Kill the Giveaways and Create an Experience Instead!

August 9, 2018

Sofia Troutman

Sofia Troutman is the Senior Digital Marketing and Product Innovation Manager for Skyline Exhibits. Sofia heads up Skyline’s marketing efforts in new product development and management, lead generation, exhibitor education, industry relations and market research.

I am often asked what giveaways are the most popular at trade shows. Event managers feel they should offer something but they are at a loss of what will draw people in so they can talk to them. However, they find that while giveaways were a good draw in the past, many of today’s show attendees are not interested in them. I have had multiple show-goers decline my offer of a giveaway because they don’t need it and this response has become much more frequent over the past three years.

This is in line with the demographic changes we are seeing in our population. Millennials have become most of the U.S. and Canadian workforce. Multiple studies show that they are prioritizing experiences over products. They don’t measure their success by what they own and instead focus on enjoying their life and collecting experiences they can share, often via social media, with their peers. They also tend to be more environmentally conscious and selective about what they own.

So, does that mean that there is nothing that will attract them to your booth? No, it doesn’t, it just means that you must be a little more creative than just offering the latest gadget to draw them in. More than half of Millennials will spend their money on experiences, so we know they value them. This is a strong indicator that you can attract those consumers by offering a unique experience.

How do you create an experience in your booth? First, you need to identify what your brand stands for and how to communicate that message. Once you know what that message is, you can design an experience to help communicate it. Part of that experience may include a giveaway, but then again it may not. It all depends on what will better communicate your brand message.

I often get the question: But what if my company is small and we don’t offer a product? How do we attract prospects? Here are some suggestions:

Identify Your Target 

Your brand message should guide what you do but you must also consider your audience. Not just your company’s target market, but also who is likely to attend your show or event. This will help dictate your next steps as they will determine your success.

Pick a Theme

Again, this should be brand-appropriate but interesting and attractive to your audience. For example, if your audience is made up of scientists they are more likely to respond to an experiment-themed exhibit than to a gambling one.

Rock Your Graphics 

Yes, they need to say who you are while having a big bold logo of your company and maybe briefly saying what you do, but that doesn’t mean they can’t tie into your theme and maybe also bring in a little fun.

Promote, Promote, Promote 

Communicate your theme before, during and after the show. This will make it more likely to be remembered and enjoyed by your audience.

Make It Playful

Create a game if possible, and if you can make it educational to your brand that’s even better. Whether it’s a quick iPad game where people get to select the top superpowers your company has or something more analog like a remote-control car race, having fun will ensure your company is memorable not only to the participants but also to observers.

Facilitate Sharing

Have an environment that is unique, provide a location specific to taking photos or video, promote the event hashtag and consider providing incentives to your visitors so they will share the experience.

Seize the Moment

While attendees may not want to clutter up their home or office with tchotchkes, they will want a giveaway that is useful to them. Since most attendees are traveling to and from the trade show, you know that there are some things they are likely to value. For example, earbuds for watching movies on the plane, a water bottle, snacks for their trip home, etc. If you are not sure you can always ask a few of your best customers for ideas.

Themed Giveaways 

If you can find something to fit your theme, this will also help extend the memorability of your show. If you have a charity you support or key values, those may be opportunities to have giveaways tie into your social responsibility. One exhibitor had a putt-putt golf activity in their booth and gave away branded golf balls to qualified visitors. One year we offered attendees at our show the option to have us donate to selected charities that aligned with our brand. Be sure that anything you offer reflects the quality of your brand.

Dress the Part

You can really increase the attention that your booth gets by having staffers coordinate their outfits with the theme or exhibit colors. You don’t have to be as dramatic as the staffers from Just Eat, but something as simple as wearing socks or a lanyard with your brand colors will make you stand out. Also, remember that Millennials appreciate it when you don’t take yourself too seriously.

By going through these steps, you are likely going to identify the best way to create a memorable experience for your audience. Make sure that if you do offer a giveaway that it adds to that experience and that you are not just offering it because you think you should. It is better to have no giveaway than the wrong one.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.