There's a lot of pressure on marketing departments today: a tightening economy and increasingly competitive environment means that every promotional effort must generate a positive return. Every decision has to be viewed critically, and that includes the decision to participate in tradeshows.

Show participation must, for many exhibitors, generate a positive, demonstrable ROI if exhibiting is to remain a viable part of the marketing strategy. This means taking advantage of every opportunity to maximize the return on show participation: before, during, and after the show. Many exhibitors do a great job at the show, but lackluster or non-existent efforts prior to and after the event sabotage their efforts. For those marketing professionals who believe in the core value of exhibiting and the face-to-face relationship building that is part and parcel of exhibiting, this has placed renewed emphasis on the value of pre-show promotion.

Pre-show promotion is the single most valuable step any exhibitor can take to help drive traffic to the exhibit, up the percentage of high-value, qualified leads, and ensure a positive ROI. After all, to start and reinforce valuable business relationships, you have to have contact with the show attendees. They need a reason to visit your exhibit -- to pinpoint and find one booth out of the hundreds on the show floor. Pre-show marketing can provide that reason.

This isn't exactly news -- and although the vast majority of exhibitors aren't doing any pre-show promotion, those companies that are, have been steadily increasing their efforts. How can your pre-show promotion stand out in a crowded environment?

Here are three effective strategies to consider:

1. Smart E-Mail

E-mail is everywhere: almost everyone checks their e-mail several times a day. Yet few exhibitors are making use of this tool to promote their tradeshow participation. Mention any show specials you may be running, as well as events, classes, and seminars your organization is a part of. Use strategically timed e-mails to remind your clients and potential clients to visit your booth at the tradeshow. Mention any show specials you may be running, as well as events, classes, and seminars your organization is a part of.

Timing is crucial. You don't want to send your reminder emails too early, as they'll be overlooked. Sending e-mails too late isn't any better! Aim for three emails, one a month before the show, one a week before the show, and one a day or two before the show.

Don't forget the signature line on your regular, everyday business email. Altering it to include a mention of your tradeshow participation is a subtle yet effective way to promote the event.

2. Trade Journal Inserts

Any time you conduct a direct mail campaign, you do so in the knowledge that the vast majority of your efforts go unseen. The lion's share of direct mailings are never delivered, much less read. Considered 'junk mail', it winds up in the trash, where it doesn't do you or your prospective attendee any good.

Industry journals, on the other hand, are almost always delivered. They're also consistently read at a much higher rate than most direct mail efforts. Some savvy exhibitors have begun promoting their tradeshow participation with trade journal inserts. These small postcard-sized advertisements are tucked into the journals before they're mailed, highlighting your organization's upcoming show appearances. This isn't a common strategy yet, so you benefit from being unique and targeted. A very cost-effective strategy!

3. Lumpy Mail

Lumpy mail has a funny name, but it's a powerful pre-show promotional strategy. Sending a mailing that is literally lumpy -- an envelope containing something -- generates curiosity in the recipient. One exhibitor actually sent potential attendees a message in a plastic bottle -- and got a great response rate. Consider what 'lumps' you could send to your attendees!

One strategic use of the lumpy mail strategy involves including a premium item the prospective attendee has to bring to your booth to exchange for another, higher value item. A variation of this is to send an item that is useless on its own -- one glove, for example -- along with the message that the missing component -- the second glove -- can be picked up at your booth.

Author's Bio: 

Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, internationally recognized expert working with companies to increase their profitability at tradeshows.
Author: "Riches in Niches: How to Make it BIG in a small Market" and "Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies." Claim your free copy of "Exhibiting Success" at &