I’m thinking ahead to the PPAI Expo and other trade shows coming up next year, and I’m looking for distributor and supplier feedback on the best pre-show or onsite trade-show promotions for exhibitors. What was the most impressive and unforgettable promotional idea you’ve seen an exhibitor use at a trade show that got people to stop by the booth? 

I think the answer is more in the question: What results are you looking to achieve at the show? As a distributor, I share with my clients that giving out 1,000 catalogs or t-shirts does not constitute a successful show—it only demonstrates that you met 1,000 people. 

You’ll never be all things to all people, so your best bet is to qualify distributors who serve your ideal customers and then design a campaign/booth/activity to get those people to your booth.

Yes, of course you’ll display for everyone, and they’ll all benefit from your specific message or product category that is trending, profitable or exclusive, but preparing in advance to connect with your target client and inviting them to your booth (and not by email blast), is engineered success. Go for the 20 percent that’ll bring 80 percent of your business.

CEO and Founder
JAE Associates 
PPAI 561178


I recommend microwave popcorn that’s cello-wrapped with your business card. It’s affordable for you and light enough for your booth visitors to carry. It’s also typically gluten-free and non-allergenic. And most people won’t turn down a bag. As an exhibitor, it works for you because the recipient can’t eat it right away. When they pop it back at the office or in their hotel room, it gives them two to four minutes of popping time to remember you and your thoughtful giveaway. If they share it, you get even more mileage from it. The business card (or other insert) gives them something more permanent to keep.

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You only get one shot to make a lasting impression on trade show attendees. Gone are the days when suppliers could simply show up at a trade show, display their products on a table and call it a day. In a time when originality is imperative to the success of any business, trade shows are no exception. Creativity is a requirement at these marketing events. Embracing a big-picture theme will not only attract people to your booth, but keep your brand top of mind.

One of the most unique trade show displays we’ve witnessed was created by a company that happened to be celebrating its 50th anniversary. Instead of simply hanging balloons and streamers to commemorate the anniversary while selling its products, the company incorporated a 1950s-themed experience into the booth. By transforming the area into an old-school soda shop complete with red barstools and a faux jukebox, the company managed to stop nearly every attendee in their tracks. It became less about trying to sell products and more about brand recognition and innovation. By creating a more immersive and thoughtful experience, the supplier was the buzz of the entire show, even attracting on-the-floor media and booth awards. It was a win for both the attendees and the company. Whether your budget is small or large, it’s more important than ever to think creatively about your brand’s presence at the next trade show.

Communications Specialist
Quality Logo Products
PPAI 304730


There are two campaigns that stand out in my mind. The first is for bag tags. I received an email with an invitation to participate in a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt. I stopped by the booth to pick up a tag that attached to my badge holder. Then I spent the next three days searching for the matching tag. I must have covered 10 miles! When I found someone with a match, we would both return to the booth to receive a prize. It was innovative and fun, guaranteed that we visited the booth, and gave the organization great brand exposure. We put the booth on our must-see list for multiple years to come.

The other memorable promotion began with an email declaring that the first 100 visitors to their booth would receive a leather passport/badge holder. We didn’t even mind waiting in line for this great gift. We ordered them for all our travel clients, and we still pack our holders for The PPAI Expo every year.

Increase Your Visibility
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I have found that the introduction of new products is by far the most effective way to get the interest of distributors. The very best is a brand-new unique product idea. Think of the new product as bait, and consider how to lure distributors to the bait.  

When possible, use the product itself to attract visitors. We introduced a product that was intended to make noise at sporting events. Obviously, using the product to generate noise was a highly successful interest-generating tool. 

Another powerful approach is to present the product as a solution to a known problem. For example, make a statement like, “This product is loved by teachers and provides great entries into the education market.” It is important to use a well-conceived, proven benefit statement for end users and avoid obvious features such as price and turnaround time. 

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Do You Have An Answer?

A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: As a relatively new distributor, I have tried to locate decorators near my clients to minimize shipping costs. Recently, I found a decorator in my area who has competitive prices and provides reliable service. I’m curious
if other distributors seek out decorators close to their clients or use a local vendor with whom they have a relationship. Do you use one decorator for all your work, or do you choose based on the client’s location?

What’s Your Answer?
Email answers along with your name, title and company name by December 22 to Question@ppai. org for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue of PPB magazine.