Main Menu
Book Marketing Works
Brian Jud's book-marketing products and services can increase your sales, revenue and profits
Check out these testimonials...
May article

Trade Show Success is as Easy as PIE
By Brian Jud

 A trade show is an event where a group of specialized sellers displays their products to a group of corresponding buyers over a period of several days. Hundreds or thousands of potential customers congregate at these expositions looking for books and other items such as yours. Your part in this is to create a prominent display that communicates your message effectively to the largest number of attendees. Reaching this objective can be as easy as PIE if you Plan what you will do, Implement your plan and then Evaluate your marketing efforts.


Begin your strategic planning by deciding exactly what it is you want to accomplish. Inexperienced exhibitors believe it is necessary to sell enough books at each show to cover their costs of attending. Although sales are important, you will rarely sell enough books at a show to defray all your expenses. Orders received should not be your sole criterion for success because the true benefits of exhibiting accrue after the show is over.

Your objective for any exposition should be to initiate contacts and perform other activities that will give you the best long-term return on your investment. These include performing market research, discovering new ideas and treads for future books, continuing your education, networking, socializing, stimulating publicity, creating national or international distribution and uncovering opportunities for special sales or foreign rights.

Now that you know what you want to accomplish, decide which specific shows will help you reach these objectives. Depending on the books or products you are selling and your target markets, there are many conventions from which you could choose. Of course, there is the annual BookExpo America (BEA) which is the largest of all the book-related exhibitions in the United States. Or, you might want to exhibit at a show with a more specific audience such as the Natural Products Expo West, the Gourmet Products Show, the Premium and Incentives Show or CIROBE (Chicago International Remainder & Overstock Book Exposition). Visit your local library for a directory of expositions called Trade Shows Worldwide (Gale Publications) to find a list of most major shows as well as their costs, dates and locations.

If you are a relatively small independent press you could get lost in the crowd at these larger shows. In that case you may decide to exhibit at one of the smaller, regional book shows. The Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association, the Southeast Booksellers Association and the New England Booksellers Association are only three of the regional associations holding annual exhibitions.

Before you decide to exhibit, attend the show to see if it will be worthwhile for you. If there is not time to do so, contact the show management and ask if it attracts the right audience for your product line. How many people will attend? What is the cost to exhibit? If you attract 1% of the potential audience, will it be cost effective for you (keeping in mind the long-term ROI)? Where will the show be held? Will the show be adequately promoted among your potential customers?

Prepare a budget

Next, calculate a budget to determine how many shows you can attend. While the cost of the exhibit space is a large part of a show's budget, it is not the only expenditure to consider. You must also estimate transportation and living expenses, the cost of the display, literature, shipping and promotional costs. Here are examples of expenses you are likely to incur at the 1999 BEA (April 30 - May 2):

Exhibit Space (Main Floor) $2500 (10. x 10. )

Space in Small Press Section $ 695 (6. x 8. ; includes carpeting, 2 chairs and 6. table)

Carpeting $ 100

2 chairs, waste baskets $ 60

8. Table $ 110

Display $ 500+

Hotel, meals $ 200 per person, per day

Round-trip transportation Varies

Car Rental/Parking $ 70+ per day

Electricity $ 100+

Booth cleaning $ 65

Shipping to/from the show $ 150+

Giveaways $ 100+

Literature $ 200+

Promotion and publicity $ 500+


There are ways to reduce the cost of the booth space. You could share a booth with a non-competing company. Or, you could purchase exhibit space from groups such as PMA, SPAN or from your distributor. There are also ways to conserve out-of-pocket expenses. Use frequent-flyer coupons for airfare or contact the sponsoring association for special rates on airfare, car rentals and lodging. Stay with friends, relatives or in a room with a kitchen for preparing your meals.


Now that your strategy and budget are complete, it is time to begin phase two. Execution of your trade-show plan occurs at two major times. The first occurs prior to the exposition, and the second happens during it.

Before the show

Your first step should be to contact the sponsoring company and request an exhibitor's kit. This has all the information you need regarding the floor layout, prices and services available (i.e., electrical, cleaning, etc.). If you are interested in exhibiting at this year's BEA you can call them at 1 (800) 840-5614 or contact Reed Exhibition Company at Here you will find a list of current exhibitors, information for potential exhibitors and advertising, website and sponsorship information.

As early as possible, decide upon the location of your booth space on the show floor. Generally, you are given a first, second and third choice for your preferred location. Most in-line spaces provide ten feet of aisle access and are usually eight or ten feet deep; but there are also corner, island and peninsula locations available. Choose a space that is visible from a high-traffic zone such as an entrance, restaurant or autographing area. BEA clusters exhibitors by topic. For example, there is a separate section for children's/educational items, audio/video, remainders and publisher's supplies & services. BEA also offers a Small Press Section with smaller, more economical booth space.


Once you know your location you can create your physical display. Fortunately, you have several options from which to choose. First, you can build a display to your specifications or buy a used one. This may be a wise option if you have many shows in your exhibit schedule. It is also the most expensive choice, particularly when you consider containers for the display and shipping costs. Large, bulky exhibits must be shipped well in advance and may require expensive laborers to install it for you.

There are also portable exhibits available. These come as a complete backdrop or in smaller, table-top sizes. They are generally lightweight and may be checked as luggage on your flight or shipped in advance to your hotel. These may also be rented if you anticipate attending one or two shows annually. In any case, your strategy should revolve around how you will attract the attention of passers by and lure them into your exhibit.

How to attract attention

It is not necessary to have the biggest, loudest or flashiest booth at the show to attract attendees. Your main concern is to have a theme, one that is consistent with your topic and company image. What is it you want to accomplish? What do you want to say? To whom? What one impression do you want visitors to have about your books? Then everything you do should support your objective so there is no confusion among people passing by as to what you are selling.

