Mulligan Management Group, LLC

TRADE SHOWS 101: The Reason, the Value and the Future of the Industry



Trade shows have been around for years and are intended to showcase and demonstrate each exhibitor's latest products and services.

In the past, booth personnel used to give tchotchkes away in an attempt to lure attendees to their booth. Many would walk off the floor with a couple of bags stuffed with giveaways. However, due to industry restrictions, budgetary concerns and attempts to be green many organizations are eliminating or restricting the number of promotional items they purchase and marketing collateral they produce.

So, with no tchotchkes and printed handouts, how can exhibitors' make the most of their time?

Traci Browne, Author of The Social Trade Show: Leveraging Social Media and Virtual Events to Connect with Your Customers, stated in a recent PCMA Convene article that exhibitors need to find new ways to attract attendees to their booth.

She states there are three effective ways to bring attendees to you:

  • Provide valued expertise.
  • Design a solid digital strategy and then choose your social tools.
  • Focus on quality over quantity.

What interactive technology tool rentals can help you with this strategy? Let's take a closer look:

VALUED EXPERTISE: Make certain you have individuals in your booth that are experts on your products and services or can connect the attendee to the expert back at the home office via an iPad or Touch Screen Display. A recent Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) article stated that meeting participants would rather speak with your company's researcher than a sales rep. Why? Because they view researchers as experts who can explain what your organization is doing today, as well as, what is planned in the future.

SOLID DIGITAL STRATEGY: Getting 100 Facebook likes on your Fan page is not a strategy; it is a tactic and a weak one at best. But connecting and conversing with 50 of your "A-lister" prospects via social is a strategy. Blogging about the trade show and posting it on social channels, including the show's hashtag, is another strategy that shows you are an industry thought leader. Whatever digital tools you use, make certain they are getting you closer to closing business with your prospects.

FOCUS ON QUALITY OVER QUANTITY: One way to get attendees to your booth is to rent a charging station that allows them to take ten minutes and recharge their mobile devices. While they are in your booth, your team has the opportunity to ask engaging, qualifying questions. The truth of the matter is, not everyone is going to be interested in what you have to sell. Gather the leads that are a fit for your product niche and the sales team back home will be energized because they will be working with solid, qualified leads.


CEIR published a report called "The Role and Value of Face-to-Face Interaction" in 2012. It highlighted the following facts:

  • 71% of attendees placed a high importance on face-to-face interactions to build long term relationships with vendors;
  • 67% of attendees ranked interactions between themselves and exhibitors important in investigating, evaluating and narrowing down their buying choices;
  • 48% said face-to-face interactions at exhibitions, conventions and annual meetings are more important now than they were in 2010 and;
  • 43% expect that the trade show setting will be more valuable in 2014.

In addition, CEIR recently came out with a ROI toolkit for an exhibitor that is free (however you do need to sign-in to access it) that provides a pre- and post-event ROI calculator.

The Pre-Event Calculator answers the following questions:

  • Should your organization exhibit at the trade show given the total number of attendees and percentage in your target market;
  • How many staff will you need to engage with attendees and
  • How much space is required to accommodate your audience, including open space

The Post-Event Calculator helps measure the tradeshow's ROI through your input of the following information:

  • Total number of inquiries and leads you obtained
  • Total number of staff on duty
  • Direct exhibitor costs, including staff travel and entertainment expenses
  • Average conversion percentage of leads to sales
  • Average revenue generated per order
  • Your organization's gross margin

How can technology assist you with the ROI effort? Below are a few of the interactive technology tools that SmartSource Rentals can offer in getting more individuals to your booth and keeping them there.

  • Replace all your marketing collateral with a Document Digital Library. Not only is this a green solution, but you can save your organization money on writing, editing, printing, packing, shipping and storing your printed materials.
  • Touch Panel Kiosks are a great solution to keep attendees interested in learning more about your products and services while they are waiting to speak to a sales person. With an intuitive navigation system, an attendee can view videos, photos and testimonials about your organization and email back your product information to decision makers back at the office.
  • Lead Retrieval Systems will automate and disseminate leads while you are still on the trade show floor! By scanning the attendee's badge or magnetic strip, vital and accurate information about the attendee is gathered in a few seconds.
  • Charging stations are a great way to get attendees to your booth and keep them there for at least 10 minutes while their phone or tablet is charging. This is the perfect opportunity for exhibitors to gather the lead and qualify the attendee.


The ASAE Foundation, Exhibition Industry Foundation, Freeman, Gaylord Entertainment and the PCMA Education Foundation recently completed research about the future of convention exhibits and tradeshows. They gathered data from a variety of forums including LinkedIn discussion groups, PCMA Leader Summits in Toronto and Nashville and the PCMA Master Series where they interviewed over 300 industry professionals about what they predict the tradeshow arena will look like in 2016.

Scenarios for the Future: Convention Exhibits & Tradeshows of 2016 is the 36-page report consolidating their findings. Below, is a summary of three of the major takeaways and how interactive technology tool rentals can play a part in these findings.  

 Stay on Digital Alert and Implement Technology.

The event team needs to be early adapters to technology, be aware of changes taking place in their exhibitor’s space and be ready to defend their event or increase their competitive posture with said technology.

It is hard to predict what new gadgets will be available in three years and how they will alter the exhibitor floor, but the point is: trade shows are going to have to constantly evolve through technological offerings. It will no longer be an option to say "no thanks" or "not this year" to the technology that attendees want. You must have it or they will stay home.

Data, Data, Data.

"Big Data" as marketing researchers call it, will help guide the successful design and execution of an event -- for exhibitors, attendees and organizers. Having a way to collect, analyze and respond to the data will need to happen at the event to make real-time changes.

Because there is so much data available at our fingertips now, it is easy to imagine that event organizers will have much more powerful mobile devices with apps to give instantaneous trending and prediction markets. This data should shape the planning and implementation of trade shows thus making the process attendee driven and very fluid.

Determine What You Need and Plan for it.

In 2016, event planners and exhibitors will complete a capabilities audit to determine if they have the resources and expertise in-house or they need to outsource it. If a decision is made to outsource, the vendors will need to be trustworthy and be able to respond to event needs in a fast and efficient manner.

Now is the time for event planners to build relationships and trust with their suppliers, including conference equipment rental organizations. Finding suppliers that are going to be around in the long-haul and ones that can provide solutions in a fast and efficient manner will be important for trade show success.

​Deborah Sexton, President and CEO of PCMA sums up these findings in the following way, “The convention exhibits and trade shows professional needs new options versus the current model. So the goal of this investigation was to...envision what the future may look like and provide some guidance for discussions and actions that can happen to help our industry position (itself) for success."

SmartSource Rentals, is the largest Total Technology rental company in the United States with 21 full-service locations. We offer a complete range of cost-effective solutions from Lead Retrieval Systems, Audio Visual, Digital Document Libraries, Charging Stations, iPad solutions, Video Walls, and much, much more! All of this with 24/7 technical support. Let us help make your next trade show fantastic!

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