Is Your Exhibitor Retention Plan Aligned with the Times?

By Barbara Myers, CAE, Vice President of Professional Development at ISPE

(from Frost Miller Group Blog)

frost-miller-ceir-indexAssociations know it’s easier and less expensive to retain members than acquire new ones.  If you’re an association executive, chances are your organization evaluates and updates its membership retention strategy, minimally, on an annual basis.  Plans are developed to support these strategies that focus exclusively on existing members and include a variety of tactics designed to get members to renew.

Show organizers can learn a thing or two about retention from their association membership colleagues.  Many mistakenly approach exhibitor marketing with a “one size fits all” mentality for both new and existing exhibitors.  Exhibitor marketing plans include a number of campaigns and tactics without any thought to audience segmentation based on exhibiting status (current or new).  As a result, exhibit sales may remain flat or even begin to decline.

If you currently don’t have a strategy developed specifically for exhibitor retention, then make 2013 your year to do so!  The trade show industry is showing a very positive outlook for the next few years.  Show organizers can capitalize on this by strengthening their relationship with their exhibit base while also developing strategies for growth focused on new exhibitor acquisition.


If you are just starting to dip your toe into these waters, below are a few tips to help you get started creating your own exhibitor retention strategy for today’s new economic landscape.

1. Personalized attention: Understand that an exhibitor retention strategy should exist on its own.  Discussions, ideas, research, measurement and evaluation should all focus specifically on your current exhibitor base each year.

2. Research: Survey your existing exhibitors to find out what their specific pain points are so that you can work on addressing them as well as things that you are doing successfully.  This information is key to developing tactics that are on target and will get you results.  Also do your homework on your industry to learn what might be trending.

3. Set goals and objectives: Plans are a map for getting you to an end goal.  Establish clear goals and objectives for your exhibitor retention efforts.  A primary goal is establishing a retention percentage that is both challenging and realistic based on your industry and resources.

4. Identify target audiences: Specific campaigns can be developed for segments of your exhibit base with customized messaging, tactics and promotions just as you would different types of attendees.  Examples of ways to segment include:

  • First time exhibitors
  • Long term exhibitors
  • Industry type

5. Tactics: With your data, goals and target audiences identified, it’s time to get creative.  Develop tactics for the plan tailored to your specific audiences based on their feedback and industry research.

6. Timeline: Once you have identified your tactics, map out when they will be rolled out.

7. Budget: Develop a realistic budget for the overall A Cure for Wellness trailer

8. Implementation and evaluation: Conduct regular meetings to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan and to determine if any tweaks in strategy are necessary.  When the plan is complete, be sure to take the time to review the tactics implemented to determine their effectiveness.

Things are looking up for trade shows!  Take a fresh approach by focusing on those loyal exhibitors who stuck with you through the tough times to make sure they will be with you during the good!