It’s hard to believe boat show season is almost here again. My head and liver are starting to hurt just thinking about it – despite some rigorous training over a very enjoyable summer!

While there’s no denying we all enjoy boat shows for the social aspect, it’s easy to forget it’s during this time when businesses have the most powerful opportunity to promote their products and services direct to end consumers.

Shows and exhibitions are a great way to showcase your business’ latest offerings, meet customers, find agents and build industry relationships. They are also a great way to burn money if you’re not well prepared.

Get your money’s worth

As we’re all aware, attending a boat show – or several during the season – is an expensive exercise.

Beyond the cost of floor space, television screens, banners and other promotional material that’s an inherent part of every show, there are also the “invisible” costs. Travel, accommodation, staff, promotional gifts and literature… the list goes on.

While “bang for buck” is the central focus of most marine businesses when spending money on advertising, many don’t put as much emphasis on getting maximum value from boat shows – despite the fact this is usually the most expensive promotional activity of the year.

What is it you consider “value” from a boat show, anyway? Is it selling a large volume of product? Is it establishing new relationships with potential customers? Is it getting your brand in front of as many people as possible for long-term recognition and results?

When planning for any boat show, it’s important to clearly determine what you expect from it. If you want to sell a lot of product at the show, ensure you have adequate stock available. If you want to take down a list of names for on-water boat tests, have some concrete dates/locations and place people on these lists on the spot. If you want to make a lasting impact on consumers, do something they’ll remember.

Doing something people will remember could refer to an interactive activity on your stand. It could also be as simple as a meaningful and honest conversation – regardless of whether you think they’re going to buy at the show or in the next 12 months.

During my years as a journalist and editor working with many of Australia’s leading marine/fishing magazines, the real success of a boat show couldn’t be judged by the number of subscriptions sold on the stand – the volume of people we spoke with was a far greater indication of whether the show was “worth it”.

Often without a voice for a couple of days after each show, every person we spoke with made the show worthwhile. What they liked about the magazine; what they didn’t like; and what they wanted to see in future issues was very valuable feedback in helping create a product people really wanted. What’s more, it could be almost guaranteed that every one of those people – if not already a subscriber – wandered into the local newsagent in the month following the show to pick-up the next issue.

The value of hearing straight from your target market about what they like – or don’t like – about your product is immeasurable.

Is your business getting its true money’s worth from every boat show?

Creativity catches consumers

There are far more ways to catch consumers’ eyes at boat shows than having a massive display. Being the biggest, doesn’t necessarily mean being the best.

Remembering the best form of promotion is the one thing you can’t pay for (word-of-mouth), put yourself in consumers’ shoes and think about what is going to impress them more…

A massive stand with every product in your range on display? Or an interactive display that encourages show visitors to become involved? It’s pretty obvious which option will get people telling their mates to “check out the cool XXX on Company X’s stand!”

The more creative you are in coming up with something show visitors will want to tell their friends about, the greater the impact you’ll have on them in the longer term.

Obviously, freebies are great. Everyone wants something for nothing at boat shows, so if you’re budget extends to printing thousands of stickers or key rings, go right ahead. But if you’re competitors are doing the same, are you really making much of an impact on your core market?

Yes, promotional girls are awesome. I love them all. They certainly open the eyes of show-weary exhibitors after a big night out: “Have you seen the Company X girl today? She’s HOT!”

From a consumer’s perspective, however, their value is increasingly questionable. Many boat show visitors can’t for the life of them remember which company logo a promotional girl had printed across her chest just a few minutes after they’ve walked past her.

Without giving away any of the ideas we have planned for our clients over coming boat show seasons, it’s important to think outside the square in developing your attention-grabbing initiatives.

While there are very few ideas that are truly original these days, adapting proven approaches often delivers the desired results. Remember, though – if it works this year it’s unlikely to work next year, so you’ll have to come up with something fresh in 2011!

In that light, keeping such creative boat show ideas relatively low in cost is an important ingredient to their success.

Pre and post-show publicity

The promotional opportunities surrounding each boat show begin well before – and continue well after – the dates the show is scheduled to take place.

Businesses that have planned their boat show presence well in advance will be able to take advantage of the myriad opportunities offered by various media outlets (both print and online) in their individual “boat show previews”.

Then there are the official boat show programs which are handed out to people as they walk into the exhibition centre, the newspaper articles, and, not forgetting, the valuable opportunities offered by the show organising bodies.

Read the exhibitor manuals provided when booking your floor space to find out what opportunities are available and don’t hesitate in meeting every request for material.

Exploit all no-cost or low-cost opportunities to promote what your business will be exhibiting, doing and offering at the show.

During most major boat shows there are also daily newsletters, which are distributed each morning, highlighting the previous day’s events. If you have something interesting happening on your stand – a new product, a celebrity visiting for a couple of hours or anything else newsworthy – get in contact with the relevant people and tell them why they can’t afford to miss it!

There’s usually a radio station or two broadcasting for a period throughout many boat shows. Find out where they are and whether there’s an opportunity you could have five minutes to chat about what your business is exhibiting at the show.

In the week’s following each boat show, when organising bodies are busy pulling together all relevant data on visitation and sales, there are many opportunities for comment in official boat show media releases and magazine/website articles covering the event.

No matter how busy you may be following-up all the leads you gained at the show, if you’re offered to the opportunity to comment in an official media release or boat show round-up article – take it!

Sandman Public Relations is a full-service media agency recognised for its integrity, professionalism and success.

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