Exhibitor Retention Begins with Appreciation

Satisfy-Reward-Retain
Graphic designed by Marlys Arnold

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), exhibitor retention across all trade shows is 62%. While that’s not horrible, it does leave a lot of room for improvement.

So that’s why for my first time hosting ExpoChat, the weekly industry Twitter conversation, I chose to focus on how shows can satisfy exhibitor expectations and demonstrate how much they are appreciated and valued.

You can view a transcript of the complete chat, but I wanted to dive deeper into this topic that I feel is too often taken for granted.

Show organizers offer all kinds of excuses why they don’t do more to build relationships with exhibitors, often beginning with the fact that they’re too busy juggling the endless details of producing the show. I get that, but when you strip everything down, isn’t creating a team of satisfied exhibitors an essential part of that process?

One of the primary reasons exhibitors don’t return for future years is because they don’t see value in the show – or at least not enough value to justify what they pay to be there. Smaller exhibitors or first-timers often feel especially ignored. Creating an environment that illustrates how valued all exhibitors are and how show management is there to help each of them be successful goes a long way to cement long-term relationships.

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During the ExpoChat, I asked which shows had formal exhibitor retention plans in place. Crickets! It was obvious that few shows are focused on this important strategy.

So how can shows make improvements in this area?

  • Nurture relationships from the start. Create a great exhibitor onboarding plan that includes finding out their goals and pointing them in the direction of appropriate resources and tools to accomplish them. (Exhibitors, when was the last time someone from show management called to find out how they could help instead of simply wanting to sell you something?)
  • Find ways to make the exhibitors’ jobs easier. Some shows have created more streamlined paperwork processes for exhibitors. Others, like the AAP Experience (one of my client shows), researches prices on each item in the exhibitor kit to ensure exhibitors get the best pricing. Above all, there needs to be ongoing communication so that exhibitors never feel like they’ve been abandoned once their check clears.
  • Establish an Exhibitor Advisory Council. Put together a group of 10-15 exhibitors from a cross-section of company types and sizes (and exhibiting experience) who gather to share their feedback and ideas for future shows. Then show management listens and implements those suggestions wherever possible.
  • Reward exhibitor loyalty. Provide perks like an exhibitor-only lounge and/or an appreciation breakfast. Have high-level executives or board members within the organization stop by the booths to thank exhibitors for being part of the show. And remember that loyalty begins from that initial experience, so don’t neglect first-time exhibitors. Make them feel special by giving them a gift or special recognition. (After all, you never know who’s small today that will become an anchor exhibitor one day down the road!)
  • Provide exhibitor education. (You knew I’d have to include that, right?) This begins long before the show opens, with training on how to improve the look of the exhibit, inform staff how to interact with attendees, make their presence known with pre-show marketing, and more. Many shows offer this in the form of webinars, but some actually hold in-person events that include cost-saving tips from service providers, along with a tour of the show venue.

If you want more information on how to implement some of these strategies, contact me. I’d be happy to help.

Do you know of a great exhibitor retention strategy in place, either at your show or others you’ve heard about? Please share in the comments below. And if you’re an exhibitor, what elements would you like to see at the shows you participate in that would make you more loyal … and more likely to return?

© 2019 Marlys K. Arnold  (Reprinted from the June 2019 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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