July 14, 2024 12:10 PM
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As the Saw Turns by Jim Obermeyer
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If You Build It, They May Not Come

by Jim Obermeyer, Exhibit City News


Wouldn’t it be great if you could build a brand-new exhibit, show up at your largest annual tradeshow, and wait for the crowds to gather? If you listen to some exhibit salespeople, you would think it happens like that. Not quite.

Especially now, when tradeshow industry experts  tell us that attendance is down anywhere from 15 – 25 percent from pre-pandemic years, it is even more important to ensure that the audience knows about you and your latest offerings, long before they get to the show. It’s not so much about the exhibit property (as much as many would like it to be) as it is about how you market your presence at the show before, during, and after the event.


Pre-show marketing includes things like setting appointments with clients and prospects in advance and targeting key prospects with direct mail, e-blasts, and social media. This creates interest and a compelling offer before the show.

Bottom line: Get on the attendee’s ‘must-see’ list before the show opens.


At-show marketing means using the exhibit property as a backdrop for promoting your products through experiential demonstrations and presentations. Additionally, training your booth staff to actively pursue prospects on the floor and qualify them helps generate legitimate leads for follow-up.

Bottom line: Use the time on the show floor to build qualified business opportunities and create interest in your product.


Post-show marketing involves implementing a dedicated process for tracking and following up leads, surveying both booth staff and attendees, and generating reports that show a positive return on investment for the show.

Bottom line: Prove the value of exhibiting by measuring success in quantifiable terms.


If you do all that, are you guaranteed success, especially now?

The Silver Lining in the Economic Cloud

With exhibitor and attendee numbers reportedly lower, believe it or not, there is real opportunity on the show floor. There are fewer of your competitors vying for attendee attention, and those attendees that do show up tend to be more serious buyers.

This all sounds good, but I think it requires a bit of a different strategy in your tradeshow marketing plan. I don’t have the data to back this up, but my guess is that if attendee numbers are down and audience quality is up, then that would indicate that this more qualified audience is also more intent on seeking solutions to their challenges and getting answers to their questions.

What this means for exhibitors is that we need to review everything we are doing on the show floor. Are we directly presenting the correct message to answer this new audience’s questions efficiently? Is our booth staff now trained to get straight to the issues with attendees rather than spend too much time on small talk? Are we wasting time and money on in-booth promotions that don’t get right to the heart of the issue for attendees?

Talk with your industry’s show organizers. Find out if they have new data on their attendees—what are the demographics and psychographics of this new audience? Go back through your pre-show, at-show, and post-show plan and make sure it is dialed in to who is now in the audience at your tradeshows.

More than ever, I think, tradeshows now mean business. Those who do attend are there to do business. If exhibitors still think it’s an entertainment venue, I think they’ll be left in the dust as these new attendees streak through the show looking for answers.

You can use this new tradeshow paradigm by maximizing your marketing potential and paying attention to who is in the audience. And then they WILL come.

See you on the show floor.


Jim Obermeyer has been in the exhibits and events industry for over 40 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house owner.  He can be reached at jobermeyer903@gmail.com   


This story originally appeared in the Q2 2024 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 14. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_q1_2024.

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