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One Client’s Secrets of Creative Trade Show Marketing


One of FrontLine Exhibits’ longtime clients is Total Party Planner, a company that creates intuitive online catering software for caterers and banquet facilities. Unlike companies that take a one-size-fits-all approach to trade show marketing, Total Party Planner never does the same thing twice.


“We’re always working closely with FrontLine on something unique and different,” Founder and President John Cohen says. Here’s how they do it.


They adapt their trade show marketing plan for each show.


Every year, Cohen says, they attend two vastly different shows: Catersource and the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show. Catersource, the largest B2B trade show for catering professionals, is Total Party Planner’s target market. Almost everyone on the show floor is a potential or existing client, Cohen says, including owners of banquet facilities, catering companies, etc. There, Total Party Planner’s goal is to wow attendees and spend quality time with existing clients.


The NRA Show is a different beast. Some 70,000 foodservice professionals attend, and maybe 10 out of 100 are worthwhile prospects. At NRA, Total Party Planner focuses on brand awareness and competing with other software companies. “At NRA we have to be a little bit louder, to really stop people in their tracks,” Cohen says. But they spend a fraction of their Catersource budget, because the ROI is lower.


They become their clients.


Total Party Planner’s clients are catering company owners, event planners and chefs. “They’re people who are creative, they’re people who like to throw parties and make people happy,” Cohen says. At Catersource, the atmosphere reflects that approach to life. People are eating, drinking and enjoying themselves — and they are not enticed by “the booth with three podiums and three monitors, with people waiting to show you their software.”



So Cohen and his team created a trade show booth that looked like an elegant venue. In a 20 by 20 space, they arranged a dining table set with candelabra and floral arrangements, loveseats with pillows, and framed pictures. Booth staff wore black dresses or vests, ties and black pants. The message: “This is your world, and we get it.”


It worked. The booth was “jam-crowded, slammed for two full days.” Meanwhile, competitors’ tech-focused booths were sparsely attended. “We love it,” Cohen says. “We hope they never, ever change.”


They understand who they’re competing with. 


At NRA 2016, Total Party Planner decided to try the same “elegant event” theme that had performed so well at Catersource. “It didn’t quite work,” Cohen says. “It didn’t feel right.” Why? At NRA, Total Party Planner’s booth was placed in the technology pavilion, where it felt old-fashioned next to the bright and streamlined exhibits staffed by millennials in Chuck Taylors.


Total Party Planner’s message was getting lost. So they rapidly shifted. They raced to Macy’s, bought T-shirts and jeans, and reorganized the booth. For NRA 2018, their trade show booth design will be “super fun, super bright, super red,” with a branding focus and a relaxed feel.


They devise a strategy for trade show giveaways. 


“We’ve never been big on giveaways,” Cohen admits. He recalls the year they offered MopTopper pens and people grabbed them by the handful. His employees had to dole them out one by one, which wasn’t the best use of their time.


Instead, he prefers to offer higher-value items only for existing clients. At Catersource, he had T-shirts made for clients. As they collected their gifts, his staff took photos of them holding up the shirt. Those photos became an asset for social media and future trade show marketing.


They think beyond the booth. 


Coveted speaker gigs at Catersource are hard to obtain. “We’ve been trying for years to get on stage,” Cohen says. But he recognizes that attendees probably don’t want to hear people speaking about software or social media strategy for the hundredth time. So he proposed something entirely different for Catersource 2018: the first-ever Caterslam.


Caterslam is a storytelling competition for caterers. Cohen will announce a topic — like weddings gone wrong, for instance — and invite eight caterers from around the country to tell their stories on stage. The best will win prizes. It’s fun, entertaining and gives smaller attendees a chance to take the stage. “Those will be some good marketing dollars spent,” he says.

The Dos and Don’ts of Fabric Pop-up Trade Show Displays

tradeshowtoolsThe fabric pop-up display is like a black dress: It’s perfect for every occasion, and it makes everyone look good.


Fabric pop-up trade show displays — which consist of printed fabric stretched over a collapsible, lightweight frame — are everywhere, and for good reason. They’re economical, stylish, lightweight and eye-catching. Here’s our advice for using them effectively.


  • Do use pop-up display walls for more than just trade shows. When your big shows are done for the season, don’t shove your displays in the closet. Pop-up displays can be used in office lobbies or as a backdrop on stage. Step-and-repeat displays add style to events.


