Selling Your Trade Show Program Budget to Your Executive Team

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Budget season: it always seems to be creeping up faster than expected. And — surprise, surprise — there won’t be enough money for everyone’s lofty marketing fantasies to be made reality. That Super Bowl ad spot might have to wait. No branded themed cruise this year. You, however, have trade shows to run. You know how important it is to your company, but if you want the trade show program budget you need to do it well, you have to show the value of events to the folks with the purse strings.

A nice slide deck and proof points from previous shows are always a good starting point, but for a high-ticket item like a trade show program budget, you need more. Think like an experiential marketer: You connect to your clients via experience, so why not apply the same thinking to your stakeholders?

Invite executives to the show

“Most executives genuinely like shows,” says Justin Hersh, Group Delphi CEO. “Trade shows get executives out from behind their desks and let them engage with the people running their organizations—and the people buying their products.”

So how to best impress your top professionals? Remember: experiences are to be experienced.

“Have the best team member on site walk them through the customer journey,” says Katie Bottrell, Group Delphi’s VP of Marketing & Growth. “Let them play the part of the customer or attendee and experience the curated, thoughtful journey.”

Keep the role-playing going. “Let them engage with the interactives, play the games, go through the demo, and snag the swag,” says Bottrell. Allowing your executives to participate in real time makes an impression they won’t likely forget.

Deepen the engagement

A show is more than a booth. Another way to show the value of your events program is to expand the experience in ways that are valuable to your executives. Organize meetings or dinners with important customers. If possible, schedule speaking engagements, panels, or interviews.

Now that the show is in action, be sure to show your executives that you manage your exhibit like a pro. Make sure your staff knows the number one rule of trade shows today: put down your phone.

“When working the booth, don’t spend all day talking to your co-workers,” says Julie Gustafson, Group Delphi’s VP of Customer Experience. “You should be actively engaging with the guests coming into your space. It should be like people coming to a dinner party in your home.”

Give your executive a look behind the curtain. “Show them how engagements or interactions on site provide insight on the audience—and the real value of the show—back to the team on site,” says Bottrell.

Walk the floor

Don’t forget to step out of the booth with your executive for a competitive analysis. “I’d suggest doing a show floor walk with your executive,” says Bottrell. “Call out the competition—what do you like and not like?”

A tour of the floor will reveal the range of investment other companies have made: some will have elaborate experiences, others take a very bare-bones approach.

“Speak to the executive about the costs associated with some of the more involved and eye-catching experiences and evaluate where you might want to increase the budget next year to step up your game,” says Bottrell.

And when it’s all over, make sure you have something to show for your efforts. Plan ahead and budget for plenty of high-quality photos and videos that document not just your booth, but also your executives engaging with the show. These materials will not only make excellent collateral to sell your work to clients later, but they’ll also help you prove your value come budget time.

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