Author Archive

Exhibitor training works

Written by Susan Ratliff on January 25th, 2013. Posted in exhibitor training

I have so much fun traveling to different cities teaching tradeshow and consumer show exhibitors how to turn a booth into a powerful profit center.  I especially enjoy talking with home show exhibitors and recently gave seminars in Orlando and Jacksonville Florida for Marketplace Events.  Their event management team impressed me with their show statistics and their sincere desire to give their exhibitors all the tools they need to succeed. Smart show producers understand that increasing the profits and elevating the professionalism of their exhibitors not only benefits the exhibiting company, but also improves the attendee experience.  When they asked exhibitors in Orlando  why they signed up to be in their show, 88% said there number one reason to exhibit was so they could collect leads.  Ironically  only a small percentage of  those exhibitors actually collected leads.  Nationally, according to CEIR (Center for Exhibition Industry Reseach), 74% of exhibitors collect leads, but only 85% of those leads are ever followed up. Some training would help eliminate that mistake.  I find it interesting  that when I ask my seminar attendees if they have ever had any formal tradeshow training from an exhibit marketing expert rarely do I find anyone who has. Show producers, I’m available.  So are 7-10 other fantastic speakers who can give your exhibitors strategies to work the show like a pro.  Remember that happy exhibitors = successful shows.

The difference is in the details when it comes to display design

Written by Susan Ratliff on January 18th, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

I recently returned from the ASI Show which is the convention and tradeshow for the Advertising Specialties Institute where I presented seminars to the suppliers on exhibit marketing and attracting and using free publicity.  After the sessions I visited a few of the exhibitors on the show floor who signed up for my one-on-one personal booth evaluations.  Several suppliers were first time exhibitors, but most were  tradeshow veterans. Regardless of their experience I was able to offer a few recommendations for improvement to each of them.  One mistake they all had in common was leaving unsightly product boxes and supply bags out where attendees could see them.  When there are cardboard boxes spilling over with stuff right in front of your beautiful display it causes an immediate disconnect and detracts from your professional image. Quality of signage was another issue.  I know vinyl banners are quick and cheap, but an eight foot vinyl company sign hanging on the back curtain from metal grommets gives the impression that the business does not cares about its image or designed their booth at the last minute. If was refreshing to see that each booth needed only a few design adjustments to make it really great. Moving a counter to the corner to make it easier to enter the booth.  Aligning product shelves so they don’t block the messages on your graphics. Elevating brochures in an acrylic holder instead of fanning them out on a table.  Placing products or give-aways in unique containers to add interest and attract attention.  The next time you set up your booth at a show, step back when you are done and take a critical look at your environment through the eyes of your customer.  Is there anything you could do better?  Is there a way to make your company look more professional? Is there something you can do to better facilitate the customer experience or improve the merchandising of your products and services?  The results from that extra evaluation could make the difference between whether an attendee stops at your booth or passes you by. 

Got a question about tradeshow marketing? Ask the Exhibit Expert, Susan Ratliff.

Five bad habits of experienced exhibitors

Written by Susan Ratliff on May 26th, 2012. Posted in Attending a tradeshow, Booth Blunders, common mistakes

I just returned from a convention where I was an exhibitor myself.  This was an industry related show so the exhibitors were knowledgable and experienced.  Some of the mistakes I saw on the show floor confirmed my assumption that even the most seasoned exhibitors need some training or review about what to do and how to look at a tradeshow.  The veteran exhibitor is pretty resistant to suggestions or training and that is a shame. They will tell you they have been exhibiting for years and know what they are doing, but the honest truth is, they were never trained on exhibit marketing techniques and strategies so they have been doing some of the same WRONG things for all those years. Here are a few of my observations. Are you guilty of any of these mistakes?

1.  You know that black and white sign that hangs on the back wall of the pipe and drape in your booth?  That is not your company sign. Unfortunatly, many exhibitors did not get the memo.  That ugly cardboard sign is there to identify which company is to occupy that booth space. Before you set up your display, take it down and throw it away.  At the last show eight out of ten exhibitors keep it hanging.  There is was, peeking out from behind their beautiful displays putting a dent in their professionalism. The exhibitor across from me actually took the sign off the drape and hung it on the front of his beautiful $3000 pop up mural.  I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask him why in the world he would do that.  He said because his graphic only had the company name at the bottom so he wanted to repeat it at the top.  I tried to tactfully talk him into taking it down, but he kept it there the entire three days. 

