More to publicity than a great booth

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Drawing attention to a trade show booth is a difficult business. Now, marketers may be more adept at creating flashy booths that draw the eye—but good publicity can cut through that noise. New trends in marketing show that there's more to promotion than a press kit.

Effective publicity at modern trade shows must reach well beyond the booth itself. As a result, marketers are launching their campaigns before the show begins. Creating a direct mail, e-mail or telemarketing campaign to organize personalized meetings can boost attendance and effectiveness. "We do scheduled conversations," said Bill Rozier, VP-global marketing at Ciena, a network solutions company. "When you change the metrics and the charter to incorporate discussions that are pre-planned, [the trade show] becomes a branding opportunity."

And these personalized client experiences don't need to take place on the show floor. Marketers are taking advantage of a resurgence in hospitality suites. According to Rebecca Lyman, co-founder of marketing group Garrigan Lyman, the hospitality suite has not always been successful. However, she said, "lately there's been a big trend toward ? making these something that people actually go to." The key has been "trying to get [potential customers] on the calendar before they come and then reward them in some way for coming."

Additionally, trade shows offer off-the-floor opportunities like presentations, informational sessions and keynote speakers. Jodi Jacobs, director of marketing at Lencore Acoustics Corp., a company that creates customized sound-masking systems, used trade show presentations to build her company's brand beyond the shows themselves. By positioning the company as an educator, she said, Lencore became a resource for people seeking information about acoustics.

At the shows, traffic to its booth increased as presentation attendees sought out speakers for more information. "The uniqueness of making a more targeted presentation is that the people that sit there have a vested reason to be there," she said. "They're going to want to talk to you more about it."

On The Floor

Marketers are also getting more creative on the floor itself. Several said a simple publicity bump is to become a sponsor of the show. Getting a brand name on a lanyard, a bag or on posters throughout the event can boost awareness. According to Lyman, selecting a prudent sponsorship can "raise visibility with preshow drops and Web site presence. If it's a good sponsorship package, you have better placement in the show and, visibilitywise, you could be on every piece of signage and [in the] internal show directory."

Marketers are also drawing clients in with interactive exhibits and displays. Ciena's Rozier teamed up with Kaon Interactive, a company that creates 3D marketing solutions, to make a specialized display kiosk for his booth. The touch-screen device, called v-OSK, allows Ciena to showcase 3D renderings of its products without the cost of transporting its networking systems from show to show. "High-tech is everywhere," Rozier said. "What breaks through the clutter of those large events are interesting presentations of existing materials." The v-OSK "gives a far different perspective to a predictable product. People get to experience these products on a level they wouldn't be able to [traditionally]."

But interactivity does not have to be about technology. Marketers are creating contests, giveaways and presentations on the floor to draw a crowd. "We do a lot of stuff in the booth to keep [it] sticky and have people want to hang around?like a popcorn machine or massage chairs," Lyman said. "We just did a "Jeopardy!" game for one of our clients. ? We built it in Flash, and the audience would participate. It got the message across in a fun way."

Clayton Lovelace is the national director of design at GES Exposition Services, a company that provides exhibition and event services. Before joining GES, Lovelace hired a painter to work at a booth he created. He set up several panels on which the painter created a mural. "The exhibit started to take shape over the course of the [show]," Lovelace said. "People were given signed pieces of the art from the panel. That was very successful; people loved it, and the artist was really dynamic." Lovelace attributes the success of the performance to the overall experience: "You are part of that product, not just hearing about it."

After The Show

"Experience" is a word marketers often use to describe the modern trade show. "If it was just about the show, we would stop doing it," Rozier said. "The old model was that you just set up and hope for the best."

But, he said, that method no longer works. The client's experience does not begin or end when the show does. "We do significant follow-up conversations to further the dialogue."

The idea of the trade show, Rozier said, has changed: "These are brand experience opportunities."

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