How to promote your line at a trade show

The media has their own press room at most of the shows. This is where we can login, check email, write stories, eat and regroup. In the press rooms, there’s also displays from exhibitor’s booths as well as some give-aways. The press room at Magic didn’t have any freebies (which was fine, that’s not a complaint) but if you’re planning to target the media in the on site press rooms, it’d probably help to know how it’s set up because they won’t let you in there to see.

At the main press room at Magic, each company offering their marketing material is given a cubby (I’m guessing there’s an additional cost for this with Magic). If you’ve been to Magic, it’s the same black cubbies that are used to give away free issues of the various magazines. Therefore, a back splash color photo to set in the back of it, might be helpful to set yourself apart. Otherwise, they’re black and things kind of disappear in there if they’re dark items. Nobody had a photo taped on the inside back panel of their cubby. Your marketing materials or props are placed in each bin. Most companies had their own bin. Some had to share. Other shows had similar units to hold marketing materials. I think a photo affixed to a “table tent” no larger than 12″ high would be useful for any of the marketing cubbies I’ve seen.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the upstart show Pool, had the best swag and the best outreach in my opinion (handled by Kim at Pure Consulting; she also promotes lines). At some of the off site shows, registering as press meant a PR person would welcome you personally and ask if you had everything you needed or wanted to see something in particular. That was a nice touch. Other shows just left you alone. It was all good, I have no complaints.

I’m going to go through some of the material I found at Pool next. However, I don’t want to leave the impression that you must give freebies to get attention because I don’t think that’s necessarily true. There are a few exceptions to this that I’ll explain but only you can determine whether you fit in there.

Across the board and I hope I don’t say this too many times, but everywhere, at every show and every booth, it was pandemic that people did not have their booth number listed on their promotional materials. You may think this is unnecessary, if someone is already at your booth, why would they need the number? It’s for follow up. Maybe they want to come back later or send a friend over there. The shows are enormous. Make it easy for return visitors. Then, sometimes there was a disconnect between the name of a company assigned to a given booth as listed in the directory (but why make someone look it up?) and the line being shown there. To make is easy, make up some clear stickers with your booth number and put it on everything! You might want to pass on the comic sans font though :). Ditto for Papyrus.

Returning to Pool swag. There were some interesting products given away to press. Unfortunately, few of the products were labeled with a booth number meaning one would have to look them up in the show guide. Below, clockwise from lower left is Switchrings, Sleep Ease, ____ and a Nuvara Exotique candle.

Even with a product sample, I wasn’t sure what Switchrings were and had to look it up on the web. Some supporting marketing material would have been a plus for this item (their booth number was on the bottom of the box). It seems to be plastic jewelry (made in Canada). The Sleep Ease packaging was very slick, info was complete on the back including url but no booth number. A sticker inside the card would have been good. The heart shaped lollipops were a nice touch since it was Valentine’s day, booth number is prominent but there was no company name. Scratch that, the url for Ross Farrell was handwritten on the back. That must have taken some time to hand write but it’s good they did it in spite of the bother. I’m guessing it’s for their tee line Frox. The Nuvara soy candle provided information such as the url (Zensual), country of origin (USA) but no booth number. The latter was a nice product. I appreciated the lid because I wanted to turn off the smell after awhile. I wonder how beauty products and accessories did at the Pool show? Of all these items, I’d say that Zensual (the candle) and Sprayology (Sleep Ease) needed to have demonstration products for the press. I’d imagine that Sprayology would also have to provide samples in their booth too. It’d be too costly for Zenusual to give away candles in their booth, no reasonable person should expect that.

There were two contenders for best packaging. One was Coola (sunblock) and the other was Thriving Ink. Coola is a line of sun screen lotions. Samples were packaged in a little bag with largish heavy weight cards describing each product. Miracle had mentioned before that cosmetics people needed to spend more on packaging than sewn products people. I can see why now. Still, I was wondering if the cards might be excessive, at least for press; I’d think a CD with images might be better for media. I can see buyers needing the cards to sell the line to customers though. These were high quality, frame able even. I haven’t tried the products yet. They come in different spf and with fragrances and not. Coola didn’t list a booth number anywhere.

