A business conference can be one of the most effective marketing tools available to a business. On the other hand, mishandling these events can turn them into a massive waste of resources.
Even a modest investment in an industry event can pay high dividends, if you are careful to promote your involvement effectively. There is no benefit if no one knows you attended and you didn’t come back with new business.
Let me say from the beginning that there are many reasons to attend these events, including networking, partner relations, existing client relations and meeting with the media. Good conferences will provide valuable information for attendees, so you may even learn something.
For the purposes of this guide, we’re talking about attending these events to get new clients. While there may be other reasons to go, this should be reason No. 1.
Success depends upon effective communication, before, during and after the event. But what communication tools should be developed and how can they best be deployed to maximize your success? We have answers.
In this guide, we’ll share ideas for making sure your next conference appearance is worth the investment. Here’s what we have in store for you:
- Why Attend an Industry Event
- Setting Your Goals for the Event
- Getting Specific About Your Goals
- Deciding on Your Level of Involvement
- Promotion Before the Show
- Promotion During the Show
- Promotion After the Show
- Choosing the Tactics You Can Handle
- Measuring the ROI of your Conference Experience
- Getting Help with Conference Promotion
Be sure to complete the form at the bottom to get a free conference promotion checklist.
Why Attend an Industry Event
There are many reasons to attend an industry conference or trade show, including networking, learning, meeting partners, clients and prospects, providing demos on stage, getting your executives exposure and finding new leads with a trade show booth.
But in our opinion, the best reason to go is to find and close new business. Here are some ways participating in a trade show can help you with that.
Trade shows gather industry professionals, potential clients, and investors all in one place. It’s an excellent opportunity to showcase your chatbot to a wide and relevant audience. It allows you to increase your brand’s visibility and reach a concentrated group of people who are specifically interested in the industry.
Trade shows offer a unique chance to network with industry peers, potential clients, partners, and even competitors. You can engage in meaningful conversations, exchange ideas, and explore collaboration opportunities. Networking can lead to valuable partnerships that can help grow your chatbot’s presence in the market.
In a trade show setting, you can provide live demonstrations of your chatbot’s capabilities. Potential clients can experience firsthand how the chatbot works, its features, and how it can benefit their business. Demonstrations can be powerful in conveying the value of your product.
Trade shows allow you to receive real-time feedback from industry experts and potential users. You can gain insights into what works well, what needs improvement, and what features resonate with your target audience. This feedback can be invaluable for refining your chatbot’s offering.
Participating in a trade show also lets you see what your competitors are doing. You can observe their products, marketing strategies, and value propositions. This competitive intelligence can help you position your chatbot more effectively and identify areas where you can stand out.
Trade shows often attract media attention. Journalists and industry analysts attend these events to report on the latest trends and innovations. If your chatbot stands out, it might catch the attention of the media and lead to valuable press coverage.
Trade shows are an excellent platform for lead generation. Interested attendees might want to know more about your chatbot or express interest in a partnership. You can collect contact information and follow up with potential leads after the event.
Beyond promoting your chatbot, attending trade shows can also provide you with valuable industry insights. You can attend seminars, panel discussions, and talks by experts to learn about the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in the industry.
Being present at a reputable trade show can add to your brand’s credibility. It shows that you are serious about your product and the industry. Potential clients may perceive your chatbot as more trustworthy and reliable if it has a presence at a well-known industry event.
Participating in an industry trade show can be a strategic move to gain exposure, build relationships, and propel your company forward.
But to get all of that you must have a solid promotional plan. It’s important to plan your trade show appearance thoughtfully, including booth design, marketing materials, and engaging activities to attract attendees to your booth.
That’s why we’re going to provide a complete promotional plan in this guide. But before you can reach your goals, you have to set them.
Setting Your Goals for the Event
You can’t know if a specific conference opportunity is right for you if you don’t first consider what you want to accomplish there. Even worse, if you don’t have a desired outcome, calculating your ROI from the event won’t really tell you if it was worth your investment.
The bottom line is you shouldn’t spend a dime that doesn’t get you closer to one of your stated goals for the event and those goals should be set well in advance of the event.
