Trade Show Marketing Dilemma: Should You Exhibit, or Just Attend?

The big trade show is coming up. I mean the BIG one. The one where everybody who’s anybody is in attendance. Did I say big? I meant HUGE.


But sales have been slow and the budget is tight. You could reserve a booth and fly your six best salespeople out to man your trade show exhibit and hopefully generate some much-needed hot prospects. Price tag: $100,000. Potential revenue generation: $200,000.

Or you could fly your top two people out and, instead of babysitting an exhibit, they could focus on research and relationship-building, which will open new doors long term and yield valuable insights for your annual marketing plan. Price tag: $7,000. Potential revenue generation: Unknown.

What to do?

Depending on whom you ask, great arguments can be made for either choice. Let’s take a look at the event marketing issue from both sides — the benefits of being an exhibitor versus the benefits of being an attendee.

  • As an attendee, you get to spend more time researching competitors.
  • As an exhibitor, you get to spend more time generating leads.
  • As an attendee, you can present or lead a workshop, and drive traffic to your website or social media channel instead of a booth.
  • As an exhibitor, you can host a presentation or lead a discussion group and drive traffic to your booth as a result.
  • As an attendee, your efforts will help to build relationships with peers, vendors and prospective partners.
  • As an exhibitor, your efforts will help to build brand awareness and showcase your products and services.


Plan for Success

Whether you decide to exhibit or just attend that big trade show, it’s essential to have a strategic plan and to set goals so you can evaluate your success after the event is over. If you follow the 1-2-3’s of tradeshow marketing, your chances of success will be much higher.

  1. Decide which benchmarks to use in measuring performance. Some companies base the success of their trade show marketing on a simple Return on Investment (ROI) formula, while others rate it on their overall Return on Objectives (ROO), Return on Relationships (ROR), or something else entirely. (One of our previous blog posts, 7 Ways to Measure Trade Show Success, offers some tips to help you decide which goal or metric is right for you.)
  2. Choose the right show. Ask your peers in the industry what kind of traction they’ve gotten from attending or exhibiting at a particular show, and review the attendee list ahead of time to ensure that your target customer will actually be there.
  3. Mix it up. The best event marketing campaigns don’t rely solely on in-person, face-to-face sales pitches. Combine your floor and booth marketing with an interactive web or social media campaign for twice the exposure.

Still Unsure? Get Help

It may make sense for you to walk the show the first time around to get a feel for the competitors and attendees, but in the end, if your goal is to boost sales, the best way to do that is to set up your own booth display. If you’re feeling outgunned and undermanned, a professional trade show marketing firm like EXHIB-IT! can help guide you through the process of choosing and designing a display, as well as managing your exhibit — from shipping, setup and take-down to storage at our climate-controlled warehouse.


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