Thriving Ink‘s tube packaging worked well because it stood out from everyone else’s. It did not have a booth number. The tube contained a small poster, a sticker, a four page order form (I didn’t like the style numbers tho) and a four color catalog. I’d like to reiterate that four color catalogs are rarely necessary. Line sheets -with black and white line drawings- are best for most lines. I gather line sheets won’t work for this tee shirt company though. They reproduce artwork from various (live) artists on tees. I actually liked some of them but I don’t wear round neck men’s tees.

Also, another brief mention on line sheets in general. Some booths had these laying out in the open, some gave them away in press kits. In general, these (and swatch cards) should not be available to anyone passing by. You should only give these out upon request and it’s only fair to get a business card in exchange. If you don’t like the person for some nebulous reason, don’t give them one. I tended not to ask for them, as badly as I wanted them. Maybe especially, I didn’t ask for ones I wanted most. I see too many things I like and would want to copy so as to remove temptation, I don’t ask. One of our DEs was wearing a dress I desperately wish I could copy. Darn it all. She did let me photograph it though. I’ll show it to you later. Maybe she’ll give me permission to make one for myself.

If you’re going to provide the media samples of products, be sure to limit what you provide to show management (in charge of distributing it). I got two different bags from one company called YakPak which I think was unnecessarily generous. Perhaps we were only supposed to get one rather than both. One was a lined tubular yoga bag, nicely made (in El Salvador). I don’t think I’ll use it so I’ll be looking for a home for that. The other was a fabric wallet that is nicely sized which I most likely will use. It looks sturdy and appears it’ll weather washing well. These items come with a lifetime guarantee. Guarantees always help to move a product line. These also didn’t have a booth number, make sure you put a booth sticker on the hang tags. In my opinion, this is a lot to give away. If you’re considering such and have a similar product line, stick with very small items (maybe a business card holder or coin purse) and only provide one style to show management.

Of them all, two were outstanding promotional packages. The first was from Effie’s Heart (booth number was handwritten on the back of one piece). The package included (below), a full press release, a product sample and two postcards, one for spring 08 and the other for fall 08. It was all tied together with the use of a tagging gun. The product sample was a pair of polar tec gloves minus the fingers (gauntlets?) with a wrist side bow. I’ll actually use these because I type in fingertipless gloves all winter.

My hands down favorite swag item was from Urban Aid; it was called the Shame on You kit™. I’m sure they’re getting plenty of press; their packaging, concept, contact info (booth number included) was perfect. Plus, it’s just laugh out loud funny. This is a great gift item and they do sell consumer direct on their site.

The Shame on You kit™ is a prepackaged kit containing a thong panty, a toothbrush, toothpaste, three condoms, an emergency phone card (with 15 prepaid minutes), Tylenol, and a mini card and envelope you can leave behind for a room mate to let them know where you’ll be, being naughty. Other similar items (and one for guys called “the getaway kit”) is available on their site. Although I didn’t want to part with it, I gave it to my landlady (Olga) for her daughter (Jade) who’s going away to college in the fall. Thankfully, Olga’s got a sense of humor even where her daughter is concerned.

The last item among swag was from our very own Alice and Moriah of Feral Childe. They produce women’s clothing but provided a reusable tote bag.

Their neatly packaged parcel included (besides the tote) an oversized postcard, a small four color line promo and a Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion World Map in gold foil. Of course I liked the toy. And they did include their booth number in the package.

Below is a photo of Alice and Moriah in their booth at Pool.

By the way. When Eric was reviewing lines -or trying to- on the web, he expressed a bit of disgruntlement that he couldn’t access lines directly, that he’d have to register to get approval beforehand (as one will need to see Feral Childe). I explained that this is an accepted practice and not considered untoward in the slightest for fashion forward lines. I mean, I see it both ways. While I don’t want to go through registering, I usually pass, but I understand why it’s required. I know what pattern makers can do with good line sheets :).

Lastly, I’ll mention some failings of some companies at marketing their products if theirs were items ideally suited to give-aways. There were several product lines that should have given freebies or facilitated sample purchasing but didn’t. Their items were low cost and ideally suited to be given to the press. One was a handbag hanger that balances from a table top to keep your bag off the floor where you can mind it easily. They didn’t even have good print material describing the item so if I have anything about the product line, it’s buried in the stack of business cards. That item was about seven dollars wholesale. You can extrapolate actual costs from there. I liked it, a nice metal item with a cloisonné embellishment from which it hung. While I may not be the ideal press person to get one, I can only imagine the company missed opportunities with other media people who could have done them a great service at a relatively low cost. It’s not as though there were a lot of press there either, maybe 30, and how many of those would have passed by?