2.  I guess many of the exhibitors were tired from hitting the roulette tables until 3 in the morning because so many company representatives were sitting down in their booth.  You are not very approachable when you are sitting down and certainly not when you are in deep conversation with your booth mate.  Get up, get engaged, get some energy going.  Greet each passing attendees with enthusiasm whether it is 9 am or 4 pm. Next time, take the chairs out of your space.

3.  What is the most important message you want to tell your prospective customers?  Is it the long list of every service you provide? Is it the four paragraph mission statement from your brochure?  Is it every feature your product contains? NO! The most important message your booth graphics and signs should convey is what you can do for the attendees at the show.  They need to know first, that you understand their problem, then they need to hear how you can solve it.  Can you remove their pain, resolve their challenge and give them what they need?  You have about 10 seconds to make that message very clear.  Use your display or banner stand graphics to tell them what they want to hear. Minimal text with the right message addressing their needs and large pictures to capture their interest will compel them to stop and talk to you.  That should be the goal of your marketing messages.

4.  Nearly every exhibitor had a table full of really cool give-a-ways. There were many fun freebees and some were relatively expensive. The most popular method of distribution seemed to be to leave them there free for the taking.  Some exhibitors handed them to attendees as they opened conversation. I did not observe one exhibitor that used those give-aways as a reward to obtaining a prospect’s contact information. They just left them there to grab and go.  Use your premium gifts as a reward for getting what you need from the attendee.  Give them as a thank you for listening to your sales information, playing a game or watching a demonstration. They are an ideal thank-you gift after the prospect gives you their contact information.  Your give-a-ways are a tool to help you engage the prospect and leave them with a reminder of you and your company. Use them, don’t just give them away.

5. I was a bit shocked at the end of the show when a number of exhibitors began breaking down their displays 45 minutes before the show closed.  The conference manager was pretty upset because once one exhibitor starts to take apart their booth, others follow. It is very uncomfortable for those of us who follow the rules and stick it out until the end.  It is disrespectful to the attendees, ruins the flow of the tradeshow floor and makes the organization look bad.  Sure it was slow and yes it was boring, but before you consider packing up before closing time, first ask permission from show management.  If things are winding down they will often make an announcement giving all exhibitors permission to break early.  You might want to take a look at your exhibitor contract because there is usually a clause that says any company taking down an exhibit before the published closing time will be banned from exhibiting in the future. 

Are you a show producer who wants to bring added value to your exhibitors or an exhibitor yourself who wants to know how to turn your booth into a powerful profit center?  Contact Susan Ratliff, The Exhibit Expert, to speak to your group or consult with your show management team.  Susan Ratliff, 602-828-1177,


Want more sales? Get more leads

Written by Susan Ratliff on April 6th, 2012. Posted in generating leads, Uncategorized

My plan was to do a little research in the exhibit hall at the conference I spoke at recently.  I wanted to personalize my session to the specific audience and highlight the good sales techniques of a few of the participating vendors.  One of the things I was looking for was the types of lead generating strategies the exhibitors were using to capture a prospects contact information like company name, email address and phone number.  Some of the common techniques would be

  • holding a drawing
  •  having a contest.
  • playing a game
  • taking a survey. 

There is usually a bowl or basket on a table or counter where attendees can deposit a lead form or business card. Smart exhibitors will keep their forms on clipboards and write down the contact information while they engage the attendee.  I walked the entire show floor and inspected over 100 booths.  I found only five companies that had any type of lead capturing process that was obvious to me.  That was pretty hard to believe.  What were those other companies thinking?  Why were they at the show?  I asked a few how they were getting their leads.  More than several said they weren’t collecting leads because they would be getting the attendee list after the show.  I am thinking, are you kidding me? They might as well cold call 100 names out of the phone book, randomly search for customers on Google or throw darts at a map. Why spend thousands of dollars on an exhibit and booth space and take the staff out of town for a week if you aren’t planning to cultivate prospects and gather some intel?   Face to face marketing is why you exhibit at a tradeshow.  Meeting your potential customers personally so they get to know who you are is part of the value of exhibiting.  It’s where you can connect a name and face to a your business. Your chance to dig into what makes your customer tick. If you ask they will tell you what they love and hate about your business. What they want from you and your industry. What problems they have an solutions they need.  If you listen and they like you and you follow up effectively they will buy from you.   Make a plan to do that at your next event.  If you need some ideas or want some advice on getting the most from your next tradeshow contact me, Susan Ratliff, The Exhibit Expert at

