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latest issue

Latest Issue

Trading Spaces

Virtual Tradeshow

by Laura Bickle

The annual Promotional Product Professionals of Canada (PPPC) national convention has been renowned for its vibrant tradeshow—it is a significant reason companies become members of the organization. In fact, many of the products and trends you see in Ignite were first seen on the show floor. So when the PPPC contemplated shifting to virtual when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the in-person event, the value proposition was clear, says PPPC president and CEO Jonathan Strauss. “I told our board that it didn’t have to be a financial success but we needed this to be viewed as a success by exhibitors and attendees. We were screwed if this didn’t work.”

So were they successful? PPPC set a pre-registration goal of 1,000, understanding that likely only half that would attend; 1,600 pre-registered and, true to the math, 800 showed up. As for exhibitors, they knew many would be intimidated or take a wait-and-see attitude, so they set a goal of 24 paying exhibitors. In the end, there were 31 paid with two association partners for the two-day event.

Strauss says the feedback has been encouraging. “After the first day, one exhibitor said it was best day they
ever had.” And not only that, he says, “The association’s future is much more secure now than before this event.”



PPPC used Sage as its tech provider, which was
a natural given that Sage is solely focussed on promotional products, supplies tech to PPPC members to run their businesses and has run the registration for the last two in-person tradeshows. “All the product data was already in system.”



Since many exhibitors had never participated in a virtual tradeshow, it was imperative they had the resources to do it properly and with confidence. A digital exhibitor kit offered carefully detailed step-by-step instructions for setting up a booth.

Every exhibitor had the same standard format that could be branded. “Think of it as a hard wall in a standard tradeshow,” says Strauss. There were three basic pack- ages and exhibitors could add features.

Booths included catalogs, videos, links, chatrooms, vid- eo-call capability, show specials and featured products. While some exhibitors used professional video produc- tion, others went DIY with much success, says Strauss. “One exhibitor’s seventh-grade son recorded and edited video on his iPhone.”

“The trick in any tradeshow is the follow-up,” says Strauss, adding that the platform has a lot of data. All exhibitors received a list of everyone who visited their booths.

Given that sales reps were at home, they could ship samples the same day, which is difficult to do from an out-of-town tradeshow.



Because attendance is free, many people register but don’t attend, says Strauss. For the previous two years’ in-person events and this year’s virtual one, PPPC implemented phone campaigns to remind members of the event. “We called every member in every part of Canada.”

To encourage participation and interaction, attendees earned points for visiting booths and attending education sessions. A leaderboard kept track of the leaders and the three highest scores won prizes.

Attendees were also encouraged to share a photo or link to their favourite new promotional product on social media, tagging #NatconVirtual and PPPC in their post. The winner of the random draw won a smart watch or Bluetooth earbuds.

The platform allowed attendees to make notes about what they saw that could be accessed during and after the event.



Be responsive. For example, an exhibitor mentioned on day one that it would be helpful if attendees’ digital badges indicated their location so the appropriate regional rep could respond. The platform was updated with this info for day two. TIP: don’t mess with the infrastructure while the tradeshow is in session in case changes cause unforeseen glitches.

Platform matters, says Strauss. “You have to be willing to invest in a platform that works for you.”

“The same fundamentals of planning a tradeshow or conference still apply,” says Strauss. “For virtual to be successful you have to find ways to engage.”



“I LOVE the platform. It was so user friendly, easy to connect with anyone, find products, explore things and connect. It was so amazing to see how the tradeshow world has transitioned so quickly. Adaptation is so important in the world we live in.”
—Alisa Nickel, director of marketing, 3M Promotional Markets

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