Every show we promote has something special, something unique.

And even though there are many standard and fundamental elements that go along with any event, each show has a personality of its own. It’s what makes this job interesting. We love our jobs because we get to be part of this exciting industry and help create experiences that are enjoyed by millions of professionals each year.

And just to toot our horn for one little second, there is a big advantage to partnering with an agency that specializes in marketing trade shows—that would be us—CSG Creative. Staying on top of the trends in this industry and seeing firsthand a lot of creative ideas at numerous shows allow us to share that brilliance with our clients.

So without further ado, I’d like to share some wicked-awesome ideas I saw at the National Apartment Association’s annual event—the NAA 2012 Education Conference & Exposition. (In case you’ve been wondering—it was held in Boston. That’s pronounced Bahston for all you chowdaheads.)

We have been fortunate to partner with NAA and watch their event hit record numbers in attendance for the past several years. What’s the magic formula? Well it’s a great product combined with the right marketing mix of course! Here are my thoughts on some of the elements and why it works so well.

1. Great partnerships.

  • The exhibitors and sponsors really support this show and the industry in general. They are active participants—not just salespeople who pass out trinkets in their booths. No, these folks support the show financially and develop strong relationships with the attendees and members of NAA.
  • The members of NAA take an active role in supporting the organization, giving input on the show, getting the word out to their employees, affiliates, and colleagues in the industry. They commit to the education of their employees by sending large groups to the conference. Not only do the companies sending groups get registration discounts, but their staff members get educated and rejuvenated, and definitely bond while onsite. What a great way to retain employees and provide a healthy work environment. These companies know the value of the NAA conference and support it.
  • The vendors (that would include CSG) are committed to making the NAA show the best it can be. We love the challenge of persuading more and more attendees to register and having an exhibit hall that is bursting at the seams. The staff at NAA enable all of us to work well together—the registration company, the decorators, the convention staff, and anyone else involved in putting on the show. When we can support the various components of the show—fewer mistakes are made and more creativity and ideas spring to life!

2. Recognition of sponsors everywhere.

  • I was very impressed with the amount of visibility the sponsors got. In all the materials, everywhere on site, and in the speeches at the general sessions, the sponsors were highlighted and recognized—no wonder they line up to support the show every year!
  • Don’t be afraid to make them shine and get them involved in the show on a personal level. NAA introduces the CEOs of the big sponsors on stage at the general session and puts them on the cover of their magazine before the show.

3. World-renowned general session speakers.

  • Some of you are groaning right now. Of course you want to hire a former President or Olympic athlete but can’t afford it. Okay, I get it. But seriously, these big name speakers really bring in the crowds. You can ramp up your credibility points and increase your value to registration fee ratio by a huge margin by signing up one or two household names. And if they can offer something specifically relevant to your industry, the event, or the location you’re in, then all the better.
  • Each year NAA has general session speakers that knock your socks off. This year I had the pleasure of hearing Tom Brokaw speak. It was very different from just seeing him on TV. Another year I heard President Bush speak and that was a unique experience I would not otherwise have gotten if not for the NAA conference.
  • Is there a superstar in your industry you can hire? Can you get a sponsor to cover the costs—maybe offer them some special incentives to foot the bill to get a nationally recognized speaker? It may be a risk but I would suggest trying it—see how many more registrations you get. Organizations like NAA get many attendees to register because of these kinds of speakers (we know this via post show surveys and interviews).

4. Excellent networking events that are just plain fun for everyone.

  • Oh, the NAA Opening Party this year in Boston was so much fun. I had a blast taking in the various stilt walkers, dancers, and mime type characters walking around the event; the cool band playing in the background; the breeze off the harbor; the yummy food venues; the free booze (ahem, it’s not all hard work); and my favorite part—getting my photo taken with Norm and Cliff at the Cheers bar (or should I say the Che-ahs bah).
  • NAA knows how to put on a party so their attendees can let loose and transition from the office setting to conference mode where creativity and energy can flow. C’mon now, admit it. How many great ideas have you discovered and written down on a napkin while shooting the breeze with friends and colleagues at happy hour?

5. Branding that was consistent and signage placed everywhere.

  • Sometimes event organizers forget how little the attendees know (or read) and therefore tend not to give enough direction onsite. Not only did NAA provide lots and lots of signage (directional signs) but they also had staff standing at key points giving directions to keep the traffic moving in the right direction. All the signage was consistent with the core creative look of the show (which we love to see). All that branding helps the attendees remember the show, and identify with your organization.
  • Those great experiences attendees have at your show create a perception of your brand—and they’ll take home materials and keep them for months to come. So keep that brand image in their minds by making sure your logo and creative are consistent and professional.

That’s a lot to take in for now, so I’ll follow up with some more concepts in my next post. Until then I’ll be brainstorming ideas for your event on some napkins with my two new friends, Norm and Cliff.

Brainstorming with Norm and Cliff at the NAA conference.
NAA exhibit hall
The NAA Exhibit Hall was filled to capacity with suppliers and attendees conducting business.
An NAA exhibitor helps get the crowd excited at the NAA Maintenance Mania event.
NAA kept the brand look consistent througout the event and recognized sponsors everywhere.