For booth personnel, optics company opts for professional staff

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At Edmund Optics, the events strategy begins with the seemingly simple question of which type of event to attend. Each year, the industrial optics manufacturer exhibits at about 20 trade shows, each with its own personality.

"We're kind of a special case because our product lines appeal to a variety of markets," said Director of Marketing Marisa Edmund, who has worked at the Barrington, N.J.-based family business since 1999. "So I go to everything from a semiconductor show to a biomedical show to a packaging show. You always have to focus on exactly what that [particular] market is interested in."

The nature of the event dictates which products Edmund Optics will display and the type of employee needed to staff the booth.

Edmund said having the right employees at a show is crucial to success. "It's always good to have salespeople available, but when you bring your R&D director or the project manager who is working on their project, [attendees] will stop by," she said. "You have to have your higher-level folks [at the event] who understand what customers are working on. If you don't have those folks, [visitors] are going to turn around and walk right back out."

While Edmund said she doesn't rely on undertrained temporary workers or models to staff the company's show booths, she does supplement her own staff with professional greeters who have solid marketing backgrounds.

Along with pleasant and knowledgeable personnel, Edmund also knows the value of product displays. The company tries to have new products available for many shows, especially for the larger industry events such as Photonics West. "New [exciting] products...or a good, engaging demo, always draw people in," she said. "Everybody at a show wants to know what's new and what's hot."

Picking a Show

"We make sure that we are going to all of the top inside market shows to do the appropriate branding of new products and technology," Edmund said. "Then we always strive to have at least 30% to 40% of our shows be what we'll call `prospecting shows,' where we will go primarily to prospect our catalog and standard line of offerings to folks who may not be totally familiar with us."

One example of an event where the emphasis was more on relationship building was a recent defense industry event. Edmund said the company was dealing with a much smaller customer base, and the focus turned to one-on-one meetings and dinners with clients.

A best practice in the Edmund Optics booth is qualifying leads on site. That helps the company feed only the most appropriate leads to its sales force. Edmund said the capabilities of lead capture systems provided by show organizers vary.

The best feature devices, such as Palm Pilots, allow the company to program its own attendee-qualifying questions and tailor the output. Booth workers then ask each visitor questions, scan attendee badges and have names and demographic data "all wrapped up in one package" for the sales team.

The company also looks for opportunities to interact with customers away from the show floor. One strategy that has worked well is sponsoring "poster sessions," conferences where educational and professional associations present technical papers. Sponsors get exposure through a banner or a tabletop display, and the benefit of having their name associated with an experience of show attendees learning and sharing ideas.

"Not only do you make sure you have a marketing presence or a small pop-up poster, you [need] folks that you send to that event who are going to mingle and make your presence known physically," Edmund said.

Working in a variety of global industries, Edmund Optics hosts international events, primarily in Europe and Asia. The international locals play a role in the company's planning.

"You have to do your homework ahead of time in terms of [arranging] things [that] are going to flow," Edmund said.

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