Saving marketing events costs is possible, but you have to know which cuts are wise and which might sabotage your event efforts. Here's a run-down of tactics you can use to reduce event marketing expenses when budgets get skinnier. Many of them are essential steps even in the best of times.
1. Choose events wisely. It's possible to reduce the number of marketing events you participate in while still retaining overall effectiveness. The simplest way is to consult the ROI Toolkit, technology developed by expo consultancy Exhibit Surveys and funded by the Professional Convention Management Association, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research and the International Association for Exhibitions and Events. By plugging in event goals and other data, you can use the the tool to calculate potential audience size and so quantify the value of exhibiting, determine if exhibiting in a particular show is justified, calculate the level of investment required for staff and exhibit space, and project the strengths and weaknesses (and ultimate ROI) of a particular exhibit. (See roitoolkit.exhibitsurveys.net.)
2. Direct mail redirected. Pre-show prep can make or break an event in promoting interest among prospective attendees. Achieve efficiencies here, counsels David Henkel, president of Johnson & Quin, a full-service direct mail printing and production company, with A/B testing of invitations to see if a more economical direct mail piece draws just as well as an expensive one. Work closely with your agency to make sure its creative juices are directed toward effectiveness rather than expensive extravagance.
Henkel also urged marketers to plan ahead to take advantage of standard (but slower) postage rates, versus first-class postage; that alone can save up to 10 cents per direct mail piece, he said. And work with your ad agency to understand when to print direct mail pieces in the popular full digital color method for low volume runs and when to go to a different, less expensive printing method for high-volume.
3. Eliminate collateral damage. The expense involved in printing, assembling, shipping and distributing collateral material can be cut dramatically by stuffing everything into a USB flash drive (or a CD). Logoed flash drives can run as little as $3 apiece in bulk and can be filled with electronic versions of every spec sheet, photo, brochure and demonstration video imaginable. They're also coveted promotional-product giveaways.
4. Boost that booth. Design your booth with efficiencies in mind. Fabric walls lit creatively can be cheaper than hard-core structures and cost less to transport, said Dan Hoffend, VP-sales with Freeman. Renting a display rather than building one also can be cheaper. When multiple shows are scheduled, consider loft facilities to stash booth materials midway between the shows, again saving on transport costs.
5. Labor intensive. Expo hall labor is always expensive. Reduce it by getting in your orders 30 days in advance of the show. “The biggest mistake is waiting too close to the event,” said Freeman's Hoffend. Give the contractors a month's notice and you can save as much as 30% in discounts, he added.
6. Protect your promos. Speaking of promotional-product giveaways, guard them jealously on the show floor. Instead of setting them out on a table as freebies, keep them in reserve to present as a thank-you only to qualified attendees with whom you have meaningful, productive conversations. Your promotional-products budget will be reduced, and the effectiveness of your swag giveaways will be enhanced.
Display virtually. A huge events expense is shipping products, the labor in transporting them into the hall, hauling them home and repairing the damage done by drayage gorillas. Instead, leave your products at home and go virtual.
Kaon Interactive offers in-booth technology that visually displays—in high-resolution photo-realistic 3D—your products right in the booth. “You also can reduce floor space since the size of a Kaon device is far smaller than [most displayed products],” said Gavin Finn, president-CEO of Kaon.
8. Exhibit virtually. When exhibiting at a face-to-face event is cost-prohibitive, consider virtual trade shows. Here, rather than exhibiting in person within a physical space, your “booth” sits in a virtual Internet world set up by the expo organizer. Attendees are also present virtually, via invitation to the show.
“The appeal is obvious in terms of expenses and savings,” said trade show consultant and Columbia University marketing professor Ruth P. Stevens, “but you have to go back to the real power of a trade show, which is the efficient opportunity to have a series of conversations with customers and prospects. If you agree with that, then a virtual trade show is powerless.”
9. Party time. If your exhibiting budget is cut back severely, consider instead hosting an off-site breakfast, the cheapest and possibly most productive meal of the day. The event will give you concentrated face-time and the chance to make your pitch. If you have real chutzpah, try crashing parties by wangling invitations at booths. As long as you're polite and not a competitor, you'll stand a chance of making new contacts.
Attend. Don't exhibit. Key customers attend your prime shows, and you can, too. When your events marketing budget evaporates, Stevens suggests registering only as an attendee, where you can use the expo as a networking opportunity.
“Buy only an exhibit hall ticket,” Stevens suggested. “Make appointments with your current customers and prowl around the hall together.” Alternately, she suggests applying for a speaking opportunity on the expo program, which will get you into the trade show for free. M