  • Do change the graphics as needed. Many pop-up displays allow the printed fabric to easily be switched out, via Velcro. It’s cheaper to get multiple fabrics printed that fit a single frame, and can help your company tailor its message for specific trade shows. One of our favorites is the versatile Hopup display.


  • Don’t always go for cheap pop-up displays. While all the trade show displays we sell are well crafted, the cheaper ones simply won’t last as long. Graphic tension can pull and flex the frame, and plastic pieces can easily snap. We can recommend displays that have full or partial aluminum frames, as well as a lifetime warranty on the hardware.


  • Do treat your pop-up displays with care. The lifespan of a trade show display really depends on how it’s handled in the field. The rule of thumb is that if you feel like you’re forcing it to close, you’re breaking it! The display should set up and fold down easily; if it doesn’t, one or more hooks is probably still engaged. If you do break the frame, just call us. We’ll repair it, free of charge.


  • Do make sure your images can be scaled up. A pop-up display that’s 8 by 8 feet or 10 by 10 may not sound really big, but it is. Most photographs cannot be printed at that scale without looking pixelated or blurred, and that’s not the image you want to convey. You can invest in high-resolution, professional photography, or work with our designer to incorporate your photos into a larger design.


  • Don’t choose white. Predominantly white fabric has two problems when used on pop-up displays: it holds wrinkles and it’s translucent, which allows the frame to show through. If your brand requires a large expanse of white, we can recommend a heavy-duty fabric that’s best for the job.

Important Considerations for Space

retailspaceIn all areas of our business, dealing with trade show booths, marketing events and all manor of branded environments, we are challenged with working within a particular space size. Fortunately, the technology we use to make scaled renderings and mock ups helps us avoid any major errors before production, but there’s still been many creative and well-intentioned ideas crushed because of the parameters of the space. I’ll lay out some of the points of emphasis that can help maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the space.



Too often the focus is getting as much into a space as possible, and aside from a cluttered aesthetic, the physical pathway for the consumer can suffer. When considering the size of the space you may need, think about how much you’d need to hit all of the major branding and messaging elements while allowing for a natural, logical progression throughout. This might mean they start at a reception counter in the corner and work clockwise through a space, or maybe they start in the center for qualification and are directed to the left for product A or the right for product B. This applies to trade show spaces, retail, showrooms and even things like mobile marketing units.

If you have a set space already (purchased 20×20 trade show space, or leased retail space) work backwards and pair down all of the potential items until an organized flow develops.

Utilize things like monitors and touchscreens to take the place of multiple displays and shelving for physical products. Also, take advantage of height where you’re able to, to decrease sprawl.



Review regulations for the particular location, whether a showsite, retail space or any other venue there will be rules, codes and regs that can come into play. For instance, in the trade show world, the standard is using IAEE‘s guidelines. Some of these include a capped heights across backwalls, towers and freestanding displays to prevent obstructing neighboring booths.

Also consider ADA compliance. This comes into play a lot for creating those pathways for flow mentioned above, and requiring 36″ width for wheelchair accessibility. Which also allows a good minimum width for other consumers as well. ADA also has ramping requirements for raised flooring to consider.



When creating a space, play director of the scene. What do you want your consumer to see, what should the focus be. Conversely, sometimes you need your staff to be the ones that see with a clear path when theft may be an issue or proprietary processes are being shown and they need to have photos/videos withheld. Remember that people will likely start looking top left and that below the knee is almost never seen. Balance barriers around the space so that they are directing traffic without walling off areas making them uninviting. Prominently place logos and messaging, and neatly merchandise product.

The purpose of all of these areas above is to drive the best possible consumer experience. Avoid clutter, create a natural flow and keep within the rules. Remember that the design of the space goes beyond the design of the displays within it. Utilize the aide of 3d rendering. It requires time and patience, but can illuminate pitfalls as well as new neat ideas. Take notice of the stores and booths that catch your eye and why that was, maybe there are takeaways for your design there as well.

It is important to remember that your space speaks to your clients about your firms capabilities, its image and may even influence their satisfaction with your organization. The space is also impacting your employees; their pride in the organization and attitude.  Temporary or otherwise this is their work environment!