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Smart Questions for Your Trade Show Organizer

A typical trade show loses nearly 40 percent of its exhibitors every year, mostly first-timers that didn't get what they expected. Ask these questions to make sure you're not headed for a two-day waste of time.
  • Are attendance figures audited? Crowds beget bigger crowds, so some show organizers will count anything that breathes to inflate their attendance figures. Ask if an independent auditor certified the last show and get a copy of the report. It should detail the demographic makeup of attendees, such as job titles and functions, industries represented, and where they're from.

  • What are the exhibit hours? Educational workshops and marquee keynoters are big draws at trade shows but can leave little time for attendees to walk the show floor. Unless you want to read a good book at the show, make sure the schedule allows time for people to check out the exhibits exclusively.

  • Will you clean my booth at night? Don't count on maid service. Read the show's service manual front to back to find out what is and isn't included with your piece of real estate. You may have to pay extra for carpeting and furniture. Place your order before the given deadline or expect to pay a 30 to 40 percent premium at the show.

  • How secure is my booth after hours? A trade show is a "thief kingdom," says industry consultant Susan Friedmann. It's also prime stomping ground for corporate spies carrying cell phone cameras. Find out if security guards patrol the hall. If you're still wary, ask to rent a locked container to store your products at night.

  • Who is your preferred freight carrier? You might be able to catch a break on shipping costs, and if something breaks or disappears, there will likely be a representative at the show to help.

  • Are there speaking opportunities? Dan Cole, vice president of sales and business development for the Consumer Electronics Show, calls this the Pied Piper approach: Give a good speech, and people will follow you back to your booth. Save the sales pitch for then, says Cole. Show organizers cringe when speakers hawk their products at the podium.

  • Who are my neighbors? The bigger their booths, the more likely your neighbors are going to do some sort of live presentation at the show. A celebrity guest appearance that draws a crowd next door might be an advantage--or it might make your 10 by 10 booth invisible. Ask about rules on noise and booth design, too. Nothing's worse than being next to a guy who jacks up his amp every hour for a product demo.

  • How are you marketing the show? A printed and online directory of all exhibitors should be a given. Some shows will provide free invitations or brochures that you can mail to customers (at your expense). Ask about an on-site press office.

  • Where's my competitor's booth? There should be no secrets about who's going where on the show floor. If you want to be closer to a competitor, see if you can switch locations or at least be put on a waiting list should space open up.

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