The Importance of Exhibitor Education

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Earlier this month, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) released their report, “How the Exhibit Dollar is Spent.” This in-depth analysis of more than 200 exhibit budgets indicates that of the $24 billion spent on trade show marketing, the largest expense is space rental (36 percent), followed by show services (including electrical, furnishings, union labor, etc. – 17 percent). Combine that with exhibit design (11 percent), and you’ve eaten up more than 60 percent of the budget!

Granted, some expenses aren’t easily reduced because of outside influences, but what seems like a tragedy is that many exhibitors still refuse to trim in other areas to allow for more spending on the “Key 3” that actually relate to marketing: promotions, training, and lead management. These three things — which can really make or break your trade show experience from a results standpoint — come in with the lowest percentages, with staff training coming in dead last at a measly 1%.

One percent? That means even if you had a budget of $200,000 (not that most companies do), you’re still only spending about $2000 to educate your team. And since a booth that large would obviously have quite a sizable team, the per-person average works out to almost nothing. When you stop and think about it, much of the rest is set dressing and logistics (and why the exhibit industry has been criticized lately for lavish spending).

This really baffles me. If a company is willing to spend thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) to have an exhibit, why wouldn’t they want their staff to be educated on how to get the best return on that investment? It’s a known fact that better educated exhibitors are more effective and successful. Another CEIR study states that they’re 68% more effective, in fact. So why do so few exhibitors invest in this key piece?

It’s likely for one of three reasons:

  • Because they’ve had a fair amount of success in the past, they feel they don’t need any training
  • It’s not as obvious as buying a display, shipping it to the show, and having carpet in the booth
  • They don’t know where to go to find the education

Over the years, many times exhibitors have come up to me after a workshop to say they’ve been exhibiting for 10 or 15 years (sometimes longer) and never had anyone offer them training before. Judging from their enthusiasm, they must have learned a few new things that could improve their success. So I think the other two are the biggest reasons: they’ve never thought about the importance of exhibitor education, and even if they did, they might not know where to find it.

So that’s why over the past six months, I’ve been working to create an online training community that features monthly strategies including exhibit design, promotions, staff techniques, lead management and more. There’s no shortage of information (both online and offline) about exhibit marketing, but much of it never goes beyond the surface, and nearly all of it stops short of giving you the actual tools you need to take action. So the Exhibit Marketers Café will provide training, support and opportunities to connect with both experts and peers. There will also be a private forum to ask questions or continue the conversation from the monthly strategy calls.

With the debut of the Exhibit Marketers Café, now there are even fewer excuses for exhibitors to not be better educated. Because sending untrained staff is like handing the car keys to your teenager who’s never had a driving lesson!

Check out the Exhibit Marketers Café and request an “Extra Shot of Exhibit Success” with audio tip samples from experts — free in your inbox!


© 2012 Marlys K. Arnold  (from the August 2012 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

Editor’s Note: This topic sparked quite a heated conversation on the TSNN LinkedIn group, as well as prompting a post with an opposing view from the Evo Exhibits blogger. It also served as the inspiration for publishing the “Exhibitor Education Manifesto.”


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