Make the Most of Your BEA Booth

It's expensive, but we find it worth it. Exhibiting at the US's premier book-industry trade show has been a good move for us.

To Booth...Or Not to Booth
Is a booth the only way to work BEA? Well, I have a friend named Fern Reiss who is a whiz at working the coffee line (and getting onto PBS talk shows, and coverage in national magazines...). She never exhibits, but manages to pull all sorts of rabbits out of her hat. I don't have her particular brand of chutzpah - I was a fish out of water until we were exhibiting at a booth of our own. [Editor's Note: Like Fern, I've done very well by walking the floor. This link brings you to an article I wrote about it. I never exhibit, but I often have my book at a cooperative display.
--Shel Horowitz]

In the early years we exhibited with PMA, but having a few books on a shelf alongside hundreds of others can't compare with having your own exhibit. If you work at the PMA booth you must represent all the books on the shelf, not just your own. People won't be seeking you out - they'll be seeking out what the PMA membership has to offer this year.

We exhibit at the Travel Publishers Association (TPA) combined exhibit as a supplement to our own booth. It's similar to exhibiting at PMA, but far better targeted for what we do. Some people see the books that wouldn't have seen them otherwise and they walk away with the TPA catalog, which includes our titles. But the value we derive from that is fairly proportional to the money invested - it doesn't cost much, and we don't achieve big things. But, since our respective booths are on the same aisle (and often right next-door), we have an advantage many of the other TPA exhibitors don't have - the folks at TPA can point us out if a person wants follow-up on one of our titles.

Plan Giveaways Carefully--And Leverage Them

Drawings and give-away items both have their advantages and disadvantages. Drawings must be promoted and be of sufficient value to attract folks to the booth. Plan them well in advance, so they can be part of your show directory listing. Even then, unless the drawing is carefully targeted, such as "bookseller and librarian badges-only," your client may not reach the target audience - a staff member of a competing exhibitor just may end up the winner. We did a drawing once for a vacation stay at Walt Disney World (no transportation, though, just the hotel and park admission). It was well-targeted to what we do and was listed in the show directory, but I don't think it drew anyone who wouldn't have dropped by anyway. We did harvest a pile of names for follow-up contacts, but the value of those contacts wasn't very good.

We always have things to give away - ballpoint pens, luggage tags, badge holders, etc. The real point to giving these away is to spread the name around. Pens and luggage tags have some longevity. Six months or a year later someone may still see our name and recall something about our books. The badge holders are cool if folks choose to wear them, as our name gets spread around the convention floor. Many people spend their time cruising the convention floor for goodies. At best, if you have a giveaway it may encourage them to stop long enough to actually learn something about your books. I'm fairly shameless in that regard. They stop at the counter to pull a luggage tag out of the bowl and I immediately ask, "Have you seen a PassPorter before?" Naturally, there are some giveaway items that are cool enough that word will spread on the floor, "Where can I get one of those?" Nice work if you can get it. If that's what you're aiming for, be sure your booth number is printed on the thing.

The best giveaway is books, offered through the BEA-sponsored autographing programs. Yes, you can simply open cases of books and hand them out at your booth, but by participating in the BEA autographing programs you get lots of extra promotional support from BEA.

The thing about working BEA from a booth of your own is that you have a physical point-of-presence. Lots of people roam the floors trolling for business, but if there's someone looking for them, they're out of luck unless they just happen to bump into each other at the snack bar. (Fern may be able to buttonhole the chairman of a major publishing house, but it's not so easy for folks to find Fern.) Every show, several people drop by the booth with propositions and opportunities that I know we'd never have hooked without that booth. For us, it's that unexpected business that pays for our presence at the show. Naturally, we reinforce relationships with our colleagues and suppliers in the trade, we expose booksellers and librarians to our titles, our chain store buyers stop by for a chat.... BEA definitely provides plenty of marketing opportunities and we've built plenty of mindshare over the years. But most of that mindshare is hard to measure. It never hurts to walk away from the show with a few golden business cards in your pocket.

Dave Marx
PassPorter Travel Press

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