Here are some factors to bear in mind when defining your goals:
Make your goals as specific as possible. Avoid vague objectives like “increase brand awareness.” Instead, focus on quantifiable targets like “collect 100 qualified leads” or “conduct 50 live demonstrations.”
Ensure your goals align with your overall business and marketing objectives. For a chatbot in the financial services industry, relevant goals could include “secure partnerships with two major banks” or “gain insights into the latest trends and pain points in the industry.”
Your goals should be measurable so that you can track your progress and evaluate success. Use concrete metrics such as the number of leads generated, the percentage of positive feedback received, or the number of media mentions acquired.
Realistic and Achievable:
While it’s good to be ambitious, set goals that are realistic and achievable within the time and resources available. Unrealistic goals might lead to disappointment or poor resource allocation. That said, we are firm believers in setting high goals. Setting your goals too low will make it harder to know how high you could have gone.
Attach a timeline to your goals. Trade conferences are usually short events, so set goals that can be accomplished during or shortly after the conference. For example, “schedule follow-up meetings with potential clients within two weeks after the event.”
Now, let’s explore some specific goals you might aim to achieve at the trade conference.
Getting Specific About Your Goals
The more specific you can be about what you want to accomplish at your next trade show, the easier it will be to measure. Vague goals make calculating an ROI for the event very challenging, so dial in what you want to accomplish and make sure everyone on your team is on the same page.
Gather a specific number of leads from potential clients you want to work with in the year ahead.
Conduct a certain number of live demonstrations of your product’s capabilities to showcase its features and benefits.
Get mentioned in a certain number of media outlets or secure interviews with industry publications to increase your brand’s visibility.
Build relationships with key industry players, potential partners, investors, or experts in the field to explore collaboration opportunities. If you can get the attendee list, highlight it and seek out the people who can make a difference in your business.
Attend relevant sessions, panels, and talks to gain insights into industry trends, customer pain points, and competitor strategies. Or better, have an associate or company executive attend these sessions for company visibility without keeping you from setting sales meetings.
Increase brand recognition by distributing marketing materials, displaying your products prominently, and engaging attendees with your brand’s story.
Gather feedback from industry experts and potential clients to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.
Secure potential partnerships or collaborations with other companies or organizations in the financial services industry.
Education and Thought Leadership:
Position your company as a thought leader in the space by participating in speaking engagements or panel discussions. Or, failing that, create videos that you can share via social during the event.
Develop a concrete plan for post-conference follow-up, including contacting potential clients, sending materials, and nurturing leads.
Remember that not all goals need to be achieved during the conference itself. Some objectives, such as lead nurturing and partnership discussions, may extend beyond the event. Preparing for the trade conference with well-defined goals will help you make the most of the opportunity and contribute to the long-term success of your company.
Choosing Your Level of Involvement
There are a range of approaches a company may take when it comes to participating in an online event. While the conference planners may only be interested in the size of the booth you will sponsor, there are many other ways to be involved.
Here are some things to consider when planning your approach to the conference.
You can send a scout:
If you can’t find out enough to determine whether your goals can be achieved at an event but you still think it’s worth attending, send a scout. This person should attend key sessions, walk the exhibit hall floor, gather cards and marketing material (especially from competitors) and ask plenty of questions (people always notice those who are asking questions).
Send a speaker:
Getting a speaker slot is not easy if your company is new to an industry or sector, but if you have an executive who is well spoken and isn’t afraid of a video camera, there are things you can do to get attention. Some conferences waive fees for speakers, though few if any B2B shows will pay a speaker. But they’ll get a badge and that gets them access to all the good stuff.
Send a small team:
The next step up is to forego sponsoring the event, but send a small team that can be seen moving through the event together and then can spread out to accomplish more.
Sponsor something small:
Most conference planners will provide a range of sponsorship packages that can make it possible to get sponsorship recognition on even a modest budget. Many of these opportunities also include one or more badges to the event.
Invest in a booth:
A booth on the trade show flow tells attendees that you are a player, if they have time to visit the exhibits. Having a booth gives you a place to hold meetings, show demos and answer questions. It’s important that you have someone at the show who can roam, as being tied to the booth for the whole show takes your company off too many playing fields.
