Exhibiting at Conferences and Trade Shows – Keys to Success Part 1

By: Sharon Berman,

Published: The Leadership Exchange, Greater Los Angeles Chapter – Association of Legal Administrators

Attorneys speaking at conferences and trade shows has long been part of a law firm’s marketing repertoire. Now, savvy law firms are recognizing that exhibiting at these events, regardless of whether someone from the firm is speaking, can be a worthwhile marketing tactic in itself. Of course “exhibiting” has to mean more than just lay­ing out firm brochures on a table.

Some attorneys are resistant to exhibit mar­keting as being somehow unprofessional. As with most marketing tactics, it’s not the tactic that is either professional or unprofessional —it’s how the tactic is executed that deter­mines whether it’s classy or tacky, and more importantly, whether the effort will be re­warding.

This article is the first in a series of do’s and don’ts for exhibiting; this first part focuses on your initial research to make your invest­ment worthwhile. Subsequent articles will delve into at setting up a booth, the materi­als you need, staffing the booth, working the conference, following up on leads, and other post-event marketing strategies.

Why Exhibit?

One particularly good reason why you should exhibit at conferences and shows is that relatively few law firms do it, or do it on a consistent basis.  There are still many con­ference venues where you won’t find any law firm exhibitors. This presents a valuable opportunity because, in today’s world, it’s difficult to find venues not yet infiltrated and saturated by law firms.

Every trade organization in the country has lawyers who have ‘staked their flags’ by getting involved in the organization’s man­agement and being regular speakers. They “own” the organization, so to speak, but when that organization has a conference, there’s a good chance you will not see the attorneys firms exhibiting.  Any law firm that exhibits at such an event has an opportunity to create relationships with people who don’t know of the firm; reinforce existing relationships with current, inactive, or former clients; or intro­duce other attorneys to those who might not wish to use the “flagship” attorney.  

Some attorneys are resistant to exhibiting.  Would that perspective change if they heard that a competing attorney and firm had set up a booth, had a steady stream of prospects stopping by, or even obtained new clients from that venue?  In addition, there are firms which exhibit regularly.  Would they be doing so if they were not receiving value from it?

Look Before You Leap

There are some key factors you’ll need to consider as you help your attorneys evaluate conferences and shows, and prepare for a properly targeted exhibit.

Exhibiting at trade shows and conferences is not inexpensive in either time or money.  You must be judicious in deciding where to make the investment. Depending on your firm’s geographic target market, you may want to limit your exhibiting to regional shows.  Do your internal homework before committing to an external exhibit venue.

Ask clients in target markets about the key shows in their industries, and which ones they personally attend.  Do they attend the same conferences each year?  What do they consider the hallmarks of a good confer­ence?  Ask your attorneys which confer­ences and trade shows they have attended and/or spoken at, and which ones would be worthwhile to explore in terms of exhibiting. 

When you’ve identified target venues, check the exhibitor information package.  You will usually find a list of last year’s or past years’ exhibitors. What kinds of law firms (if any) and other professional services firms had booths?  What size booths did they select?  What about placement within the exhibit hall or room?  Inquire with the event organizers if you can talk with past exhibitors about their experience, or at least ask for how many years they have exhibited.

A critical question to ask the event organiz­ers about is how they will drive visitors toward the booths. Is the booth area only open at certain times? Are the booths located in a separate room or area from the meetings and presentations?  Is there a rea­son for the attendees to make the trek to the exhibit area?  Do the meetings and pres­entations continue on all day and evening, with no breaks when people can visit exhib­its? Smart organizations devise ways to en­courage conference attendees to stop by the booths, but if the event planners have put the booths in the boonies, it may be fruit­less.

Plan Ahead

Exhibiting is most successful when it is seamlessly integrated into a firm’s overall marketing strategy, and when it becomes routine for the attorneys. It also needs to be viewed as a long-term investment.  If you haven’t seriously considered it before, it may be a tactic to add to your marketing arsenal.


Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consulting firm specializing in working with professional services firms. She can be reached at berman@berbay.com.
The firm’s website is www.berbay.com.

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