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Cut Costs, Not Exhibiting

September 1, 2009

By Mark Armbrust 

During the last downturn we heard from customers who told us that they were completely cutting out exhibiting as part of their marketing plan … even to shows that have worked well for them in the past.  When we question “Why?” all heard back was the standard, “We had to cut our marketing budget and the shows were the first to go.” 

Trade Shows – unnecessarily the first to be cut
Why do we reduce our expenses in other marketing categories but are quick to completely axe trade shows altogether?  For example, to cut costs we will:

  • Send out 500 versus 1000 of the same direct mail piece or just send out a smaller mailer
  • Run a smaller print ad or run it less frequently
  • Buy commercial time only during our “busy season” or at off-hours

You get the picture.  So why do trade shows get cut?  Because our justification is that “we can still attend the show.”  However, attending and exhibiting are two very different activities.  The first provides you with information and the second provides you with leads and sales!

Go…but go smaller
Sometimes the simple ideas are the most helpful: Analyze things that have worked for you at shows so you can continue your success while avoiding the knee-jerk reaction of completely cutting all shows.  How can you reduce your trade show expenses and improve your overall ROI?

Christina Schrank, Director of Operations for National Auto Care in Columbus, Ohio was able to exhibit at her national industry show during the downturn, but cut some of her trade show expenses in the following ways:

  • Smaller booth space – she reduced her space from 20’x 30’ to 20’x 20’. Christina also purchased new graphics for the back side of her 10’ pop up so it was double sided and could be used in the middle of the 20’x 20’ space.
  • Fill the space – the 20’x 20’ space was creatively filled with a combination of the pop up exhibit, banner stands and some cardboard cut-out characters that supported the exhibit theme.
  • Sponsorship – Christina saved $15,000 in sponsorship costs while still maintaining her status as a Lead Sponsor though some savvy negotiating.  She found better ways to do things by having “more logo footage” throughout the show at a smaller cost.

You can join Christina and the thousands of other trade show marketers in saving costs, improving your ROI and maintaining your exhibiting schedule with these other great ideas:

  • Can you invite a non-competitive company to share booth space with you for a fee?
  • Re-configure your exhibit or rent an exhibit to fit the smaller space.  Use graphics that are less expensive and can be tossed after a couple of shows (your marketing message may change anyway).
  • Smaller exhibit space = less staffers = less travel expenses.  Weigh the cost of having your exhibit set up by an exhibit company vs. having staffers spend an extra day or two traveling.
  • Send your portable trade show displays to the staffer’s hotel or to their home to eliminate drayage.  Don’t pay late fees for anything.  Set up the exhibit yourself.  Cut out vacuuming, plants and other unnecessary items.
  • Plan shipping time well so that you are sending all items out the slowest, least expensive way possible.  Can some items be sent locally instead of from your location?  Perhaps it’s time to keep your freight company honest by getting a couple of competitive freight quotes for transporting your exhibit materials?
  • Can I develop trade show promotions that don’t require shipping large, heavy boxes?  Does everyone entering my booth need a promotional item or can we just give them to valid prospects?  Can I use social media more effectively and less expensively to promote my exhibit?  Do I really have to give away literature at the show?
  • Think about the small details because there are lots of savings scattered around your trade show program.

Bottom line: If exhibiting worked for you before the recession, it will continue working for you now.  By analyzing and implementing expense reductions and continuing to do the things that were successful before, you can maintain a strong presence at your industry shows while preventing your competitors from stealing your market share.  Anyone can “show up” during an economic boom.  Showing up in challenging economic times is a true testament to the vision and perseverance that makes a good company a great company.

Special thanks to Chris and Chris for their contributions to this article.


Getting Booth Visitors Via Online & Social Promotions White Paper

In this book Skyline has compiled 26 blog posts originally published in the Skyline Trade Show Tips blog. The posts combine information about social media tools and tactics, pre- and at-show promotions, digital marketing tools and general marketing tips.

From experienced trade show consultants, traditional marketers and digital marketing practitioners, these authors know Trade Shows and how to leverage modern marketing tools to help draw new and returning visitors to your trade show or event.

trade show logistics, trade show planning, budgeting
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