Invest in a conference suite:
If you can get prospects to agree to meetings, investing in a conference suite makes sense. It’s far easier to close something away from the hubbub of the show floor. On the other hand, unless you are showing demos that you don’t want your competition to see, long sales cycles that are typical for complex products means that you won’t close that many at any given show, making this a hard expense to recoup, especially since it takes your team away from sessions and the exhibit hall.
Sponsor something big:
If you really want to be everywhere, you may have the opportunity to sponsor the show bags, a meal or break or something else that puts you in front of every attendee. Over the years, I’ve attended dozens of shows and I have lanyards with dozens of logos on them. I don’t remember what any of them are, but a prospect wearing one at a show might.
Host a party:
If you want people to be talking about you on the second day of a conference, host a party on the first night. I’ve never heard of a deal being closed in a bar rented out during a conference for a party, but the best parties get a lot of mileage at the event and afterward. They are excellent opportunities for social media. Just catch the attendees during the first hour of the event and not after they can no longer legally drive. No one needs to see those pictures.
Or go even bigger:
I’ve been to events where companies took their prospects to major league sports events, out on yacht cruises and to expensive dinners. All of this is possible and you won’t know if it’s worth it until you do your ROI calculation afterward.
Choosing the right level of sponsorship for a trade show is an important decision that can significantly impact your presence and visibility at the event. Since you can’t know in advance how well your team will perform at the event, it’s a calculated risk.
Consider the following factors as you decide what level of sponsorship to commit to.
Evaluate your available budget for the trade show. Sponsorship levels can vary widely in cost, and it’s essential to choose a level that aligns with your financial resources. Consider not only the sponsorship fee but also other associated costs, such as booth design, marketing materials, and travel expenses.
Define your goals for the trade show. What do you hope to achieve by sponsoring the event? If your main goal is to increase brand visibility, higher-tier sponsorships with prominent logo placement and recognition might be more beneficial. If lead generation is a priority, certain sponsorships might offer more opportunities to engage with attendees.
Consider the size and demographics of the audience attending the trade show. Evaluate whether the trade show’s attendees align well with your target audience and if the sponsorship level provides enough exposure to reach your ideal clients or partners.
Examine the specific benefits offered at each sponsorship level. Typical benefits might include logo placement on marketing materials, booth location, speaking opportunities, inclusion in press releases, and social media promotion. Assess whether the benefits offered at a particular level align with your goals.
Research the sponsorships chosen by your competitors and other industry players. It can give you insights into what is considered a standard or competitive level of sponsorship within the industry.
Evaluate the reputation and track record of the trade show. Established and reputable trade shows tend to attract a larger and more engaged audience, which can be beneficial for your sponsorship.
If your company has sponsored the event in the past, review the outcomes and ROI from previous sponsorships. Assess if the investment provided the desired results and whether there were any missed opportunities.
Flexibility and Customization:
Some trade shows may offer flexibility in their sponsorship packages, allowing you to customize the benefits based on your needs and budget. Inquire about any opportunities to tailor the sponsorship to better suit your objectives.
Additional Marketing Opportunities:
Consider any additional marketing opportunities provided by the event organizer, such as advertising space, email campaigns, or sponsored workshops. These options can complement your sponsorship package and provide further exposure.
Reflect on your company’s long-term marketing and event strategy. If you plan to participate in the trade show over several years, starting with a lower-tier sponsorship and gradually increasing your level of involvement might be a viable approach.
Ultimately, the right level of sponsorship will depend on your specific goals, budget, and target audience. Carefully assess the available options and how they align with your company’s overall marketing and growth strategy.
Engaging in sponsorship discussions with the event organizer and seeking advice from industry peers can also help you make an informed decision.
But regardless of how you choose to approach the conference, your goals will be easier to achieve if you plan out your promotional efforts in advance and make sure you promote before, during and after the event.
With that in mind, let’s start planning out the most effective promotion for your next upcoming event.
Promotion Before the Show
Preparation for a business conference should begin months ahead of time, preferably three. It will involve both the marketing and the public relations teams. Since messages used by both groups will need to align, sharing can’t begin early enough in the process.
