How to maximize technology trade show investments

Analyze available data to help with booth design, plan far enough ahead, and use available organizational tools and advice from others, according to AMT and others involved with the 2014 IMTS trade show.
By Mark T. Hoske January 23, 2014

At the IMTS Exhibitor Workshop in Schaumburg, Ill., earlier this week, the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) and other industry experts offered advice for maximizing tradeshow investment. The one-day seminar was designed to prepare exhibitors, organizers, and vendors involved in booth planning and design for AMT’s upcoming IMTS 2014, Sept. 8-13 in Chicago. At the seminar, presenters discussed best practices, including promotion, social media, booth planning and design, shipping, moving in, and tradeshow trends.

IMTS is well positioned as the premier manufacturing show, said Jonathan “Skip” Cox, president of Exhibit Surveys Inc, in an online video conference at the seminar. Research and advice can help companies understand if they have over- or under-invested in a show and learn more about potential targets, which products to bring, how many staff, and how much space is needed. For example, the IMTS exhibitor performance model helps exhibitors better understand their purpose and target, engage attendees, produce outcomes, and get results.

Advice for maximizing trade show investments, especially at the IMTS 2014, Sept. 8-13, trade show in Chicago, is being offered by AMT – The Association for Manufacturing Technology, and others, in a series of one-day seminars for exhibitors. This one was near Chicago, Jan. 21. Courtesy: CFE Media, Mark T. Hoske

Trade show research

In the “What’s Happening in the World of Manufacturing Trade Shows?” workshop, Patrick W. McGibbon, vice president for industry intelligence and engagement at AMT, reviewed research, developed by AMT and other associations, explaining the outcomes of tradeshows in the manufacturing sector for both exhibitors and visitors. The study concluded that attendees are largely interested in new technologies that will be used for the next few years, McGibbon said.

Cox presented results from the 2012 survey. Looking at 68 U.S. tradeshows, the study employed executive interviews and surveys to determine preferences and the value that exhibitor and attendees received from manufacturing-related events. On a scale of 1-5, IMTS scored a high 4 – well above average, according to Cox.

Cox began with three important points from his findings:

  1. The most preferred city for tradeshows is Chicago, and the best time is September. As such, IMTS is well-positioned in the industry.
  2. More than half of shows are considered regional, with a tight attendee radius of 200-400 miles. Because regional events are smaller, it can be difficult to extract as much value from a regional event as a larger horizontal show. But attendees appreciate events that are close, and some won’t make it to larger horizontal events.
  3. Education is critical. About 38% of attendees go to education-only conferences. Regional events often focus on education, but it is important at large horizontal shows too. Part of education and content is on the show floor, which can be a major learning component.

In addition to these top-level findings, Cox noted steep competition among exhibitors for the attention of a finite and often specific pool of attendees. Across the 68 shows analyzed, 3000 manufacturers attended each show on average. This boils down to only 11.8 attendees per exhibitor, creating tension between exhibitor and attendee attitudes about show supply and demand. Nearly 56% of exhibitors say there are too many shows, but only 28% of attendees agree, according to Cox.

In the U.S., nearly 3.6 million people are employed in the manufacturing sector, according to the NAICS 336-339 codes. Of those, about one-third are in non-production roles. According to McGibbon, one-fifth to one-quarter are involved in buying decisions. Approximately 10-15% of that buying-population attended IMTS.

Generally, attendees are coming to shows better prepared to discover what’s new and to talk to suppliers. These sorts of events are the most effective forum for content marketing strategists, according to the Content Management Institute. Exhibitors need to ensure they send adequate and knowledgeable staff to shows to provide answers to often very specific questions, the presenters said. 

In this way, exhibitors can help attendees meet their objectives, giving exhibitors a unique advantage over those that do not, McGibbon said. More exhibiting companies want to become speakers in the program to advance their content marketing strategy.

Cox also reviewed relevant findings about the effectiveness of horizontal shows relative to private shows. Generally horizontal shows bring in more prospects than private shows. Private shows tend to be customer centric and focus on a narrow solution set of products. About 77% of private-show attendees are existing customers, he said. The remaining 23% are mostly partners, dealers, and distributors, etc. We see a lot of customer satisfaction at private events to accelerate the buying cycle, Cox said.

At horizontal shows, however, 44% of attendees are prospects, and exhibitors indicate this type of networking as their primary goal at shows. Tradeshows are the best tool for attendees who are comparison shopping for products.

On average, attendees go to 3.2 shows. Repeat attendance is higher at horizontal tradeshows than at private events. The average turnover at tradeshows is 38%, but over half of IMTS attendees will attend for the first time.

