For exhibit and event professionals  

Am I just giving away money?

September 8, 2013 By Editor

Throwing Money AwayIt doesn’t seem to matter what giveaway, contest or prize I offer, I’m not having any luck getting attendees to visit our booth. I’m beginning to think these offers are just a waste of time and money. Any thoughts from your readers?

— Anonymous

It all depends on what you offer — and how

The concept of giveaways is probably as old as shows themselves. But just as exhibiting has changed over the years, so have promotional items and how they’re offered.

With these thoughts in mind, our readers believe you should:

  • Consider quality vs. quantity.
  • Don’t forget relevancy.
  • Ditch the trinkets altogether.

Consider quality vs. quantity

These days, handing out stress balls and yet another key ring willy-nilly doesn’t cut it. You need items that produce the results your company management expects.

Patti Stratford, conference manager, explains how you can make giveaways pay off for you.

“With so many giveaways, iPads, tweets and technology and so much pre- and at-show promotion, it’s no wonder attendees walk by our booths in a daze. So, go back to the basics: Is your primary objective the quantity or quality of attendees?

“If it’s quality, be sure your booth staff really knows how to engage attendees who come near your booth. Friendly, assertive (not aggressive) staffers who ask relevant, qualifying questions may not get you the highest quantity of attendees, but those you do get will be more qualified.

“I ask the sales department: ‘What’s the most helpful bit of information you need from an attendee to determine if he or she is qualified for our product or service?’ Once we determine this, we craft a question our booth staff can use to both engage and prequalify attendees. Also, we get our booth staff comfortable with asking this question by practicing so it sounds natural.

“If you need a quantity of attendees, get a professional crowd gatherer. (You may need more than one, depending on the size of your display.) Hire someone who’s not bashful about stepping out to invite attendees into the booth to watch your presentation, enter your contest, etc., and telling them what they’ll receive by doing so. Hiring a crowd gatherer was the best money I’ve ever spent for a trade show — when quantity of attendees was our primary objective.”

Don’t forget relevancy

Even if you come up with an intriguing giveaway, you may fall short in getting your target audience interested — unless it’s something they'll appreciate and use.

An exhibits manager expands on this concept.

“To get people interested in what you have to offer, make your promo item something relevant to their careers. If the show attendees are techies, offer them the newest gadget you can afford. If they’re medical professionals, give them an item or app they’ll really want and use. And so on. Just handing out the same kind of giveaway at every show is a waste of money.”

Ditch the trinkets altogether

On the other hand, some attendees may burn out on all the giveaways and the hassle of carrying them around. So, you may want to consider forgoing the inexpensive promo items in favor of something else.

A marketing assistant describes how she’s taken a different path.

“With so many people on the show floor giving away this little doodad and that clunky trinket, I go in a different direction — throwing most of my money into a drawing with a really good first prize, along with nice second- and third-place gifts. And, I don’t just wait for people to happen to stop by. Long before the show, I send a couple of direct mail teasers and/or promo items to our most important clients and prospects. This way, we improve our odds of getting key people to visit our booth, and since the drawing is open to everyone, we get our share of the remaining show traffic as well.”


  • If you are using giveaways as an attendee draw vs. your produt or service, why is that? Is your product or service not a draw? If not, how could it become one? Better trained staff? Better demos or display creativity? Preshow promotion? Social media use? Have you asked attendees why they do or do not visit? Maybe the answer is in the aisles!

    Bottom line, you want visitors to the booth who ARE interested in your product or service — not just the ‘stuff’ you give away to get them there.

  • I think the key thing about giveaways isn’t their ability to draw people into an exhibit, but to have people use them, so a company remains top of mind long after a show. In addition to finding the “right” promo item, the “right” presentation is essential. By this, I mean that, of course, you want to have your company name on the object. However, keep it small and inconspicuous. Someone may be happy to use your giveaway, but he or she doesn’t want to be your walking advertisement or appear cheap by using a freebie. Be discreet. You’re only selling your company to one person at a time.

    How do you decide what kind of promotional items to give away at events? Have some been more successful than others, and if so, do you know why?

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