Don’t Panic: 6 Ways to Book Clients at a Poorly-Attended Tradeshow


Vultures circle overhead. A tumbleweed slowly rolls by. You cock your head and listen; not a sound.

No, you aren't in the middle of an old-timey Western. You're at an tradeshow that has been a complete flop.

I love marketing at events, and these days I often use my gift bag method to get new clients without spending the money for a booth. However, when I do purchase a booth, it's always a risk. You're at the mercy of the event organizers. If they haven't done their job marketing the event, you might find yourself sitting at your booth just hoping for a single attendee to come by.

Sometimes, a poor turnout isn't the organizers' fault. Bad weather, for example, can keep attendees away.

Other times, it is totally their fault. I once had a booth at an event that was poorly-attended, but to make matters worse, the organizers kept shuffling people into another room for presentations, rather than trying to bring the vendors foot traffic.

Either way, the results are the same: money down the drain for you.

But it doesn't have to be that way!

In fact, even if not a SINGLE person shows up for the event, you can still get your money out of it. It's a lot harder than booking clients at a well-attended expo where the halls are super crowded, but you don't have to take a business loss on your booth cost.

Here are my best tips for making the most of a poorly-attended event:

Tip #1: Let the organizers know you're unhappy.

Chances are that the organizers already know the event isn't going well, but you should professionally and politely express your unhappiness. My project manager once worked for an events company, and she told me that they would go out of their way to help any vendor who was polite, but unhappy, because they wanted to try to salvage the relationship.

Most events don't make money on tickets. They make money by selling booths. So, if you leave unhappy, they know you aren't going to buy a booth next time.

If you let the organizers know that you're unhappy, they might be able to send more people to your booth. The event organizers talk to as many attendees as possible and post social messages during the event, so ask them to spread the word that you exist.

Tip #2: Talk to other vendors.

It isn't true that no one showed up. All of the other vendors showed up! They're probably having a slow show too, so take the time to walk around and visit their booths while an assistant watches your booth. If it isn't busy, one person should be able to handle any attendee who does stop by.

The other vendors are all potential clients or business partners. Whenever I attend an event, I usually book at least one session with one of the other vendors. I've also formed partnerships with other companies to cross-promote, and those relationships were built at tradeshows.

Tip #3: Get an attendee list.

This is a great tip if weather conditions kept people from attending. Ask the organizers if you can have access to an attendee email list. Sometimes, people agree to share their information outright, but even if this is not the case, ask the organizers to send an email on your behalf.

Do NOT just add people to your general email list. Send a special email explaining who you are and that you are sorry you missed them at the event. Then, invite them to sign up for you mailing list, throwing in some kind of incentive or freebie for anyone who signs up.

Tip #4: Leverage the poor attendance to get a second both.

Most events companies organize more than one event every year. If the event you attended flopped, ask if they can give you a free booth or a deep discount on a booth for another of their events.

Proceed with caution, because even a free booth isn't really free, consider you have to spend time and money setting it up and manning the booth. But if you know for a fact that one of their other events is more popular, don't be afraid to ask for some compensation. That way, even if you booked no clients at the poorly-attended event, you have the chance to book some people at a different event without spending any additional money.

Tip #5: Ask for social promotion after the event.

If the event was poorly attended, ask organizers for a little social love afterward. This tip works best for companies that have a wide reach online, even if their event was a stinker. Ask them to send people to your website or Facebook page, so you can connect with potential clients online.

During the event itself, find out if there is an event hashtag people are using and following. Sometimes, events are very poorly attended in person, but there are still people following the hashtag at home. By posting social messages with this hashtag during the event, you can find potential clients who didn't attend but might be interested in booking a shoot.

Tip #6: Run a social media promotion during the tradeshow event

Make a video of you in your booth letting your social media audience know that you're extending your deal at the tradeshow to them too! BUT, only during the tradeshow times so they need to email you and claim the deal now! This will get peoples butts in gear and create a timely call to action.

By making a fun video explaining the deal and uploading it to social media you will have a better chance to increase your bookings!

Those are my six best tips…and now I want to know: Have you ever attended an event that was a complete flop due to lack of attendees? What did you do to try to turn the situation around?

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Molly Keyser

Boudoir photographer and business coach, I am dedicated to changing the world with the power of a camera. Originally from Wisconsin, I'm now in Texas, but I help photographers around the world learn how to go full-time with boudoir photography.