Event Marketing Part 2: Don’t use promo girls

I’ve organised a multitude of tradeshows and conference booths (mainly home improvement and tech events). There’s a lot of work in the lead up but your actual results hinge on what happens on the day. You can the best laid plans, most amazing stand and outstanding merch but still fail miserably. There’s one key ingredient that can make or break your event.

In my view the most important part of any event is your team. Manning a conference booth is often seen as drawing the short straw. It’s easy to understand why. Standing around on a booth can be boring, tiresome and awkward. It’s hard to justify the time away from the office. Plus if you’re not a natural extrovert the idea of approaching strangers can seem like torture.

It can be tempting to hire casual promotional staff or delegate to juniors. There is some occasions when promo girls (and guys) are appropriate. However if your sales pitch is more complex than a beer tasting then you need to bring in your own team. But my advice is suck it up and send your best people or risk poor results.

What do visitors want to know?

Put yourself into the mind of the people visiting your stand. Your audience will probably want to talk to someone who a) works for your company b) can confidently answer their questions.

Think about why they’re at the event. There’s generally two types of event – conferences and trade shows. For a tech conference people attend to learn and be inspired by influential developers and designers. We often send developers to tech conferences we sponsor, they gain professional development and can easily relate to booth visitors. Socially chatting about the conference speakers is far better than a straight sales pitch!

Mitsubish Electric tradeshow booth

This Mitsubishi Electric booth was at a trade show for builders and architects. It was staffed by commercial air conditioning specialists and engineers. Each person was briefed on all products displayed, not just their own product speciality.

If you’re at a trade show then visitors are often looking to purchase. You need to be equipped to answer their questions and help them along the decision making process. It’s pretty frustrating to ask someone on a branded stand a product question and realise they don’t have a clue.

Getting feedback from the coalface

It’s not just visitors that get value from having your company’s team on the stand. Conferences and trade shows are a brilliant opportunity to talk directly to your customer base. Find out what their biggest challenges are and how they interact with your brand. Take note of the questions that they ask and the things that excite them about your offering. As a marketer you have a golden opportunity to gather market intelligence, treat the conference like a giant focus group!

Hamish on PHP UK Stand

Hamish Friedlander, SilverStripe’s CTO at the PHP UK Conference.

Stand out and be friendly!

It’s basic advice but it does help if your team are easily identified. Wearing bright tee shirts in your brand colour makes it simple for guests to spot your team.

It also goes a long way if your team look happy to be there. No wants to approach people who look bored! It helps if you have a few people on the stand and you have fun with the event. It’s naturally more welcoming to visitors.

And please, please whatever you do, don’t make assumptions about your visitors. Treat everyone in the same polite and friendly way! The worst trade show experience I had was at an American tech conference. There was over 13,000 attendees and about 10% would have been female. In the exhibitor hall I was even more outnumbered. When visiting the display booths with a colleague I was often shocked to find I had suddenly gained invisibility powers. While that would be helpful sometimes, in this case it just turned me right off the companies!

Help your team feel confident

Not everyone is confident talking to new people so try to help them feel comfortable. I like to hold a pre-event briefing to cover:

  • Event overview – the audience expected and format of the event
  • Tips for starting conversations (I covered using games and competitions to draw people into your booth in Event Marketing Part 1)
  • Common questions and potential answers (especially tricky ones like pricing, competitors or features in development)
  • Key messages about your offering – some people gain confidence practicing short elevator pitches with colleagues before the event
  • Desired outcomes are – should they ask everyone for a business card, enter their details on an iPad or encourage them to enter a competition?
  • Post event follow up – this gives context plus some visitors may want to know what’s planned for their contact details also!

Have you ever had a great (or terrible) experience at a trade booth? Please share your story below


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