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Article: Are Trade Shows Still Worth It for Manufacturers

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Paul Kiesche of Aviate Creative interviewed several manufacturing companies, including Parkway Plastics, for their perspective on the topic question ... 

Full Article: 'Are Trade Shows Still Worth It for Manufacturers' 

by Paul Kiesche

We’ve seen some serious marketing crimes committed at trade shows.

Manufacturers are no strangers to trade shows. Many companies treat them as a key marketing strategy or, in some instances, their only strategy. Others have walked away from trade shows entirely, concluding that there are other, more effective ways to market themselves. Such disparity can leave manufacturers scratching their heads. With digital marketing at work, are trade shows still worth the expense?

We interviewed several manufacturers to get the answer. In short, what we found is that yes, trade shows can still be very valuable. But you need to put in the time and effort—and you need to do it right to get results.

Go Where Your Clients Go

Many manufacturers waste time and money attending the wrong events (i.e., the ones crawling with your competition). If you have room in the budget for them and think it’s important for your company to show face, then go for it. But if you want results, you need to be more strategic and go where your clients go.

Art Garcia, the vice president of sales and marketing at Mars International, says that “Focusing on industries that we serve has been a good strategy for us. It shows that we have industry experience and expertise.” Just by attending the right events and catering to your niche, you’re likely to find much more success than you would in a room full of other manufacturers.

Know Your Goals & Do Your Homework

Whether you want to increase sales or recruit new employees, establish your goals before committing to any show.

Tegan James, the marketing and social media manager at Parkway Plastics, advises to, “Definitely come prepared. Do your research ahead of time and know who you’re going to meet.” Reach out to your customers and prospects via email and social media to let them know you’ll be attending the show. Spread the word and spread it well.

Turn Wasted Minutes Into Meeting Minutes

There’s a whole underground of trade show marketing that you might not be leveraging.

Well before the event takes place, many companies schedule meetings with prospects and existing clients. These meetings will take place right at the trade show in conference rooms. So the exhibit itself might be ⅓ of the picture, and the remaining ⅔ is meetings behind the scenes.

When used wisely, trade shows can actually save manufacturers a lot of money. Since these events bring everyone to one place, companies will meet with nearly all of their clients or business partners in one trip to save on airfare. Scott Bass, the senior director, global marketing at Edmund Optics, attests to this benefit, saying, “Where else can you meet with so many key people like that over the course of 3 days?.... To spend that money on flying our salespeople all over the world to have these meetings would cost more than the actual trade show, that’s the primary reason we do it.”

For Pete’s Sake, Send the Right People

And if Pete isn’t the right guy, don’t send him either.

We’ve seen some serious marketing crimes committed at trade shows. Exhibitors who should be engaged with prospects are glued to their phones. Others are wallflowers. Some are even asleep at the booth (yes, we’re serious!)

Scott Dailey, vice president of sales and marketing at Carl Stahl Sava Industries, Inc., argues that marketers shouldn’t be leading the booths because, “Most times they are not engaged in business development at the booth level. And from my experience, it’s because they’re not being held accountable to come home with anything interesting.” Don’t pick people based on availability or rank. Pick the ones who are most interested in the topic and have real incentive to do a stellar job.

Speak Up for Speaking Engagements

Trade shows almost always have speaking events. Whenever possible, try to sign up as a guest speaker. We can’t emphasize enough how effective this can be in positioning yourself as the expert. Scott Bass concurs, saying “It’s important for us. The biggest thing we try to push at trade shows is getting our experts to speak at the conferences verses just having a booth at the exhibition hall.” Gigs like these aren’t all that hard to get—so use the opportunity to your advantage.

It’s All About Strategy

Trade shows require careful planning and preparation. Simply showing up or booking a last-minute flight isn’t enough anymore. But if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s easy to see that trade shows can still be highly valuable for manufacturers.

Paul Kiesche is the president and creative director at Aviate Creative, a branding, marketing and graphic design agency with an edge in manufacturing. Paul applies over 20 years of experience and award-winning work in branding and marketing to the manufacturing industry. In addition, Paul is an adjunct professor, speaker and author of branding, graphic design and marketing subjects. His objective is to help educate and grow manufacturers through effective, proven strategies. He can be reached at (908) 509-4442, or visit for more information.


The article was published by on December 5, 2019

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