Simple tweeks for making a good display better

Written by Susan Ratliff on April 2nd, 2012. Posted in Booth Blunders, Uncategorized

I had a terrific time at the Shredder Convention over the weekend.  That’s the conference for the National Association of Information Destruction.  A friendly group and a fascinating industry consisting of companies that shred confidential documents and crush and pulverize hard drives, CD’s and computer parts, just to name a few of their services.   I had the pleasure to present two seminars.   How to get and use free publicity and another the NAID staff titled The Wealthy Exhibitionist. I covered the five key strategies for turning your booth into a powerful profit center at tradeshows.  The exhibit hall was busy and it was obvious that many of the exhibitors spent a substantial amount of money on their displays.  Some were terrific, but others made me cringe. There is a fine line between what makes one exhibit good and another exhibit great.  Either something is missing or something is added that takes away from an exhibit’s effectiveness or professionalism.   A lack of attention to detail can really mess up a good image. Here are five of my pet peeves.  I would love to hear what you think.  

  1. Take down that horrible ID Sign!  That ugly black and white cardboard sign with your company name on it that is pinned to the curtain on your back wall drape is there to show you which booth space is yours.  After up set if up upir display get rid of it.  8 out of 10 exhibitors left that two dollar sign up, peaking out over the top of their $6000 display.  Yuk!!  It completely distracts from your beautiful presentation and is a tell-tell sign of inexperience.  I was compelled to suggest it’s removal to at least 10 exhibitors at the show, but only a few bothered to remove it. 
  2. Get rid of the candy bowl.  What is the purpose of having candy at your booth if you are not selling candy or if you are not tying the candy into your theme or marketing message. You might think that it draws prospects to your booth.  Yes it does. They come by, grab a handful of chocolate and rush off. No exhibitor I have ever encountered that has a bowl of candy at their booth has ever engaged me when I come by for a piece. Save the candy for Halloween. 
  3. Is that table necessary?  I know that your booth space includes a 6’ table, but do you really need it?  If you do need it do you have to place it like a barrier across the front of your booth space? If you are spreading out your five stacks of brochures and one stack of business cards across the tabletop trying to fill that space you don’t need the table. Purchase a free-standing literature rack and a small podium counter instead. Keep your booth space open and inviting. Draw attendee into your space.  If you have lots of samples to show or need the table for a demonstration or other important items, then think twice whether you want it positioned across the opening to your display as a barrier between you and your customers.  Sometimes that configuration works perfectly, but it’s more likely not necessary and more importantly it usually blocks the attendee’s view of your marketing message and beautiful graphics on your display that you spent a ton of money on.  Consider placing the table perpendicular to your back wall or you can just put the table in the aisle during set up and they will take it away?
  4. Can you spring for a custom table cover? If you plan to keep the table in your space, please purchase an imprinted table cover that coordinates with your other display elements.  When you have a gorgeously designed display in your booth, nothing stands out like a sore thumb more than a table covered in the drape that the show provided.  It’s
    a simple fix that will provide a more cohesive look to your company image.
  5. Do you need all those chairs? Are you really going to let your employees sit down in the booth?  Do you want your exhibit to be a rest stop for attendees or encourage them to sit for twenty minutes and chat with your team?  I didn’t think so. If you are not hosting a demonstration or consultations at your booth please remove those chairs.  Not only are they taking up valuable space in your booth, but most of the time they are blocking your graphics from the customer’s view. 
  6. Why is your literature so messy?  Stacks of flyers and brochures spread across your counter look sloppy and detract from your professionalism. Spend a few bucks on a couple acrylic tiered literature holders or a collapsible literature rack.  Elevate your important information, keep your display counter tidy and minimize the time it takes to straighten stacks of paper.  

 Thanks for letting me vent.  I hope you will implement these six suggestions when your next tradeshow rolls around.  Give me a call if you’d like an evaluation of your existing layout or want ideas for turning an average exhibit into a powerful profit center. Susan Ratliff, The Exhibit Expert,  602-828-1177

Harris,out of Baxley Georgia has been in business selling shears, balers and shredders for 100 years. The booth staff were professional and attentive and their banners look great. Just few inexpensive changes like removing the id sign, taking out the chairs, elevating the literature, adding a red table cover with their logo on the front and moving the table perpendicular to the back wall would improve their image 100%