Fall and winter wedding shows are right around the corner, and I’ve been receiving all kinds of solicitations to sign up. With so many options, and every one promising to be “THE BEST BRIDAL SHOW EVER!” how can you even tell them apart?
Here are a few pointers for assessing whether a wedding show might be a worthwhile investment of time and money:
1. Consider the cost. Obviously, there’s the exhibitor fee (which can range anywhere from $50 to several thousand); be sure to include, also, any associated expenses: specialty linen or equipment rentals, marketing collaterals, product (food, flowers, etc), and anything you might need to pay people to help you staff your booth.
2. Consider the time investment. Is the time you’ll spend traveling to, setting up for, working at, breaking down, and following up after the show worth it? Remember that that same amount of time could be spent working on other marketing efforts, or for your own leisure (something that’s especially precious when you work in a field as demanding as weddings).
3. Evaluate the marketing efforts of the show’s producers. Find out exactly how they intend to advertise the show — is it in publications or other media that reach your target client? Are the show’s brochures and ads appealing to the kinds of clients you want to book? Are the producers trying to reach a specific segment of the wedding market, or are they casting as wide a net as possible to boost the numbers? These are great indicators of whether a show’s attendees will be a good fit for your business.
4. Find out who else is exhibiting. Sure, it’s kind of rude to ask who else is coming to a party before you RSVP, but this isn’t a party; it’s a business investment, and you need to consider every available piece of information as you make your assessment. You may decide it’s best to exhibit only at shows where the other vendors are similar to you, or you may prefer to be the most high-end (or most affordable) option at the show. Either way, knowing who else will be there is important.
5. Plan out your booth. If you want to draw visitors to your booth, it has to have a hook — and a good one at that. (And by “hook,” I don’t mean a bowl of Hershey’s kisses; all those do is invite people to grab and go!) It needs to be crystal-clear, from a distance, exactly what you do and whom you’re trying to target. For some businesses, this might mean a huge banner advertising rock bottom prices — that’s not my market, but for bargain vendors, it may be highly effective. For others, it might mean extremely slick, high-end display materials that clearly appeal to a particular kind of client. Whatever your target market, you need to have a plan in place for a booth display, and know the cost and time needed to produce it, before you can decide if it’s worthwhile.
6. Plan out your followup efforts. If making a great impression at the show is important, actually following up with the people you impress is even more important. You need to decide what you’re going to do to provide additional information to the show’s attendees, and on what schedule, before you commit to the show; otherwise, your investment is wasted.
7. Talk to other, similar businesses about their return on investment (ROI) for the same show. Try to find businesses whose service is in the same category as yours, or at least who tend to be booked around the same general time frame (DJs and videographers are a good comparison, for example) and whose target clientele is similar to your own. If you can find businesses who tend to display their services similar to your own — whether that’s a super elaborate display or a more minimalist one — that’s even better.
Bonus: If you’ve done the same show in the past, you can evaluate how many weddings you booked from the show and decide whether you’d have booked that same number of weddings using other, less expensive methods. We’ve dropped plenty of shows in the past after only booking 2-3 weddings (all for busy season Saturdays) — we’d have sold out those dates anyway, and the time and money turned out not to be worth it.
Remember, also, that the best marketing plans are fluid. You can evaluate and re-evaluate, and you’ll still make mistakes from time to time and wish you’d gone the opposite way. Your best strategy is to have a clear means of evaluating each opportunity as it comes, and then carefully reviewing each opportunity you take to determine its effectiveness. I promise that, over time, you’ll end up with more hits and fewer misses.