Best In Show
By Margaret Graham Tebo
May 1, 2004, 09:34 pm CDT
When Rob Robertson agreed to have a booth at his local chamber of commerce trade show, he hoped it would lead to new clients for his solo law practice.
So Robertson, who practices in Austin, Texas, had a banner made and came up with a gimmick to get people to stop at his booth: He made copies of a simple personality exam and helped people determine their personality type by scoring the exams while they waited. The response was huge, he says.
Alas, while the trade show attendees flocked to his booth to try the test, Robertson got few worthwhile client contacts from the event.
“You try it out assuming you might get a client or make a contact that will bear fruit in the future. For my money, though, it just wasn’t worth the time and expense,” says Robertson.
While the experience didn’t sour Robertson on exhibiting at trade shows, he says he’s learned to do things a bit differently to maximize his marketing efforts. For example, he avoids shows geared to the general public because he feels people don’t come to exhibitions looking for a lawyer; they’re there to have fun and collect free stuff.
And he recommends checking the show’s marketing plan before committing. “A lot of your success will depend on the effectiveness of the show itself,” he says. “It takes an enormous amount of publicity and work to get the right people to attend.”
When Robertson agreed to be a part of the chamber of commerce trade show, he was really targeting other chamber members and their businesses as his clients. But he soon discovered that most members were busy with their own booths and had little time to talk legal shop. More effective, he found, was simply networking with members more one-on-one by getting involved in committees and attending luncheons.
Now, Robertson says he doesn’t commit to a trade show until he’s asked himself just what group he is targeting and can ascertain that exhibiting is the best way to reach that audience.
Legal marketing expert Micah Buchdahl agrees that it’s critical to choose the right trade show to reach the right people. He often gives this same advice when he counsels clients and speaks to lawyers about the value of exhibiting at trade shows.
Yet he warns lawyers like Robertson to look at the issue more expansively than simply “trade shows vs. luncheons” and how many retainer agreements resulted from each.
Instead, lawyers should measure success more broadly. It’s all about being seen at events—if people see your name often enough, they will remember you when they do have a legal issue, says Buchdahl, who heads HTMLawyers Inc. in Moorestown, N.J., and is also a lawyer.
“It’s not whether someone saw you at the show and called you a week later. It’s about branding your small business as a player. It’s got to be one component of an overall marketing strategy,” he says.
Once committed to a trade show, Robertson says he always makes sure his booth signage is large, clearly lettered and hung high for maximum visibility. He also makes sure the path to his booth is clear. If there’s a table across the front of the booth, he says, it serves as a barrier that encourages potential clients to keep on walking.
Instead, he likes to keep the front of the booth open and set up tables inside the space so he can invite people to step inside and talk to him.
Finally, Robertson stresses the importance of a gimmick. Whether it’s the personality test he used at the chamber of commerce show or a simple, fun quiz like a “legal hygiene checkup” for small-business owners, gimmicks can be important. They both attract people to the booth and break the ice to get them to stay—and possibly become the next big client.