I read today some commentary about The Retail Show, the annual January extravaganza hosted by the National Retail Federation. For Electronic Clearing House, a payment processor acquired by Intuit Inc. in 2008 (where I served as Marketing Director) NRF was an annual, agonizing decision: to show, or not to show. To go, or not to go.

Going, as in attending, was a less momentous decision. Showing, as in hosting a booth or a hospitality suite or some combination of the two, obviously carries with it more cost, more preparation, and more tradeoffs with other marketing initiatives.

Trade-offs and Trade-downs

I’d like to remind my fellow marketers about the challenges of making an impact at a show of the magnitude of the Retail Show. ECHO never slung money in giant quantities for marketing, so my role was making an impact with minimal budget. Whereas smaller shows were easier to leave with quality leads, larger shows always left us feeling overshadowed by the larger budgets of the behemoths dominating the 40′ x 40′ booth spaces in the show. Thus, we focused increasingly on trading down to regional show or shows with narrower industry focus.

Planning for the Regional Show

Although smaller shows represent less competition, the same basic rules apply, but on a smaller scale:

    Plan ahead and take advantage of the early bird discounts for booth space, advertising, logistical services, etc.
    Understand and take advantage of the marketing opportunities available through the show organizer. Be sure to make all the deadlines for providing a show profile in the show guide, association web site, etc.
    Often, sponsoring a break will give you a great opportunity to grab lots of attention – but this too needs to be decided early as good spots go fast. (By good, I mean anything that you feel is effective and meets your budget. By bad, I mean anything that’s left over – say, sponsoring the mens room towel rack.
    Public relations can be leveraged for the show – if you can plan your news for the time of the show. New products or product development often provide good news to report. But this takes planning and coordination with the product development team. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done this, spend some time getting to know the media covering the show. You should be getting to know them anyway!

Measurement
To justify going to the show next year, nothing beats a good track record – one involving tracking of leads and the dollar value of closing them. In my experience, this task must be enforced from the top down. Persuading the sales team to track and report on their leads takes both the sales management and all the charm the marketing team can muster. No charm? Go to work in operations.

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