Maximizing The ROI Of Managed IT Services Industry Events On A Budget.

Money- and time-saving tips every MSP should be using.

Whether you’re adding MSP, cloud, hosting or other IT industry trade shows and events to your marketing tool kit for the first time or you’re a seasoned pro, these insider tips will help you save money, save time and take advantage of free resources you shouldn’t overlook.


If You’re Given A Pre-Registered List, Use It.


Depending on the type of show you've chosen to attend and the package, sponsorships and booth size you choose to purchase, you may be given the list of pre-registered attendees by the show organizers. Use it.  

Market to these people both before and after the show. Before the show, create an email campaign or direct mail piece with a very specific call to action―inviting the attendees to stop by your booth with an offer code to get something special in your booth. You’ll attract additional attendees to your booth and better understand the success of your campaign by the number of people who stopped by.  

This pre-registered show list should also be made available to your sales team to follow up with phone calls before and after the event. 


A Shipping Alternative.

If you have a small table top or 10x10 booth that fits into 1 or 2 plastic cases, why pay for expensive shipping through a trucking company or FedEx, UPS, DHL or some other carrier? 

To save money, you can bring these items with you to the airport and check the cases as luggage.  There will be a cost to do this but certainly nowhere near what it would cost you to have a shipping company send your cases. If you're willing to schlep the cases around yourself, it can save you significant money.


Help a Reporter Out.

Every show usually includes some members of the press whether reporters, bloggers, analysts or other industry influencers who come to check out what’s new and different in the areas in which they write. 


Some shows provide exhibitors with a pre-registered attendee list which includes names of the press.  Others set up a networking website where all attendees and exhibitors can network online to schedule meetings at the show. Take advantage of this huge opportunity and reach out to reporters who you feel would be interested in learning more about what your company is doing, new announcements, a sneak peak at new technologies, etc. 

Invite them to your booth, to a networking event, reception or even just a cup of coffee. It doesn't have to be a formal sit down interview with an article posted the next day, although that would be great. At least introduce them to your company, your team, your services and how you stand out from your competitors. Offer to be their go to contact when they have general questions about the industry or are looking for an alternative opinion when writing about a topic you’re expert in. Meeting in person at the show may possibly garner immediate press but, more importantly, can lay the groundwork for long term relationships and many future press opportunities.


Give a Presentation.

Participating in speaking sessions where subject matter experts discuss relevant topics or provide educational instruction can be a great benefit to a company looking to break into a new market or position itself and the speaker as an industry leader.  Other than the travel expense for an out of town event, the opportunity to speak is often free (although not always).  There are generally 3 primary ways in which you can speak:

1.  Free and open to anyone:  
Some shows open this opportunity to anyone who wants to speak on one of the topic categories chosen by the show management. When reviewing a trade show’s website, find out if they’re accepting speaker abstracts or there is a “call for papers” and when your submission is due. The abstract, which is usually a 1 or 2 paragraph overview of what you will speak about and what the attendees should expect to learn, will need to be submitted with the application.  Approximately 4-6 weeks later you’ll be notified if you’ve been selected. 

Be careful if you’re accepted: some shows will allow you to substitute the speaker you originally submitted for someone else in your company if the original speaker is unable to attend.  Some shows will not allow this and could eliminate your session, replacing it with another company/topic if you attempt to switch speakers.  

2.  Pay to play:  
Some shows offer a speaking opportunity only to those companies who have purchased a large booth space or a sponsorship package.  This is usually listed as part of the sponsorship description.  If the show is very important to your business and you would consider purchasing a large booth or sponsorship anyway, then this is a good opportunity for you.  If you would only pay the extra cost to be able to get a speaking spot then you need to decide if the added expense is worth it.


3.  Invitation only:  
For other shows, the ability to speak is by invitation only.  This is frequently the case for partner or reseller shows run by companies like Microsoft and VMware, for example, where the event may be specifically targeted at vendors, channel partners or customers.  

If you have a relationship with the company managing the show, and have not already been approached about speaking, discuss your participation at the event with your account manager or other contact.  They may not be able to give you your own session but may be able to add you to a panel discussion which includes other vendors, customers or partners.


For Immediate Release.

Are you speaking at an upcoming show? Will you be launching a new product or service? Are you a conference sponsor? Let people know.


Write and distribute a press release 3-4 weeks before the show takes place. This will generate additional pre-show interest, enable attendees to add your activities to their calendar of things to do at the show before it fills up and will assist in online marketing efforts (SEO) by having your information appear in search engines when online searches are done for a particular show.

But don't stop there. Write and distribute a media alert 1 week before the show begins highlighting a specific activity you will be participating in or something you will be featuring in your booth.  Be sure to quickly get across the who, what, where and when. Many reporters, bloggers and others watch for these announcements and may reach out to you for a larger story―or to at least stop by to learn more. 

The show daily, a small publication or online magazine which includes a wrap-up of what happened at the show on the prior day and previews what will be happening at the show on that day, may also include your information in their publication, resulting in additional attendee traffic to your booth or speaker session. 


Exhibit or Bust. Maybe Not.

Are you on the fence about whether to exhibit at a specific show? 

“It seems like the right audience."
"There’ll be thousands of attendees and we’re trying to grow our business in this market. But is it really the right show for us?”

Why not send 1 or 2 people to the show as attendees to gain an insiders perspective as to whether it’s really appropriate for your business?   If it is, you've hopefully made some initial contacts and will be better prepared to exhibit next year.  If not, you’ll have saved a lot of money by learning that this show isn't really the one for your company.


