the costs a booth entails and the issues it can generate, is it really worth it? First of all, booths do cost a lot – sometimes setting one up (adding your furniture, branding it, printing literature) costs as much as the whole trip there, your accommodation and a sponsored presentation.

Other than that, someone must always be in the booth. So if your team is there to also attend interesting tracks at the conference, they will take turns in missing what is really important to them. If you were planning to send just one employee, you can forget about it! You need at least two. And instead of having your team freely schedule meetings, fist they have to stop and negotiate who’s stranded in the both and for how long.

What happens when a very important prospect can only meet with your sales rep at the same time your PR officer has a crucial meeting with an influential journalist? Let’s hope you have a third employee over there!

What other possibilities are there?

You either have your team attend the event as visitors, not exhibitors, or you get very lucky and are invited to speak at the conference free of charge, or you think of other, more effective, sponsorship opportunities: a sponsored educational track where to speak, a lunch or a breakfast, a sponsored panel discussion, an entertaining activity in the evening and other such opportunities. Whatever you do, remember that being invited to speak is great, but never guaranteed, so you cannot build your strategy around it, unless you’re invited every year. And even then, things might change.

Why is booth still as important? In some cases, it depends on the company’s policy, in others, event organizers’ policy is the cause. I have, for example, attended, together with a colleague, an IT even in Chicago, USA, where you could not sponsor anything unless you were an exhibitor as well. Pretty smart tactic, as I am sure organizers knew the intrest in booths was on a descending trend. In this particular case, forcing booths on sponsors was not enough, and a B2B event turned into a weird mix of B2B and B2C. And the intended audience companies had come for was hard to come across.

What should you keep in mind to make sure you get maximum return from attending an event?

  • Before deciding if you’re going or not, try to get some relevant opinions about it from people who have attended the event in the past. You can use existing contacts of ask a question on a business social network, such as LinkedIn. This is a crucial issue, as all the Power Points and details from those organizing the event won’t help you have a clear image of the event. If you cannot reach anyone who’s attended, the event might be important enough for you to take a chance. But if you can find out more, you definitely should.
  • After deciding you’re going, analyze every detail of the event: does it require you to set up a booth and/or sponsor the event? Is it better to just attend it as a visitor? What networking opportunities are there? Which status (visitor or exhibitor) offers you more possibilities to meet potential partners, clients and the press?
  • Can you sponsor the event without exhibiting? And if you can, are you getting all the benefits granted to exhibitors (attendance list, list of journalists and bloggers covering the event, a complete list of exhibitors and sponsors)?
  • Are we going there with a team that will share booth duty and also complete their other tasks at the event? Or do we include a member whose only task is to be in the booth?

Whatever you decide, the important thing is to have a clear strategy, supported by solid prior research. Otherwise, if priorities and responsibilities are debated on at the event, you risk having your team caught in complete chaos and waste valuable time that would be better spent on getting more business.

Article originally published in Romanian or PRwave.ro.