Tradeshow tips from an event booth rookie at NRF2018
Last month, I headed to the Jacob Javitz Convention Center in New York City to attend my first-ever tradeshow—NRF 2018—as part of a StudioNorth team coordinating social media and visitor engagement for a client’s booth. Retail’s Big Show invites retailers, customers, technology providers and decision makers to learn about the latest trends and changes sweeping the retail industry.
Having never been to a tradeshow before, I was grateful to have four of my StudioNorth team members (and highly experienced event pros) to pass along tips for both exhibitors and attendees. Here are the top five things I learned about tradeshows while working at NRF 2018:
1. Don’t let your exhibit become part of the white noise.
In the lobby of the Javitz Center, hundreds of 6’ by 30’ signs hung from the ceiling, advertising some of the brands and organizations exhibiting at NRF. Unfortunately, two weeks later (and even hours after leaving the show), I couldn’t recall a single one.
As StudioNorth Executive Producer Eric Pound explained, the first rule of tradeshow exhibit design is: Don’t let your exhibit become part of the white noise.
At an event as large as NRF, with so many booths competing for the attention of attendees, exhibitors have to go the extra mile to get noticed. Plastering a logo on a giant sign just won’t cut it.
But the IBM booth caught my eye from the very beginning of the show, and I noticed it every time I entered and exited the Javitz Center. It had a stunning use of creative design, with IBM blue and white lighting emphasizing the impossible-to-miss umbrella ceiling display, and you could see their booth from a mile away. They drew attendees into their exhibit by posing the question “What do umbrellas have to do with retail technology? Visit our booth to find out!”—and they were one of the busiest booths there.
Now that was a good use of event marketing dollars. With their print and digital signage throughout the Javitz Center, the large volume of talented booth staff, innovative design, and their sheer customer recognition and brand strength, they made the greatest impression on me.
2. Train your booth staff to get visitors engaged
It was easy to distinguish a successful booth from an unsuccessful one. Just by walking by, you could sense the energy of an exhibit. If a booth was full of attendees having discussions with exhibitors, observing demos, or listening in on a mini speaking session, I was more likely to slow down and peer in.
No matter how beautiful or expensive your booth is, your tradeshow booth staff will make or break the attendee experience. They have to build excitement and make your booth experience one to remember.
This is an area where StudioNorth especially excels, thanks to Events Experience Director Debbie Knighton. At NRF, our digital gaming system and our top game show host, Tom Clark, energized NRF attendees and drew them to our booth. But Debbie made sure we didn’t rely on Tom or the technology—our whole team worked hard to attract visitors and keep them engaged.
3. Plan for disaster.
As you can imagine, with over 80,000 people and their devices all trying to connect to one network, you can’t rely on having perfect or quick internet access.
Having attended a combined total of more than 50 events, Stacy, Debbie, Kyra, and Eric came ready to solve for any potential setback. Extra power strips, MiFi devices, and battery backup systems were all in tow.
It’s also important to move any large media files before you leave for a show. Avoid having to rely on the show floor connection to make any important transfers. On the long list of event management tips for beginners, this is something you won’t want to learn the hard way.
The Benefit Cosmetics vending machine, by Zoom Technologies.
4. Walk the show floor (even if you’re working a booth).
The first day of NRF, I found myself at the booth all day—live tweeting quotes, snapping photos or preparing for video shoots. I left the show floor at the end of the day wanting to see more.
On day two, StudioNorth Sr. Account Manager Kyra King and I broke away for an hour or two to explore. We passed by hundreds of booths, but were always particularly intrigued by the ones with live product demonstrations. We got quick yet detailed explanations of how brick and mortar stores are integrating virtual reality into fitting room mirrors, or how companies like ZoomSystems are bringing big box stores and brands like Benefit Cosmetics to vending machines across the globe with customized, automated retail solutions.
Also, if you can find some time in your week, attend a speaking session.
Kyra and I decided to attend the “Retailers who are using digital media to create engagement” session. Featured speakers Mike Tippets of Hughes, Sahir Anand of EnsembleIQ Research, and John Jordan of Total Wine and More discussed the importance of customer and employee engagement, and how implementing digital signage in brick and mortar stores can improve and enhance the shopper experience.
This was one of my favorite moments at NRF, because I was able to hear about retail trends and insights from the perspective of a panel of experts and thought leaders. Even if you’re not completely familiar with the subject matter, it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the industry.
5. Wear comfortable shoes.
Most of you are probably saying, “Seriously, Molly? I could have told you that!” Yes, this may seem like a no-brainer, but you never truly realize the importance of being comfortable during an 8-hour day on the show floor until you’re not. Most of your day will be spent standing or walking, so don’t be afraid to abandon your brand new heels and swap them out for a reliable pair of flats.
With one event under my belt, I’m excited to see what the rest of 2018 has in store. Stay tuned for a HIMSS recap in March!
Social Media Coordinator
Molly is the Social Media Coordinator at StudioNorth and the only currently employed redhead. Things Molly likes: theatre, dogs, french fries, and the color pink. Things Molly doesn't like: birds (especially pigeons), the cold, and writing in the third person.