Even in an increasingly high-tech world, there is something about the low-tech, face-to-face nature of trade shows that still resonates across virtually every industry. Trade shows are a natural way for HR consultants to connect in meaningful ways with prospects, clients and past clients—even potential collaborators.
But don’t think the only way to participate in a trade show is to buy booth space. In fact, other options can be more impactful.
“For me, the only way to gain benefit from a trade show is by speaking,” said Philippa Gamse, CMC. “That’s my showcase.” Gamse is a web strategy consultant, a speaker and the author of 42 Rules for a Web Presence That Wins (Super Star Press, 2013). “It’s extremely difficult to convey a sense of what I do via a brochure or when standing at a table,” she said.
HR consultants can certainly relate. The opportunity to highlight their expertise during a presentation at a conference attended by members of their target audience can be a great way to raise awareness, build credibility and generate business.
And therein lies the rub, Gamse said. “Many organizations believe that speakers should offer their programs free of charge because they’re getting exposure. While it is true that speaking is my best showcase, there is no guarantee that I’ll get business and I still need to take the time to prepare materials and present the workshop,” she said. It’s a decision that each consultant will need to make for themselves, balancing the value of exposure with the investment of their time and personal expenses.
“Most business consultants are going to get better results from attending networking-type events rather than having a booth at a traditional trade show-type event,” said Laurie Morse-Dell, a marketing consultant near Bismarck, N.D. “Just by the nature of the type of work a business consultant does, they are not going to thrive in a booth setting where people are just looking for freebies,” she said. Because HR consultants’ businesses are built on making relationships and personal connections, HR consultants are “better off spending their time engaging with people at receptions or more-intimate gatherings,” Morse-Dell said.
She suggests HR consultants reach out to targeted individuals ahead of time to let them know of your attendance at the event and invite them to get together for a private meeting or small get-together. “Don’t look for or expect any type of sale during the meeting; just make the connection, and follow up with anyone worthy after the event,” she suggested.
Joan Bosisio is group vice president at Stern + Associates, a communications firm in Cranford, N.J., that specializes in thought leadership programming for B2B organizations and professionals. She offers the following tips for HR consultants to help get the most out of trade show participation, whether as a speaker, an attendee or an exhibitor:
Gain interest months in advance. Bosisio suggests that HR consultants can generate media exposure by ensuring pre-scheduled appointments with journalists. “Don’t just hope journalists will visit your booth,” she said. “A ‘teaser’ letter can be compelling, convey excitement and give media a taste of what will be at the booth—just enough to get them excited to schedule an onsite tour—and can often result in coverage in pre-show issues, which can get show-goers excited to visit too.”
Know your audience. Be clear about the objectives of your audience and what they’re hoping to gain from the trade show experience, Bosisio advised. Is it to research? To buy? To learn? “This will help you be appropriately prepared with conversation points, presentations and promotion, and will ensure that your time with visitors is as productive as it is valuable for them and you.”
Market your presentations. If you’re speaking at the show or giving presentations in your booth, Bosisio advises using social media as well as onsite collateral to draw quality crowds to your events.
Challenge attendees and booth visitors. If you have a booth, make it fun. “A fun game or onsite interactive display can help draw attendees and encourage them to suggest others visit too,” Bosisio said. “Attendee challenges not only draw attention to your company but can also break up any downtime a customer or reporter might have. Prizes for game winners or display participants provide an extra incentive to join.”
Be omnipresent. Bosisio recommends using multiple means of reminding the audience of your presence in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. “A flash mob or guerilla marketing—hiring people to walk the show wearing T-shirts with a company tag line or even the company name/color—promises to catch eyes,” she noted.
“Promotions outside the conference venue are effective too, such as at the area hotels where most attendees are staying,” she continued. Examples include customized room keys, welcome signage or belly bands for morning papers.
Feed them … or, better yet, give them a place to sit. “It sounds so simple, but it works,” Bosisio said. “It’s tiring being a conference attendee. Couple food and drink with a place to rest their feet and you’ll have a full booth in no time.”
Have fun. “People know if you genuinely enjoy what you’re doing. Be engaged—and engaging,” Bosisio advised. “Show them you’re interested in what they do and need.”
Finally, Bosisio said, know that your work doesn’t end when the trade show is over. Plan for follow-up with those you encountered at the show—booth visitors, presentation attendees, prospects and media. Follow-up is essential to ensuring that you stay top of mind, she said.
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues.