Warning signs: When NOT to exhibit at an event.

If we’ve learned anything from modern dating, red flags are important. Guess what exhibitors, and events can have them too. While exhibiting at trade shows and conferences can lead to exposure, revenue, and new relationships, exhibiting at the wrong event can be a waste of precious time and resources. Not to mention a real downer! 

Choosing which event to exhibit at is a strategic decision. You want to position your brand as being desirable and this is affected by the brands you associate with. Exhibiting at a popular event is a phenomenal way to grow your business. In order to get the most out of your exhibition, you’ll need to consider a few more factors—and avoid others. 

Every lead in a teen movie needs their best friend. That’s us! We’ve outlined key red flags to watch out for when choosing which events to exhibit at and which to turn down, so you can find your perfect match. 

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Misaligned market.

Have you ever showed up at a party wearing the wrong outfit? That’s what it’s like when you exhibit at an event that is misaligned with your market. Consider who your ideal buyer is and then take a peek at the guest list. This info should be available in the prospectus. Ask, do these people fit the profile of our ideal buyer? 

Younger brands may be eager to grow their reputation, but targeted exposure is better than exposure in general. If you’re looking to grow domestically, it won’t do much for you if the majority of attendees are from international markets. 

Here’s another hot tip: find out how the attendee list is vetted. It’s a major red flag if the organizers are working off an outdated list, especially given the vast changes of recent years. Since we’re talking about attendee data, you shouldn’t have to pay to collect information from badge scanning. Organizers that ask you to pay are like agents who charge their actors—best to be avoided. 

One last issue with misaligned markets—you won’t make any meaningful connections. Conferences are a haven of new relationships, and when exhibiting at the right ones, you’ll meet those who share your values and goals. Remember what your parents said; don’t hang around with the wrong crowd!

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Unhelpful scheduling.

Snagging that perfect booth placement is vital—unless no one visits. Check the schedule to see if the organizer’s have scheduled keynotes, QnAs, or other alluring activities during exhibit hall time. If so, they’re reducing your possibilities for success. What you want to see is dedicated time where attendees can discover your magnificent booth

The same goes for lunch. If food is not being served on site and your exhibit time coincides with food breaks, all those potential sales will leave in search of food. On the other hand, if organizers have set up drinks stations, tables, or pass hor’ d’oeuvres in the exhibit space, they’ll be bringing the sales to you. 

Event organizers should be doing what they can to help exhibitors succeed. After all, this is how they nurture long-term relationships with brands. Organizers that not only abandon you but hinder your success are not the ones you want to be in business with. 

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Dwindling or low attendance.

You won’t get the ROI you’re looking for when there’s only twenty attendees. While you can make a bigger splash at smaller trade shows, make sure they’re not too small. Clarify what an acceptable ROI for you is—based on the time and money invested—and use this to judge whether or not an event will provide enough attendees to meet your baseline. 

Study attendance rates for the past five years or so (keeping in mind we were all stuck in our homes for a while). Make sure to look at net attendance so you avoid basing your expectations on inflated numbers. While events don’t need to be 10x-ing every year, they should display stable or growing attendance. 

It’s a MAJOR red flag if organizers are withholding this information. Either they’re inexperienced and don’t know the value of it—or worse—they’re trying to hide low numbers. Event exhibiting is hard enough. Don’t make it harder by dealing with dishonest people. 

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Lack of support.

Trade shows, conferences, and other events depend on their exhibitors—to an extent—so it’s natural to assume that they’ll be working on multiple fronts to set you and your brand up for success. Those that don’t may indicate a self-centeredness or lack of team spirit.

It’s a red flag if the organizers haven’t appointed an EAC (Event Appointed Contractor). This would indicate a lack of concern for the exhibitors and the general quality of the exhibition hall experience, for guests and exhibitors. It also indicates a potential inexperience on the part of the organizers. 

While you’ll do your own marketing, organizers should make an effort to include you in the marketing of the overall event. Find out if they offer newsletter templates or are willing to work with you on a budget-specific sponsorship that matches your company’s needs. 

Broadly speaking, if the event marketing looks really poor, this is an early indicator of low attendance rates. It’s also an indicator of the care they put into the project. If they put minimum effort into the event itself, what does this say about the effort they’ll put into helping you? 

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Failures to communicate.

Communication is the key to any happy relationship. From dating to trade shows, if the communication is faulty, so will the relationship be. If organizers take ages to respond or are shy with important information, you may want to reconsider exhibiting. 

Similarly, poor conflict resolution skills spell disaster. If your relationship is long enough, you’ll likely run into conflict of one sort or another. You and the organizers need to have a healthy strategy for conflict resolution, otherwise small problems become big ones; and big ones can go unsolved entirely. 

Remember, a successful event is built on successful communication. A failure to communicate should be one of the biggest red flags in event organizers. 

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Red flags, green flags.

Knowing what to avoid is important, but this only solves half of the problem. It’ll help you avoid toxic events, but it won’t help you find your dream scenarios. Once you’ve organized your make-or-break red flags, consider what green flags you’d like to see. 

Design your ideal event/event planning brand in your mind and weigh each potential situation against this (as well as your red flag list). You can’t know everything, but the clearer you understand your red flags and green flags, the better your chances are of having a successful event exhibition.

Potential green flags 

  • Quick and clear communication 
  • A thorough, professionally-written prospectus 
  • Quality logistics management 
  • Positive reviews from past exhibitors 

These are just a few green flags to inspire your imagination. Your ideal event partners are going to look different depending on your brand and your industry position. While some relationships will last years, others will offer a brief step up, and both can be rewarding if you know what to look for. 

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It’s just like dating.

Deciding which event to exhibit at isn’t any different than deciding on the ideal romantic partner. As long as you keep an eye out for red flags, you’ll avoid falling into a dreaded toxic situation. Whether it’s a misaligned market, dwindling attendance, poor communication, or a nightmare combination of all three, events that have these red flags are worth leaving behind. 

Just like dating, there’s plenty of fish in the sea! The better you know yourself, the better chance you have of finding the event or event planning team that aligns with your goals and values. Just like dating, these relationships make the whole game worthwhile! 

Now, get out there and find your fish!

October 24, 2023

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October 24, 2023

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