In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In trade shows, it’s sponsorship, sponsorship, sponsorship. Ron Gold, a trade show profit consultant in Malibu, Calif., says that if an association isn’t pulling at least 30 percent of its revenue stream from trade show promotions, they’re doing something wrong. "You can’t play by the old rules in the new economy," he says, citing the familiar gold, silver, or platinum packages most exhibitions offer. "You need to ask exhibitors what they want to accomplish. Chances are, they don’t want to see everybody at the show, just the people they have the potential to do business with. General messages help the trade show, but if it doesn’t help exhibitors, they won’t be back."

"The exhibitor doesn’t have to spend huge dollars to have a successful program," he says. "If they achieve their goals, they’ll come back next year. Your floor space will increase, and your revenue will grow." There’s no hard investment for the show organizer, either. "You’ve already booked the hall, you’re selling the floor space. There’s no reason not to go after every sponsorship opportunity you can." One small-budget exhibitor Gold worked with had just a 10 x 10 foot booth against the back wall. Gold put together a lottery gimmick that drove people to his booth: The next year, he was in a 3,200-square-foot booth. "There’s something for everyone, if you work with them to find what will fit their needs," he says.

Other than signage on the show floor, which he says is verboten, everything’s up for grabs. One of Gold’s clients wanted to be identified with a specific session: Gold designed chair covers for the meeting room that had the exhibitor’s logo and message on it. "It benefited the organizer by bringing revenue into a session, of all things, and accomplished branding for the exhibitor." For another client, he created a plug-in night-light for hotel bathrooms that, along with the client’s logo, just had the message: "another shameless plug." "Everyone took those home," Gold laughs.

Some Sponsorship Ideas:
In hotels: do not disturb signs; door keys; card keys; night lights; newspapers; notepads and pens; receptions

At the expo: badge lanyards; attendee rosters; CD of proceedings, handouts, and abstracts; exhibit space; continental lunches, breaks, and breakfasts; registration bags; program books; cyber cafes; messaging center; massage booth; shoeshine booth; electronic lead swipe cards; registration fees for the next year’s meeting

Other: entertainment; golf outing beverage carts, holes, ditty bags, and awards; breakfasts; shuttle buses; Web site banners; roundtables; scholarships; travel and other awards; silent auctions; bookstores