The River North Business Association’s Business Expo is coming up on Wednesday, April 19 at Metropolitan Club in Willis Tower. Amelia Street Studio exhibited at the Expo a couple years ago and we genuinely enjoyed it. I especially appreciated the people. Everyone who attended and stopped by our booth was sincerely interested and listened politely and intently. It was relaxed and casual with the right level of business-ness.
With this year’s Expo around the corner, I wanted to get some advice from past exhibitors about how to present an effective, stand-out booth. I interviewed Jenn Gaudreau of Jennifer Kathryn Photography, Joel Friend from Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Marty Padilla of SPOT Chicago. Here are some of the common themes I heard from each of them and experienced myself.
If you are a visual learner, Jenn Gaudreau kindly put together a video version of her valuable advice for an effective booth.
1. Present two to three tailored offerings.
While it can be tempting to show all of the products or services at your booth, this can be overwhelming for consumers, said Gaudreau. Instead, she recommended showing two or three of your services that are tailored to your audience’s needs, in this case B2B services.
2. Create an eye-catching booth with helpful resources.
Gaudreau attributes her “Best Exhibitor’s Table” honor to her thoughtfully designed set up. She recommends including banner stands, signs and backdrops so your booth can be easily recognized from far away. It’s helpful to include decorations too, like albums, computer screens with slideshow, shelves or levels, a desk, or flowers.
Friend said they included bright, colorful posters of upcoming shows on easels at last year’s expo. This was a great way to promote their May show “The King and I” last year.
3. Be interactive.
At our table, we encouraged people to engage with us using props, relevant to the theme, and take photos for social media. We used the event’s hashtag to get even more exposure outside the people at the event. Attendees had fun doing it and it left an impression.
4. Offer relevant giveaways that market your brand well.
Having not only printed materials but also gift bags and other giveaways will make your booth stand out.
SPOT Chicago won “Best Exhibitor’s Table” last year. Their booth’s theme colors were black and white, and two of their members were dressed in black-tie attire. Padilla said that their gift bags and music were two elements that drew people to their booth.
5. Provide a welcoming atmosphere at your booth.
The expo is an opportunity to talk to people who otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to learn about your business. Friend said that he loves answering people’s questions at the expo – from “what are their upcoming shows?” to “do you need to wear a tux to the Lyric Opera?” (answer: no)
He says the event has a casual environment. In his words, “You don't have to be a pitchman or used car salesman about your product or business here. Attendees are open to having a 30-second conversation.” His tips were simple: don't be rude, give a firm handshake, and don't leave without someone at your booth.
6. Potential referral partners are just as valuable as direct clients.
Gaudreau reminds us that while the person you are talking to might not need a realtor, caterer, or web designer, they may know of a friend or client that would need your services.
Friend said that you might not book immediate business from that night, but it’s still a great marketing opportunity. At the very least, you’re advocating for your organization. You never know how that will impact someone’s decisions or referrals down the road.
7. Be specific.
Be specific to help people remember you. Psychological research shows that vivid, concrete ideas are easier to recall than abstract, broad concepts. Gaudreau suggests go beyond saying that you’re a photographer or designer. Go deeper and say “I offer head shots, branding imagery, and flat lay photography for your marketing, social media and website needs.”
8. Provide incentives for acquiring contact info.
Offer gift packages, restaurant gift cards, a bonus service or other giveaway to motivate attendees to leave their contact and email. The more relevant it is to your product or service the better. This can help you grow your email list, Gaudreau said. It is also helpful to follow up with these contacts after the expo to build a relationship and keep your business top of mind.
Katy Osborn co-founded Amelia Street Studio with her two sisters. Their creative agency specializes in “making stuff”, specifically, but not limited to, branding, strategy, graphic design, websites, and video. Katy is the client gatherer, satisfaction guaranteer and eldest sister.