Trade Shows: The Perfect Opportunity to Take Your Association to the Next Level

Trade Shows: The Perfect Opportunity to Take Your Association to the Next Level

If you’ve put off attending a trade show as a vendor, you may be doing your association a serious disservice. Trade shows put multiple parties you need to connect with in one location, and no matter where your organization is in its growth, they can offer a boost in status. Read on to learn eight tips to make your next trade show successful and why you shouldn’t miss these golden opportunities.

Select the right show for your association.

If you’ve never attended a trade show before, the selection might be staggering. Think about these factors when choosing the right show for your organization:

  • Focus of the show
  • Dates and timing related to other association events
  • Location
  • Cost
  • Size
  • Intended audience
  • Other logistics (vendor space details, associated events, etc.)


As a newcomer, you might want to start with a smaller show, although if you have a national presence, a big show might pack a lot of wallop in just a few days. Think about what you want to get out of the show, whether it’s just presenting yourselves as an industry thought leader or if it’s a serious membership drive.

Make your booth attractive and memorable.

Don’t cheap out when it comes to attracting visitors to your booth. If you’re attending a show with vendors who have an actual product to display (and do this professionally), you’re likely competing for the attention of attendees. Get vendor space measurements in advance, and think about custom making display panels for visual ‘oomph.’ Have some interactive activities for visitors to draw them in, even if it’s just a fun game or a chef whipping up delicious snacks.

Work the media in advance of the event.

Let local media outlets in both your hometown and trade show locale know that you will be attending and offer interviews. Position your association as an expert for radio and TV personnel who might want to do a spot on the show. Send PR packages to key players in advance, and have press kits ready in case they are requested during the event. Don’t forget to add trade journals to your list of media contacts too.

Notify your members ahead of time.

If members of your association are likely to be at the trade show, send them notification of your participation as well. Invite them to visit your booth, and offer an incentive if they bring potential new members. Have a special gift ready to hand out to existing members who stop by.

Let social media help you during the show.

Don’t think you have to wait until after the event to publicize your participation on social media platforms. Snap some photos and post them on your Facebook page or live tweet parts of the event using the event’s hashtag. You might pick up some new members, and members who couldn’t attend will feel included too.

Don’t forget to check out the competition.

Trade shows are the perfect time to check out what the competition is doing, and this is a perfectly accepted part of these events. Make discreet notes of things that seem to be working for them that might be good for your association as well. And if there’s no direct competition for your group, get inspired by other vendors, through their displays, materials and marketing strategies.

Seek out symbiotic relationships.

You may see groups at a trade show that are related to your organization’s mission but are not in competition with you. These are the ideal groups with whom to establish symbiotic relationships, whether to co-promote on social media, host joint events, or guest blog on each other’s websites. Don’t be shy about suggesting partnerships!

Do a post mortem on the show.

Finally, after every trade show, do an analysis of what worked and what didn’t. You may want to repeat your most successful elements and tweak those that needed improvement. Sometimes you’ll find that simply changing aspects of your vendor space or bringing different equipment makes a huge difference. Take photos and good notes, and you’re guaranteed to have consistently better trade show experiences with each passing event.