Patrick W. McGibbon, vice president-industry intelligence and engagement, AMT, discussed manufacturing tradeshow research completed with AMT in cooperation with other associations, to determine exhibitor and visitor outcomes. Many attendees want to find out the latest technologies. Courtesy: CFE Media, Mark T. Hoske

Companies should attend a mix of private and horizontal events. But what is the proper balance? If lead and demand generations are stated goals, then companies should rely heavily on tradeshows.

Because attendees have inherent interest in products, particularly new and upcoming ones, exhibitors should emphasize those, Cox said. Only 53% of exhibitors show what’s new, yet new product introductions are a huge drawing card. Exhibitors should highlight those new products or features. Because attendees require extensive information about new products, staff size and quality is also important, according to Cox. The heart of tradeshow success is engagement, Cox said. 

Tradeshows as education tools

IMTS offers a real-world example of manufacturing. Local schools often plan a one-day field trip to attend IMTS. Some junior high and high schools even plan overnights. However Greg Jones, AMT vice president of Smartforce development, said that data about preshow marketing campaigns show the need to reach out to schools earlier. Since IMTS is usually during the first month back after summer break, planners should contact schools early – by April or May, Jones said. IMTS reached out to area schools in December asking them to save the date. IMTS reaches out to schools directly through social media outlets, such as Twitter, FaceBook and Pinterest. At IMTS 2014, community colleges from 17 states will build an electric vehicle with some machine parts found around the event, Jones said.

AMT and the manufacturers they represent continue to reach out to students, teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators to explain that manufacturing is a high-technology, satisfying career path with many rewards – not the dirty hazardous environment many still envision. And salaries aren’t bad either. A CNC programmer, for example, can earn more than $72,000 per year, and those in manufacturing earn $57,000 on average, according to Jones.

At the show, students are offered special pricing for high-end products, like 5-axis machines, where the need and interest is greatest.

Jonathan “Skip” Cox, president of Exhibit Surveys Inc., gave results and observations from the 2012 survey and study on 68 U.S. manufacturing trade shows. IMTS ranked significantly above average. Education is a very important component for those attending, Cox said, via video. Courtesy: CFE Media, Mark T. Hoske

Tradeshow best practices

Beth-Ann R. Czupil, AMT meetings manager, suggested that exhibitors make themselves standout at IMTS with social media, including a pre-show strategy, to attract the right people to their booths. Building brand awareness among next-generation decision makers is a priority. Social media outlets, like YouTube and FaceBook, can serve to effectively engage younger attendees. Often a “Did you know…?” topic can garner more interest than “This is what we’re selling….” A “must be present to win” set of interesting and useful giveaways can help with traffic.

Booth design and layout can also help achieve goals. Likewise staff training is also important.

Smartphone enabled scannable codes can provide information instantly even when staffers are busy. Because attendees are interested in comparing products, such technology can also help attendees track key differentiators between your products and competitors’.

Bob Ryley, GES, discussed show logistics, adding that documentation, including names of hired companies, contact names, and phone numbers, is of utmost importance at the show. Webinar training is available to ensure companies know the information required to make moving, set-up, and departure as easy as possible.  

For signage, start early, follow the rules, label appropriately.

Engaging with customers

Look for sponsorship opportunities with transportation, signage, publishing services and media, and videos. See

For hanging signs, four people needed to be contacted in the past. Now one person serves as the single contact point for four groups. Earlier contact is better.

For booth events, be mindful of the house and of the need for hiring security before or after hours with the required paperwork. Catering and cleanup are also available services.

Lead retrieval services are available with a smartphone application integrated with IMTS onsite software. Handhelds and printers are available.

Coordinating staff

Order hotel rooms soon; visitor housing opens Feb. 3. Order online, fill out a PDF form, or call.

Scooters are available for those with walking difficulties.

Coat and bag checks are available in three locations.

For transportation, shuttle buses are free. If you choose a taxi, be sure to say if you want to be dropped off in a different location than the South Building main entrance. Parking is available in three lots. Make sure customers know about all three because Lot A fills up by 10 a.m. daily. Pre-ordered parking passes are available.

Booth production

An official vendor logo is created for each IMTS event. It should be on all printed documents and emails. If you do not see that logo on materials from organizations who say they’re official, let IMTS know.

For service requests or problem resolution texting capabilities are now available, saving time and travel for booth production answers.

Shipping partners are designated in the U.S. (Macc Inc.), internationally (Schneker), and for packages (UPS).

Be clear on needs when requesting services.

Inside the booth, vendors are available for audio visual equipment, large screens, iPad kiosks, cameras, plants, planters, floral arrangements, booth talent of many types, metal working fluids for on-floor use (free), promotional items, pre-show mailings, branded apparel, prospect and client gifts, photographer and videographer services, including indoor aerial video, cable and TV access, and upgraded WiFi.

All answers are in a Q&A book from AMT.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering,

Additional links: Emerging Technology Center has resources to help promote events held in the city. The International Association of Exhibitions and Events return-on-investment toolkit