Managing Give-aways at trade shows

Here is today’s word problem: You’ve got 1,000 T-shirts to give away at your next big trade show. How should you give them away? Should you give them away to only qualified visitors? To anyone, even booth beggars? Or how about to the first 1,000 visitors?

First of all, this is marketing, so there is no one right answer (if only math had been like this!) You need to take a step back and look at your objectives for giving those T-shirts away. Once you do that, you’ll have fewer, and better, choices. This one could be easy; if you are giving away T-shirts, one objective could be to have people walking around the show and around town wearing your company’s logo. It’s advertising.

My advice for giving away T-shirts (or hats or anything else considered of high value by show visitors, like liquor) is that giveaways should be managed to get the most impact possible. Specifically, you want to get the visitors to wear or display your logo or product name. If you’re giving away T-shirts, ask visitors to put them on. I’ve seen them go on over suits. Makes the visitor look a little odd, but it’s great for you. Your classic “win-loser” situation. Make visitors wear the hat, which should be no big deal, unless, of course, you went with the neon orange and purple model with the propeller top — then it’s your own fault if no one wants to put it on. Just don’t be too aggressive about it. If they stick the giveaway in their bag, oh well. (Of course, you could arrange for a “wandering pack of hooligans” –or salespeople, they’re virtually the same– to jump people who refuse to wear your stuff and steal it back. But, on the advice of our attorneys, you didn’t hear that here.)

Now, for the first day of the show–say it’s a three day show–have about 40% of your shirts ready to give out to the first 400 visitors who walk up, qualified or not. Ask them to put it on -– remember, it’s advertising. Don’t waste your staff’s time doling out shirts. Just do it at the information counter, quick and easy. For the 401st visitor, and every visitor thereafter during the balance of the first day, who ask for a T-shirt, simply say, “I’m sorry. We’re all out, but we’ll have some more tomorrow morning. Come on by and get one then.” For the second day of the show, give away another 40% of the shirts, and leave the balance for the last day.

With this give-away strategy, you’ve got your company logo or product name out there at the beginning of the show. Plus, you’ll have enough shirts to last all three days, and you’ve got a very reasonable response for those visitors who get there too late to get a shirt. You might also want to hold out about 50 shirts for those “special” customers or prospects. And, you may want to hold onto enough to give one each to your staff. If you announce this before the show, then they’ll be less likely to take things into their own grubby, shoplifting hands.

A final word of warning: A true story, from a trade show at Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. There were two competing companies, archrivals, exhibiting at the show. Someone from company “A” (okay it was SyQuest) got a hold of about 20 T-shirts from their competitor, company “B” (all right, all right, it was Iomega). Here was their attempt at Guerilla Marketing: They gave those 20 T-shirts to all of the homeless people right outside of the convention center. So when everyone left for the day, all of these homeless people were wearing Iomega shirts. Not exactly the impact they were going for with their T-shirts.

So if a visitor asks for three shirts, because they’ve got three kids…ask for pictures.

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