Another firm had a cell phone accessory item to hang the cell phone from a waist band. It was rather clever, you could also use it as a key chain and it didn’t need to be removed from the holder to use the phone. Wholesale, that item was six dollars, a one piece injection molded product so once you had the injection mold, each unit cost a couple of cents. That was an item that ideally would be given to the press. Minimally, in both cases, the companies in question should have facilitated sample purchasing. It’s rude for anyone to presume they are entitled to free stuff, press included, and I don’t mind buying something I’d use. I probably would have used both of these items but I wasn’t able to buy a sample. Too bad. Each company insisted on a minimum order in addition to buyer credentials which I didn’t have. In my opinion, both companies were out to lunch in dealing with the media. If you have a low cost small accessory item and someone with a press pass wants one, make sure they get one, even if it’s after the show by mail. I do realize that a onesie order is a pain in the butt but this is a special circumstance.

Another firm had a line Keygaroo, a key chain sort of product. They were definitely making a strong effort in working with the press in providing a CD Rom with images for use by the media (slick!) but they didn’t include a booth number on the case (below). Ouch. I thought it was a neat product from the looks of it but I couldn’t find them in the show guide (I found their info at Magic, not Pool). Magic is huge, they could have been in any number of categories so in the end, I couldn’t find their booth to check it out.

I noticed that quite a few companies provided CD Roms, even clothing lines. I can’t say how effective these are but I’d imagine that if a reporter liked your line, this would be handy. If you decide to do something like this, it would be helpful if the CD Rom included:

  • A line sheet
  • A printable order form
  • Price list with minimums and delivery dates
  • Press release
  • Company url and complete contact info
  • Your media contact person or PR agency info
  • Recent media clippings
  • Swatch photos
  • Line photos if available
  • Don’t forget to include a sticker with your booth number on the case!

Considering the sensitive information -namely a line sheet for a fashion forward line- on the CD, you’d be advised to keep these out of sight and only give them out to known or likely buyers and press. I suppose you could have two versions, one without all the line photos and line sheets to pass out at will. If you’re not giving out freebies and you have the opportunity to leave promotional materials with show management to disperse to the press and it won’t cost much, that may be an option to consider. Review the first two paragraphs of this entry for display guidelines.

The summary on swag is to be judicious with give aways both to the press and booth visitors. I don’t think it’s necessary unless it’s small, cosmetics related or an inexpensive accessory. As your advisor, I’d be dismayed if freebies became de rigueur because I think you should limit expenses. A genuinely interested buyer is not going to decide to pick up or decline your line based on the free stuff you give them. If anything, a serious buyer will appreciate your strategy to keep costs low since they’re the ones who will (really) be paying for it. Any materials you provide to the show management beforehand should be limited to promotional materials that will entice visits to your booth.

In conclusion, as I’ve said ad nauseum, the take away is to put your booth number on everything. Even on stuff in your booth and the back of business cards because some people may only pick up those.

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  1. This was so helpful considering I didn’t even know about how press rooms operated. I will most definitely take your advice about the CD Rom (will save on handing out lots of paper). I feel like you are an undercover spy working to get the inside scoop for us DE’s.
    Thanks Secret Agent Kathleen!

  2. Great read. I am looking to eventual take my company to Magik and see what I can do. I will definitelty be reading more of your blog for your advice. Its fantastic! Thank you very much!

  3. Lisa C. says:

    This is my very post at FI…I love this site! Wish I found it sooner.

    The information in this article was quite helpful. Even though we are not ready to embark on trade shows quite yet, some of what I read here, I can use at the events we do participate in, which are geared to selling directly to the consumer. I will search it out, but thought I would ask first if there is an article in the archives somewhere that addresses setting up a booth at such events. Thank you so much!!

  4. LaToya says:


    Loove your website. I am a makeup artist thinking of attending the MAGIC Trade show to network with people in the Fashion Industry. I want to work internationally in the Fashion Industry as a Makeup Artist. Do you think attending this show would be beneficial for me?


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