We realize that every company is structured and staffed differently and has its own strengths and weaknesses. These are our suggestions and should be tailored to meet your specific capabilities and requirements. While we feel strongly that messaging for the various publics the company serves is a public relations function, we have met plenty of top marketing executives who also have the skills to do this work. We hope these suggestions serve you well.
3 Months Out
Decide if the conference is the right venue for your marketing needs. Is the audience among your firm’s target audiences? Are the topics making up the agenda relevant to your industry segment, the goods and services your organization sells, etc.? Is the conference worth the substantial investment you’ll be making to attend and exhibit at the show? Perform a preliminary cost-benefit analysis to understand the plausible return-on-investment.
Find out what the company will do at the show. Will you have a booth on the exhibit hall floor? Something in the conference bag? Are you sponsoring an event at the show? Decide what other advertising will complement this and get it set up. If you have a booth, get it planned out.
Set up your marketing funnel. It should be established in a manner that allows you to make contact with the largest number of potential prospects and then pre-qualify them along a spectrum of offerings.
Set your sales goals for the event. Determine the offerings you want to promote and how you will determine success. You should know what your prospects’ hot buttons will be and share them with the PR or content marketing department.
Start work on your demos for the offerings you want to sell. Also, determine your sales points, discounts, show specials and anything else that will impact how your sales team transacts at the show.
Start getting attention. Put out a show-specific press release that speaks to your success in any terms available as speaking points your executives will focus on at the upcoming conference. Make sure it gets sent to all key reporters and editors. While this one may not get much pickup, it puts you top of mind with the media and sets you up for what’s coming next.
Start work on the bait that will fill the marketing team’s funnel. Work with marketing to create content at a number of positions down the funnel that offers real value to your prospects and lines up with their hot button issues. This is not marketing. It belongs here, IMHO.
Create your list for journalist meetings at the show. Set your goals for who you really want to meet.
2 Months Out
Start work on your marketing material. Informed by your sales goals and prospect hot buttons from last month, start creating marketing material that promises to solve those key problems for your prospects. If you have a booth, make sure it’s ready.
Create your prospect database for the show. Get a list of attendees from the conference planner (if available). Prioritize by quality of prospect. Start working the list to set meetings at the show.
Start prospect outreach online and via snail mailed postcards. Work with PR to create some bait that will entice prospects who will attend the conference (and those who won’t) to register with you on your website. One idea is a show news feed, but RGA has plenty more.
Send out the second press release, this time-specific one the offerings you plan to update at the show or a predecessor if you plan to roll out a new offering at the show.
Start the outreach to the media, letting them know that you would like to be considered for a few minutes of their time at the upcoming event. Have the speaking points you want to share approved before you make the calls. You can’t overpromise and underdeliver here. Well, you can, but only once.
Finish up the content that will be used by the sales team to attract prospects who will be at the show and send it on to the art department for layout.
1 Month Out
Go full tilt on setting up key meetings at the show. These are your primary selling opportunities. Work to fill your schedule. Let PR know what time slots you have left for the media, if any. The hierarchy goes: new business, existing clients, partners, media. The only exception is if you have real breaking news to release at the show.
Complete work on the marketing material. Make sure you have plenty of giveaways for the booth. Handle the logistics for getting everything there and back.
Start pumping up your sales team. Prepare the pre-qualification questions that will help sales pros determine which prospects the company really wants them to sell and make sure they’re ready to close them. I know, marketing may have to hand this off to the sales department, but if they don’t get this job done all of your work will be wasted. Help them.
Another press release, this time about one of your key executives. People do business with people, so let the media hear from the executive you hope they will want to meet with at that show. It can be a promotion, a recent event or even industry commentary.
Prepare the show release. This is the big news that will go out at the show. Send it out under embargo to journalists you trust and those you know you will meet with at the show. If you don’t have big news, forgo this. Remember, don’t overpromise.
Prepare the social media you will send out during the show, driving traffic back to your sales funnel.
Promotion During the Show
Trade shows tend to create frenetic environments where near constant interruptions can make it very difficult if not impossible to remain on task. Careful advance planning will help your team achieve its goals.