Need Money to Exhibit?

Are you a VAR or MSP for Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Citrix, VMware or other technology companies? Do they offer co-op marketing funds or MDF (market development funds) to assist you in selling their products/services? If you’re unsure, reach out to them and ask. If they do, talk to them about your interest in participating in a specific show.   Depending on the location, attendee demographics, key messages and other criteria, they may encourage you to participate by agreeing to pay for a portion of your booth, the booth space, tchotchkes, signage and other items needed for the show.  They may also provide additional products for you to raffle off as prizes during the show or even send their own employees to help you sell in your booth. 

The more of their products you sell, the better for them as well, so it's a win-win situation for both of you.


Additional Magazine Circulation.


Trade magazines often partner with or participate in many of the shows you may be interested in attending and distribute their magazine free to all show attendees.  This can often add another 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 or more readers to the normal circulation.  

You’ll find the names of the participating magazines on the show’s website.  Once you know who they are, go to their individual sites and review the magazines’ editorial calendar.  You’ll learn what topics they will focus on during the month in which the show is taking place.  You may be able to submit an article, reach out to a reporter to provide expertise on a certain subject or be interviewed for inclusion in the article.  This is an opportunity to get free press coverage and your message will reach additional readers who may never have picked up the magazine before.

This is also the case if you choose to advertise in the publication.  You'll get more bang for your buck by advertising in the magazines with additional circulation at the show.


Here's a Free Pass.

Depending on the type of show and the size of the booth you select, you may be given one or more “full conference passes” in addition to the passes you will receive for those people manning your booth. This frequently includes free access to all meetings, educational sessions, keynote speeches, exhibit hall and possibly all meals as well. 

Check to see if the purchase of your booth space includes this.  If it does, you’ll save money by not having to buy a full conference pass for one of your employees.


Creating Signage.

To ensure that posters and other graphics will get to your booth in one piece without bent corners or other damage, you may want to consider designing your show graphics as you normally do and then uploading your files to the FedEx Office Print Center, FASTSIGNS, Staples or other printing company that has an office near the convention center where the show is taking place. You can place the order online and you or a member of your team can pick up the graphics when you arrive in that city to set up your booth before the show. 

There are benefits and drawbacks to doing this:  
Benefit: This will save on shipping costs and ensure the graphics are not damaged along the way.

Drawback: Graphics that are too big for you to handle yourself may require you to hire people to bring it from the printer to the hall.  This additional cost may wipe out the savings that you got from not shipping the graphics.  

Just know that the ability to design your graphics locally and have them printed in the show city, possibly thousands of miles away, is available to you. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself.  It’s also an excellent option if you need to have something created last minute and won’t have time to ship it. 


As Seen on TV.

Planning on having a product demo or playing video games in your booth to attract people as they walk by? Why not kill two birds with one stone and save money as well.  Don't rent a TV or monitor from the show decorator.  Consider buying it from an electronics store near the convention center. Use it during the show and then raffle it off at the end. This "prize" will be another reason for people to stop into your booth and you’ll have saved money by not having to rent a TV and buy a separate prize to raffle off.


Reserve Next Year’s Show Now?


While you’re at your show, the show management may schedule a meeting for you to come to the sales office and select your booth space for next year's show. This enables the show to lock in commitments a year in advance, allows you to get an early pick at a good booth space for next year and gives you a discount for reserving your space early.  

As an exhibitor, you want the time to be able to get back to your office, speak with your team, follow up with the prospects you met, close some deals and better understand the true ROI of this event to determine whether it will be worthwhile for your company to exhibit again next year.  The show, on the other hand, wants you to sign up now and get your money so you're locked in. 

Cancellation policies vary from show to show. Some give you a 30 day cancellation clause which enables you to cancel up to 30 days after the current show is over without any financial penalty. Other shows require an up front percentage of payment and if you cancel you will receive XX% back (never the full amount). 

If you’re certain you want to exhibit the following year then sign up during your sales appointment at the current show. You’ll get a discount and your ability to pick a better booth location for next year is greater because booth spaces for next year become available first to current exhibitors. If you’re uncertain about next year's participation but are able to cancel without financial penalty up to 30 days after the current show, then sign up and make sure that you evaluate the return on your show investment within that time. 


Which Way to the Press Room?

Most trade shows will have a room set aside for the press―usually called a press room, media room or press kit room. It's a place for exhibiting companies to put their press kits for reporters to pick up, for journalists and companies to meet for interviews and a place for reporters, bloggers and others to write their stories. 


This is another opportunity for you to get your company/product announcements and other press information into the hands of people who will write about you.  Make your press kit stand out and that the reporter understands at a glance what your company does. 

Some shows create online press rooms where you can post press releases, information on your company and products/services, photos, etc.  Whether available at the show or online, take advantage of this free PR distribution opportunity. 


What’s Our ROI?

There are different reasons why companies go to trade shows. 

  • To establish a presence in a new market.  
  • To solidify a leadership position among a number of competitors.
  • To generate more qualified leads.
  • To signup new customers.
  • …and many more.  

Whatever the reason, it’s important that you sit back and objectively evaluate whether the show was a financial success.  At the end of the day, that’s what really matters.  Remember, when calculating the return, include T&E expenses, drayage and additional costs that you won’t know until after the show is over to ensure that you have an accurate and complete view of the success of your show.  This will help you determine if you should exhibit again next year.