Every company strives to get maximum return on investment (ROI) for its marketing investments, but for startups it becomes a matter of survival. Startups don’t have the luxury of steady cash flow and established lines of business to rely on, and they need to make sure every dollar counts.
When it comes to trade shows, startups don’t just ask “Should we set up a booth?” They also need to consider, “Will it be worthwhile to spend the money and send the staff to manage a booth?” In this article, we’ll try to look at some of the factors to consider in that decision, and introduce the option of participating in the trade show through a “pod,” or a small station inside a larger pavilion.
Trade show pavilions are a growing phenomenon, centered around the idea of providing an option for companies that aren’t quite big enough to set up their own 10-by-20-foot booth, yet have a valid reason to exhibit at the trade show. The trade show organizer wants to give these startups a voice, since it is from the startup community that we see the broadest innovation, and the tremendous value creation. Usually the pavilion is centered around some kind of theme, such as a region or a technology type.
But the pavilions often offer more than lower prices. Many amenities, furniture items, and business services are usually included. This makes the job of exhibiting MUCH simpler, especially for startups that don’t have staff on-hand that have extensive trade show experience. For example, exhibitors in normal booths need to specifically plan for, arrange, manage, and pay for the following: electricity needs, network needs, rugs, underpad, installation by union workers, shipping, stands, chairs, drayage, displays, garbage bins, and housekeeping. Usually, larger companies will have a trade show booth which they can set up at multiple shows through the year. These booths need a few months prep to build, and cost upwards of $40,000 for a 20-foot square. Pavilions, in contrast, usually bundle up most of these amenities into a single fee and pre-defined package. The startup can contract for a pod, and only needs to bring their own collateral to pass out.
If you choose to be in a pavilion, you need to consider whether it will meet your marketing goals. You want to meet new business contacts and get your word out, but of course, you need to have the right audience. That’s where the type of pavilion starts to matter, as well as your pavilion mates. Everyone knows the importance of location, location, location. Not only do you need to worry about whether your pod attracts traffic, but you need to worry about whether the pods around you also attract traffic, and create a halo effect for each other. Is the theme of the pavilion an attractive one for foot-traffic? Is it self-filtering such that even though you don’t compete directly with the other pods, you have a common audience? Is the conference organizer and the pod organizer investing in marketing the existence of the pavilion, and the theme of the pavilion to your target audience? If so, the pavilion stands a good chance of generating successful engagement for the pods.
Now, I must concede that the pavilion concept is not for every company, but most of the downsides are probably obvious to you already. You are limited in space, and don’t have full liberty to customize your pod. But the pod does offer you visibility to every attendee at the show. And if you make an effort, your pre-event marketing can drive more traffic to your pod, and set up appointment times for meetings, too. Whether you get a pod, booth, or even nothing, our firm belief will always remain: if all your customers are gathering in one place, wouldn’t you want to be there, too?
So, admittedly, this is a sponsored post. I’ll stand behind what I’ve written with all my credibility, but I do have an ulterior motive. My organization, The Telecom Council of Silicon Valley is partnered with the CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) to create a pavilion at CTIA WIRELESS in New Orleans, May 8-10 2012. Our pavilion is focused on just young companies that bring innovative solutions to the wireless telecom industry, and we’re screening the companies to make sure they’ve got the right stuff. The Telecom Council and CTIA have put together a package that includes floor space in a pod, marketing, stage time, logistics and more in a simple bundle. If you are a VC with a portfolio company, or a suitable startup, you can learn more here, but think fast because our deadline for applicants is February 10!
New Orleans is one of America’s best destination cities, and the CTIA show is always laser-focused on wireless telecom. I hope to see you there, whether as an exhibitor or guest in our pavilion, or just eating a bowl of gumbo around town.