My e-mail marketing company, VerticalResponse, attends and participates in a number of trade shows and events each year. But, we recently sponsored a trade show that was way outside our norm--it was a fundraiser put on by one of our long-time local customers Pawtrero. And, all the proceeds went to local San Francisco dog and cat rescues.

You may be scratching your head thinking, "Why the heck would an e-mail marketing company sponsor a pet benefit?"

Why? Because we got in front of folks we might never have a chance to otherwise, and got awesome engagement and a huge response out of it. Here's how:

Swag. Because we'd never done an event like this before, we had to make an educated guess around what kind of swag to bring and how much. What we knew was that we'd need to mix it up. The usual trade show gear was not going to be a good fit here. So, we had dog brushes and portable dog bowls created with our VerticalResponse logo on them. And they flew, and I mean flew off our table. People were actually offering to buy them--that's when you know you've got great swag.

Lesson--Think of your swag like good content.

When attending any trade show, try to customize your swag to your intended audience. If we brought our usual giveaways, it could have been a bust. Think about your audience's needs, offer something of value that addresses those needs and boom--you've got a winner.

Walk the Walk. Because this wasn't going to be our usual trade show audience, we changed a few things up. For instance, we wore logo t-shirts to fit the casual, weekend outdoor vibe of the event. We also invited our employees and their family members, and of course their dogs. At one point we had our Events manager Jenny, our dog Dwight, and our content marketing director's 7-year old daughter and her stuffed dog working our booth. And they were killing it. People responded to our giveaways and our people. It was the perfect match.

Lesson--It's okay to mix it up.

If an event has a more casual vibe, you'll stick out like a sore thumb dressed in suits and ties and people will definitely peg you as someone trying to sell them something. Loosen up when the environment calls for it and you'll be able to mix better with the attendees and engage them.

Get Some Exposure. Because we were the main sponsor for the event, we got to place signage in multiple locations throughout the show and in all the outbound communications like the e-mail marketing, the website and on the blog. These online placements, along with the link back to our website, live on long after the event ends.

Lesson--Ask for what you need.

If you're looking for new leads for your business and you're attending or sponsoring an event, make sure you ask for mentions in all the trade show collateral, communications and marketing. Long after the event ends, those online mentions will supply good search engine optimization juice for your business.

So, on a sunny Sunday afternoon surrounded by friendly folks and their dogs we had heaps of fun exposing tons of new people to our company and if they have small businesses, how we can help them grow. Maybe it's time to think outside the box for your next trade show?

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