Think of your display as a billboard, vying for the attention of people walking down the aisle who are not necessarily looking for what you are promoting. Your exhibit should have one focal point, one element that will attract attention. Use graphics and copy to encourage eye movement to your book or product. For example, at a recent BEA a publisher demonstrated a pop-up children's book with a mechanical device that kept opening and closing the book. Show rules may place restrictions on height, noise or distance from the aisle. Investigate them before you decide upon an attention-getting device.

Attracting the attention of potential customers wandering past your exhibit is a key to success. Plan demonstrations or events that will make people stop and look. For example, magicians and celebrities always attract attention. Or, hold a raffle or conduct a game that awards prizes on the basis of participation. Sound and motion are typically good at stimulating awareness. The closer your demonstration is to your theme, the more likely it will be to contribute to your sales objective.

Your exhibit should be distinctive, creative and attention-getting. It should also be appropriate, tasteful, clean, neat and attractive, always projecting a first-class image. Photographs, signs or other elements used in the display should look professionally prepared. Hand-printed banners or homemade posters pinned against a backdrop will make you look unprofessional and will not attract people passing by.

Conduct pre-show promotion

Begin promoting the fact that you are exhibiting as soon as you are assigned a booth number (and place that number on all your communications). Prepare literature specifically for each group of attendees. For instance, if you are exhibiting at the American Library Association's annual convention, your literature should not describe how your book will increase traffic in a bookstore. It is not necessary to print as many brochures as there are attendees. About 1% of the people will visit your exhibit and most of them do not want to carry excess literature with them. Get their names and addresses so you can send them your literature after the show.

Also create press kits to leave in the press room and to hand out at your exhibit. These should include backgrounders on each author, a fact sheet on every title and any information making your exhibit newsworthy.

Send out mailings and announcements before the show inviting your customers and prospects to visit your booth. Let people know you are exhibiting, where you will be located and why is it of value to them to seek you out. Also place announcements on your web page. And several weeks before the event, arrange appointments to meet with prospects at the show.

You may be traveling a great distance to the convention, so do not waste your money. Before and after the show dates, schedule book signings and appointments with prospective customers or distributor sales people. Arrange media appearances on local stations and interviews with editors of newspapers and magazines in the city hosting the trade show.

During the show

If your pre-show promotion was successful, you should draw at least one percent of the attendees to your exhibit. But the quickest way to turn these visitors away is to make them feel unwelcome. Your prospective customers expect knowledgeable salespeople to staff an exhibit. People working your booth must know about your titles as well as their authors, prices and discounts. It will help if they memorize a thirty-second descriptive sound bite for each title.

Similarly, do not smoke, sit down, talk on the telephone or read in your booth. Keep breathe mints on hand and use them regularly. And do not appear overanxious by standing at the edge of your booth space saying "How are you today?" to every person who walks by. If you are located midway in the aisle, the people walking past have heard that question twenty times by the time they get to you. In fact, do not ask any question that could be answered with a yes or no. These are usually sentences beginning in verbs: "Are you a buyer at a bookstore?" or "Do you sell job-search books in your store?" People will answer in one word and then walk away. Instead, ask questions that will get them to stop and answer you. Do this by asking open-ended questions beginning with who, what, where, when, why or how. For instance, you could say "What type of books are you looking for?" This will make someone stop and answer you. Look at their badge for the city or state in which they reside and use that as a conversation starter ("Oh, I used to live in Cincinnati. Is XYZ restaurant still there?").

Badges are usually color coded so you can tell if the person is an exhibitor, bookstore owner, press member, visitor or author. But judging the relative importance of a person (in the context of your objectives) by the color of his or her badge may be misleading. Many people switch or borrow badges, and you may neglect a major sales opportunity by ignoring someone with a bogus visitor's badge in favor of one with a legitimate bookstore-buyer's badge. Be nice to everyone.

If used properly, a giveaway item may help you get people to stop and talk with you. It does not have to be big or elaborate. Novelty items such as key chains, pencils, pads of paper with your company name and/or book title usually work well. Many companies offer free services or they make water, coffee or candy available. Your promotion will be most effective if it is inexpensive, of interest and value to those in your target market and related to your theme.

There are other tips to help you reach your objectives for exhibiting. Work with at least two people at your booth. This will give each time to rest, walk the show, network, look for new ideas and perform research. You will talk with many potential customers during the show, and the likelihood of you remembering every conversation is not high. Ask people for their business card, and on each, note the nature of the conversation and any follow up that is required. Keep snacks, water and fruit at your booth your refreshment. Attend and network at social events, but do not "party hearty" Show up alert and energetic each morning, and always greet people with a smile.


Phase three starts before you leave for home. Each night, review your daily performance and plan how you can improve tomorrow. Write thank-you notes and mail them from the show. Take pictures of people with you at your display and send them a copy. Also, photograph your exhibit when it is teeming with visitors and send one to your local newspapers, customers and distributors.

Once the show is over, evaluate your experience while the information is still fresh in your mind. Should you exhibit again next year, and if so, what would you change? What booth locations seemed to get the most traffic? Which displays seemed to attract the most people? Did you see a large number of people walking around with one particular giveaway? What was your cost-per-inquiry and is that acceptable? What new ideas or trends should you act upon? What new relationships did you make and what old friendships were rekindled? If you were seeking opportunities for special sales or foreign rights, were you successful?

Participate in every trade show with a strategic plan of action. Plan your exhibit carefully, implement your plan and then evaluate the relative success of your actions. Decide what you can do to improve next time and then begin the process all over again. Success is as easy as PIE.