What to Give Away at Trade Shows

At this week's Total Rewards Conference and Exposition in Anaheim, CA, the event organizer WorldatWork offered a sponsorship opportunity for exhibitors during Sunday's opening reception in the Exhibit hall called "Hollywood & Vine: Starring California Beer and Wine". Exhibitors could pay a little extra to have a beer or wine "station" at their exhibit where HR professionals could have a drink while they strolled throughout the exhibit hall. About 15 of the over 170 exhibitors participated. The next morning I asked exhibitors how booth traffic was the previous evening. Any exhibitor hosting a station or close to a host said traffic was outstanding. Exhibitors who did not host a station and were not near a station said traffic was slow. So did exhibitors not hosting a station or not near a station miss out?

It's an interesting question that got us thinking about tradeshow giveaways. Some exhibitors measure success at a tradeshow based on total number of leads captured, regardless of lead quality. Based on this measure, hosting a station was probably worth it. Other vendors focus on qualified leads, not quantity. One exhibitor at WorldatWork was giving away a very nice gift to anyone who sat through a product demo in it's entirety. The demo's took about 20 minutes so my guess is a good percentage of these leads were qualified. At another booth, I saw a cool giveaway and asked the booth rep if I could have one. She said "of course" and handed it to me but never bothered to scan my badge or ask for my contact information! If you are going to have a giveaway, you want to at least exchange the giveaway for contact information, right? Yes - but what if your giveaway is a paperclip holder or a packet of Certs with your logo on the packaging? You can't really ask for contact information in exchange for this stuff.

Every exhibitor has a different idea about what constitutes a good giveaway. One company I spoke with refuses to give anything away at tradeshows. To help you decide what to give away at your next event, consider these three strategies:

1. Brand Building: If your objective is to build your brand and maximize awareness of your company or product, then it may make sense to give away a relatively inexpensive item without requiring the attendee to give you their contact information, have their badge scanned or anything else that gets in the way of you getting rid of your stash. Call this the brand-building-volume approach. The challenge is to find a gift that is relatively inexpensive but unique enough to be in demand. Ideally, it will be a gift that people keep (to keep reminding people of the brand). I still have a blow up beach ball (of the earth) that I picked up a few years ago for my young son who played with it every night for months - and I would see the vendor's name on the ball every night!

2. Booth Traffic: The goal here is to get people to your booth. This strategy usually involves some sort of a prize drawing and a lot of pre-conference promotions to get the word out. For example, "stop by XYZ booth and register to win an all expense paid trip to Fiji". Ceridian does a great job on this strategy with their money booth where attendees get inside a small telephone-like booth with dollar bills blowing all around and the attendee gets to keep whatever they can grab in a few minutes. This is a big draw.

3. Qualified Leads: Building on the previous strategy, this is the most challenging of the three strategies. First, you have to attract a large number of attendees to your booth and then you have to screen them to determine how qualified they are. There are all kinds of elaborate tactics to do this but at a minimum, your booth reps need to be able to quickly, with two or three closed end questions, qualify attendees. But remember, you are not selling anything - that comes later. Your focus here is to qualify the lead and get the contact information and move on.

Whatever you decide to do, put some thought into it. The world (and HR executives) do not need any more paperclip holders, mood magnets or note pads. And do something. I cannot understand how a company can spend close to $10,000 exhibiting at an event (space reservation, travel, meals, lodging, etc.) yet not invest $1,000 in a giveaway (which can buy you a lot). Makes no sense.