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EXPO offers opportunities for new leads, plenty of prospects

Exhibitors at events such as the Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO can get more mileage out of their investment by setting clear goals and personal standards for their participation in the trade show.

“Some companies have very specific services and products to present,” said Robbie L. Bell, special projects director for the Mississippi Business Journal. “Others, such as financial institutions or medical facilities, have an enormous range of services. Each exhibitor needs to interview attendees briefly to determine why they have come to EXPO and what they might gain by doing business with that exhibitor. This is a good aid in establishing a working relationship that might evolve into solid benefits for both the exhibitor and attendee.”

Bell said each person who works a trade show should have personal standards, in addition to those set by the company.

“I’ve been impressed most by the way people dress to man their booths,” Bell said. “The first goal should be to present a professional image. The second should be to stand and attempt to make eye contact with as many people as possible when they pass by the booth. I know that I feel compelled to walk into a booth and introduce myself if that exhibitor has made eye contact with me. When a booth worker is sitting down, looking away or otherwise occupied, it’s much easier to walk on by.”

The EXPO is a great place to launch new products. Bell said many companies coordinate releases of new materials with their annual EXPO appearances.

“Veteran attendees have learned to watch for these new launches and get ahead of the competition by implementing new technology,” she said.

She adds that the EXPO is also extremely valuable as an image builder and public relations tool. Some exhibitors find that business networking helps put a personal face on their companies and gives the business community more confidence in them.

Exhibitors can get more out of the EXPO by spreading word of the event beforehand. Each exhibitor receives a large number of admission tickets to EXPO.

“Most exhibitors do a great job of distributing them to clients and prospects, along with letters and even e-mail reminders to visit their booths,” Bell said. “Some exhibitors advertise in the EXPO edition of the MBJ to invite folks to come by their booths.”

Bell said a friendly appearance encourages people to stop and talk. Giving several door prizes each day gets the exhibitor some good attention, because each time a winner is drawn, that company’s name is announced over the public address system by “the Voice of EXPO,” Derrel Palmer, general manager for Mutual of Omaha and chair of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Council.

“Remember the blue-light special?” Bell asks. “Everyone knows and remembers the companies whose names they hear the most.”

Each exhibit should clearly demonstrate the mission of that company. Exhibitors should keep in mind that attendees may not work for a company that needs their particular services immediately.

“But that attendee might know someone else who DOES need to talk to this exhibitor,” Bell said. “This is the beauty of networking. It’s that all-important ripple effect. People share information of all types at EXPO.”

Since actual sales are not transacted on the EXPO floor, the greatest objective is generally to collect as many qualified leads as possible. Then comes the all-important follow up.

“The exhibitors who are most on-the-ball will promptly mail letters out to the attendees they met,” Bell said. “Then they will follow up further with a phone call or e-mail. It’s a huge waste of the exhibitor’s time and money to be there if the follow-up is not thorough. Likewise, the attendees should also organize the business cards and literature they collect at EXPO and make contact with the companies that most impressed them. Good follow-up is definitely the key.”

Bell advises that attention to the set-up of the booth itself is also very important. Many exhibitors order plants or flowers, balloon arrangements or have other interesting and eye-catching decorations to attract the attention of attendees.

“We encourage exhibitors to go the extra mile in making their displays eye-appealing,” Bell said.

Debra Miller, an exhibit design consultant with Skyline Gulf Coast, LLC, in Richland, said it takes more than a pretty exhibit to succeed at trade shows.

“It also requires that you understand several key facets of trade show marketing and master the proven methods in executing a trade show program,” Miller said. “The first step in planning your trade show success is to set effective and realistic trade show objectives and measurements for them. Effectively planning your show’s objectives allows the rest of your show to fall into place. Choosing the right measurement tools enables you to draw the correct conclusions following your trade show performance.”

Sandy Flom, CEO of Extraordinary Show Productions, Ltd., says graphics are critical to the power of a trade show display. Flom said effective graphics are persuasive and have the power to draw potential customers into your booth, differentiate you from the competition and quickly and clearly communicate your marketing message.

“Powerful graphics are easily seen from a distance,” said Flom, whose San Diego, Calif., based business specializes in trade show displays and services. “ Large photographs of people using or benefiting from your product or service send the strongest message.”

Flom recommends that you emphasize your logo or brand by using large signage prominently positioned in your booth.

“Impactful graphics are not cluttered with information that overwhelms,” she said. “If your graphics are loaded with specifications and every detail, there is to know about your company, product or service, they will not likely be effective. Rarely does anyone stand in front of a graphic to read details. Even if they do, they won’t remember everything they read and they can’t take the graphic with them. Therefore details should be reserved for brochures and flyers and spec sheets that they can take with them or that you can send to them later.”

To make a lasting, positive impression, Flom recommends making the company name and/or name of a recognized product highly visible, and using large colorful graphics for maximum visual impact.

“Light products and graphics to significantly increase awareness,” she said. “Along with your company identification, these are the most important aspects of your exhibit — make them stand out. Invest in a display system that gives you a professional look. Curtain backwalls and draped tables can look cheap and make you look less than serious. A manufactured display shows permanency and is more likely to capture attention.”

Ocean Springs-based freelance journalist Becky Gillette writers regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact her via e-mail at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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