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An Interview with Marlys Arnold – Trade Show Marketing Consultant & Trainer

04/19/11 by Brandon

Today we’re excited to welcome published trade show marketing consultant and trainer, Marlys Arnold, as our guest in ‘The Trade Show Experts’ series. Marlys is the author of ‘Build a Better Trade Show Image’ and the ‘ExhibitorEd: Tips, Tools & Action Plans’ training kit. She also publishes a monthly e-zine and hosts a podcast on trade show news, tips, and tools.

Marlys ArnoldHow did you get started in the trade show business?

As an image consultant, I was exhibiting to gain clients for my business and had also helped to produce several small expos, so had seen shows from various perspectives. One particular show brought out very few attendees, yet my booth managed to get some very good leads. After listening to other exhibitors complain, I began to analyze what I had done differently that worked and began to compile notes. These became not only the basis for my workshops, but also for my first book, Build a Better Trade Show Image. (It’s like the how-to manual I wish I’d had starting out as an exhibitor.) When I decided to add trade show marketing to my consulting business, I had no idea there was an entire exhibit industry out there!

Looking back, there were signs that exhibiting was in my blood at an early age. My mom reminds me how as a child at the State Fair I spent more time exploring the exhibits than the carnival rides!

Can you tell us about the types of clients you serve, and what services you provide to them?

Over the past decade, I’ve worked with exhibitors and show managers in all sizes of shows in a variety of industries — although it has seemed to tend towards construction, manufacturing and public works. Working with show managers, I provide consulting (for marketing, social media, sponsorship, etc.), exhibitor workshops, or booth evaluations. For exhibitors, I provide marketing consulting, exhibitor training/coaching, or ‘mystery shopper’ evaluations for them vs. their competitors.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen exhibitors make?

Some of the biggest mistakes are also the easiest to avoid, yet continually show up at shows of all types. Bad booth behavior would probably top the list — sitting down, eating in the booth, or talking on cell phones. Close behind that would be a lack of attraction to the booth, due to either poor design or lack of promotions. But all of these booth sabotaging moves can be turned around with proper planning and training.

Can you share with us a success story a client of yours has had as a result of your assistance and/or consultation?

One of my show manager clients hired me to do both exhibitor training and booth judging at their show. Over a period of two or three years, we saw the level of exhibiting raised across the show floor with better booth design and more proactive staff. Even some of the exhibitors who proudly declared in the beginning that they didn’t care about the competition or prizes began to improve.

What are some products or tools that you consider must-haves for exhibitors?

You’ve got to have some kind of organizing system to track all the details for the entire show process, both strategic and logistical. It can be either paper or digital — just use it! It’s important for exhibit marketing to be a well-thought-out, cohesive plan from start to finish, not just a series of logistics checklists.

Every exhibitor also needs to have a follow-up plan in place before the show starts in order to manage leads in an efficient way. Again, get a system!

Are you noticing any trends in trade shows that our very smart readers could take advantage of by planning ahead?

Attendance is coming back at most shows, meaning there will soon be more traffic in the aisles, meaning that your booth staff needs to get better at qualifying leads and doing it quicker. Some exhibitors have become used to having a longer chat with each attendee during slow times, and that mindset will need to be shifted. The reverse may hold true for younger (GenY) employees, who are more inclined to interact digitally than face-to-face on a trade show floor, so they must learn how to engage a conversation. In both scenarios, good communications skills are critical! Booth staff training is more important now than ever, since there’s no longer room for any margin of error.

Final thoughts for our readers?

Whenever you have the chance, walk a show in an industry other than yours to get a fresh perspective on exhibiting. For example, if you sell equipment or office supplies, walk a lawn and garden show. You’ll see the exhibits with a new set of eyes. Watch what they do as promotions or how the booth staff members draw attendees into their space. You’ll likely discover some new tool or technique that others in your industry haven’t thought of … because they only attend their own industry shows!