Entrepreneur magazine, November 1997

As a trade show exhibitor, you've got about five seconds to catch an attendee's eye before he or she passes your booth. Five seconds. With this kind of attention span, making the most of the graphics at your exhibit is not just smart marketing--it's do or die.

"There's [intense] competition for the eyeball at trade shows," says Dr. Jerry Cahn, CEO of New York City-based Brilliant Image, a supplier of trade show graphics. The days of simply tacking up a sign with your company name on it are over. "That kind of display is fine if you're as recognizable as Nordstrom," says Cahn. "But if you're Magnet Products Inc., for example, you'd better be prepared to tell people who you are and what you do."

Cahn's suggestions for perking up your trade show graphics:

  • Develop a unique proposition, and use it as a headline. Example: "Sales automation software that increases selling time by 25 percent."
  • Make your graphics bold and attractive so they command attention even from a distance.
  • Make sure your display addresses the commonly asked questions: "What does your company do?" and "What are you showing here?"
  • Build brand identity by coordinating display graphics with sales literature, including pre-show promotions and follow-up mailings.

Also, be sure to keep up with the latest technology in trade show displays. Computer-generated graphics and reusable, portable displays can improve your image and save you money.

New York City software company Financial Technologies International recently switched from rented booths to a custom-made model with a computer-generated display. Marketing manager Diane Wukitsch reports that the new booth is more eye-catching. "People have commented that they could see it from across the room," she says. And it's less expensive than the old, rented models. "We were paying $7,000 to $10,000 per use for the rentals," Wukitsch says. "The new booth, which is completely reusable, cost us only $8,000."

Gayle Sato Stodder covers entrepreneurship for various publications. She lives and works in Redondo Beach, California.