Steve Slais

The Best Ways to Waste Money at a Trade Show

There are a lot of great ways to burn money (we’ve seen ‘em all). Our favorites are the ones where you spend a lot of money, but don’t spend it the right way and get no results. Hilarity ensues.

If you’re getting too many high-quality leads, follow-up meetings, and sales from trade shows, perhaps try one of the following.

For worse results, follow them all!

Don’t have a themed trade show campaign.

Just blend in with the rest of the exhibitors. Use bad stock photography and clip art – combined it’s the perfect trade show camouflage.

Too many successful booths are themed. The really effective ones make a complete campaign out of the show and stand out from the competition. This means coordinated pre- and post-show emails and themed giveaways. Some even (get this) promote the show on their website (the nerve, right?) and email footers. Then, they have the gall to speak at the show and become a thought leader (nerd alert!).

If you do collect contact information, store it in a shoebox.

Sure, you could make a cool diorama with that sneaker box, but where’s the fun in that? If you fill them with business cards from quality leads, you can not only squander potential sales, but you can also make your database and marketing automation even more useless. This digital marketing automation thing is probably too hard to implement, anyway.

Focus on YOU!

Why does it always have to be about those pesky entitled customers and their benefits? They’re not the ones spending all the money to be at the show. Say whatever you want (who cares what they want to hear). Even better, use jargon; make those prospects feel as stupid as they are!

Mix it up!

 If your branding is too consistent, people will get to really know you and your brand promise. Where’s the fun in that? Keep ‘em guessing (everything worthwhile is worth working for, right?). Color palettes are too limiting. Why have them at all? My fancy computer screen has an option to show MILLIONS of colors. Why not use all of them, it doesn’t cost extra? Sticking with the same look/feel and color scheme just seems like leaving money on the table to me.

Your booth should look like a storage locker.

If you’ve got a 10’ x 10’ booth, you could put 7,500 gallons of water in there (I did the math). Talk about a fun booth! Cram everything you can in there – you paid for it! You want them to see the ‘big picture,’ right?  So what if people can’t walk around or see anything because of the ‘visual noise.’ If they want to go for a walk, send them over to the food court (or a competitor’s booth).

Don’t waste your best salespeople’s time.

 If there’s not out selling, they’re being outsold. Your sales people get paid good money, make them earn it. Why put your best sales people in the easiest selling position? In fact, you can use the opportunity to improve office morale. Every office has that one employee that nobody likes – send them to your tradeshow for the day, give your team a break.

Blend, blend, blend.

If you sign up early, the trade show planners will give you an opportunity to choose where your booth will be located. Who cares? Why be on the end, where everyone can see you? Who needs to be in a high traffic area? You’ll just have to talk to more people. Stick your booth in a dead zone and try to make it look like everyone else’s. If you need signage, you’ve been given a great opportunity to put somebody’s kid to work. Give them a few bucks and some crayons; you’ll be a hero! The last thing you want is to attract attention, that’s one sure fire way to upset the competition. Lay low, no flash, no lights, no video, no danglers and nobody gets hurt, capiche?

Guess who likes know-it-alls? Nobody.

A trade show isn’t the place to try something new or spout off about the latest trend or technology (talk about putting a target on your back!). Stick with the tried-and-true, and you won’t run the risk of being considered an ‘innovator.’ Those so-called ‘thought leaders’ never get a chance to relax at a tradeshow. If you went to your high school reunion, those ‘popular’ and ‘smart’ kids are still dorks (right?).

Keep your key messages hidden.

Do you want EVERYONE to know your secret sauce? If you must put something important in your messaging, consider making it a treasure hunt. Put it in small type at ankle height (they’ll never see it). Fill the key visual space with fluff. If they want the good stuff, make ‘em earn it. Nothing’s for free. Nothing.

Floor space is YOUR space.

Lots of successful booths will use a solid color carpet with thick padding both to set their booth off from the flooring in the hall and for extra comfort. Unless you want to spend your day talking to people by creating an inviting space, stick with whatever they’ve got on the floor. Hopefully, it’ll be that really busy (and ugly) hotel carpet that was designed to hide every conceivable type of stain. It’s almost as good as putting a ‘Keep Out’ sign in the entryway.

Wing it!

Why waste your time researching the show, singling out attendees you’d like to meet, or brushing up on the speakers’ bios? And for heaven’s sake, don’t try to set up meetings before the show. What ever happened to serendipity? If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen. Relax, you’ll be fine.

We’ve seen a lot of other brilliant tactics to waste money. If you have some you’d like to share, give us a call (or not…whatever).

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Steve Slais


Steve doesn’t just have a great aesthetic; he’s smart enough to spell aesthetic right the first time (no spellcheck required, thank you). A lot of creatives can come up with the ‘crazy cool’ idea; Steve can turn it into reality. He gets in the weeds on every account and questions everything (even when he knows the answer). If you spend some time in the office, you’ll realize that he’s not interested in being the hero; he’s passionate about making everyone on the team better and keeping clients thrilled. And it shows.

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