During the show, your top executives should be holding meetings with key prospects and the media. Your sales team should be manning the booth and working the hallways. The PR and marketing teams have their work as well.
Accompany the sales team. Marketing doesn’t usually enjoy the close relationship with company clients that professional salespeople have worked hard to develop. This is an excellent opportunity for marketing pros to listen in on those conversations, getting a first hand look at what prospects really care about. Never be so good that you cannot still learn.
Engage in competitive intelligence gathering. The trade show floor is the absolute best place to find out what messages peers and competitors are sending out into the marketplace.
Engage with trade publication marketing associates. It’s nice to be the ones who are getting pitched once in a while.
Accompany company executives. This is a great opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of the stories top executives are telling. Watch their delivery, catalog their stories, gauge the response they receive from various publics. Watch for photo ops and capture them.
Run the show news feed. By sending out a steady stream of news from the show floor, the company can solidify relationships with prospects who could not make it to the event. This feed doesn’t have to include earthing shattering news, just let those who couldn’t attend feel like they’re not being left out. They’ll remember you for it.
Gather material for after show followup, particularly fodder for use in show reports your key executives can deliver to customers and prospects after the show.
Meet with reporters and editors. Many will be busy and, if marketing has done its job, your own executives may have been too busy to meet with them. Work to schedule meetings and demos for after the show when reporters have returned home and actually have time to think. These meetings can be more effective as the reporter won’t have to try to remember the details he picked up at the show. If the meeting happens at the hotel bar, and you’re buying, so much the better.
Promotion After the Show
After the show, most of your peers will want to find a place to hibernate for a few months. Unfortunately, that’s not possible for us. There is plenty of followup that must take place in the wake of a good conference.
Here is what our two focus departments should be engaged in.
Update the prospect database and begin the nurturing campaign for anyone who doesn’t look like an immediate prospect for closing. Send the others down to sales to pursue the close. They should already know about them if they’ve had productive meetings at the event.
Create a report that demonstrates to management the ultimate effectiveness of the department by comparing total ad/promotional spend to the number of prospects and new customers.
Send out a post show press release with at least one key takeaway from one of your top executives. Try to write about a trend that reporters are likely to cover. The release will be your ticket to be included in that story.
Prepare the post-show reports for marketing, to be used in their nurturing campaign.
Prepare a report that shows management how much of the content the company developed for the show was actually consumed by the market in an attempt to show how PR helped drive prospects for the marketing department. Also, provide a report showing all media pickup from the show.
Choosing the Tactics You Can Handle
When it comes to biting off more than you can chew, not much beats the promotional plan we have provided for you here. Very few companies can do all of this or afford to outsource it all to an agency.
Everyone will have to choose from among the available options to create a workable plan that will meet their own requirements and achieve their own goals.
It’s a mistake to take on more than your team can reasonably accomplish and will lead to a lower ROI for the event and general frustration for your team.
Measuring the ROI of your Conference Experience
While the decision to attend may seem like the most important part of this guide, it’s actually the post-mortem and ROI calculation that tops that list. You need to think about what happened, what went well, and what didn’t.
Leadership needs to know how effective this event was along every metric that matters to them. If you know your job, you already know what those metrics are.
Calculating the real ROI of the event will involve Marketing, PR and the Sales department. Work together and create a report that will let management know the facts so the next time this decision comes up, it will be easier.
Getting Help with Conference Promotion
Strong teams will find that, quite often, they must begin work for a new conference as soon as the work for a past event has concluded, or even before.
Since these events can be so valuable to the company’s sales efforts, any work expended on them will be rewarded, as long as it is well planned and executed according to a schedule. This may be a clear conclusion for those who have read this far, but many leading executives may not know the real value and won’t know until it is over and the final report and ROI are delivered.
If you don’t have the team to do the tasks you know you need to do to achieve that ROI, schedule a short meeting with us today. We’d love to visit with you about working together.
But if you’d rather handle it on your own, sign up for our newsletter (filled with ideas for promoting your firm more effectively) using the form below and we’ll send you more information on conference planning for free.