The 2016 conference season is upon us. Conferences are an excellent place for vendors to gain exposure and connect with dealers in a concentrated area over several days. They are also a definite (and not inexpensive) investment. So, it makes sense to do all that you can to optimize your ROI.

Dealers can get overwhelmed by all of the booths. And, unless they’re searching for a specific solution, they may not take the time to visit every vendor. This can be frustrating for exhibitors. I therefore thought I’d offer up some suggestions as to how your company can increase the odds of capturing a dealer’s attention and increasing your booth traffic.

Press Releases – Press releases serve to inform the industry of any upcoming additions, enhancements or product launches — especially around conference times. They can also be used to promote any speaking session a company exec may have at the conference. Post these on your site, send out to your media contacts. They can also be promoted in any company newsletter. Be sure to also post them on your social media accounts.

Blogs – Blogs are a great way to generate interest in a topic. If done correctly, and in a non-promotional manner, your blog can attract attention from conference attendees. Use your blog to perhaps discuss an industry pain point. If done correctly, blogs can increase exposure for key executives and help to transform them into thought leaders. Be a resource and dealers will come to you asking for a solution. Post the blog on your website, on the auto industry social sites, and on your social media.

Social Media (In General) – Many vendors neglect to leverage their social media accounts for conference promotion. Or, if they do use them simply blast the same message of “Visit our booth,” “Conference special price!” or, “Come win this Widget!” This gets really old to attendees browsing the conference’s Twitter hashtag. It can very easily get you tuned out. While there’s nothing wrong with any of these messages by themselves, many vendors simply broadcast the same message as if on repeat. Mix up your messaging and don’t set your social media on auto-pilot. Make sure that you have someone monitoring your social media. Be sure to respond to any incoming messages. But also actively search for ways to engage attendees at conferences. Engagement does not mean responding to a tweet with a “come to our booth” message. Just be a real person and engage in conversation. I promise this will get you much further in building rapport with a customer.

Facebook/Twitter ads – Social media ads are an excellent way to target that audience most likely to be in attendance at an upcoming conference. These ads can be a mixture of ones that promote a speaking session; an ad that announces a product launch or some enhancement; or an ad to raise awareness of a booth giveaway. If you have all of the above happening, you are ahead of the game. But, unless you tell people in advance, you’ll be stuck waiting for dealers to visit your booth so you can tell them the news. That typically doesn’t work out well. Utilize the in-depth targeting abilities of these huge social media platforms. In so doing, you gain exposure with your desired audience delivered up on a silver platter.

Giveaways – Yes, this may seem like a no-brainer. The fact is that everyone loves free stuff. Whether we’re talking about swag or a nice prize, offer an incentive to attendees to come visit your booth. And don’t be boring —- be inventive – there is a heck of a lot of competition among the booths! Cool giveaways increase the likelihood that you’ll gain additional traffic. They also provide more things to talk about on social media.

Don’t be shy! – Last, but certainly not least, pay attention to the attendees. Don’t sit back and focus on your laptops or cell phones, while dealers simply walk by without being acknowledged. Chances are that your booths are manned by salespeople. All salespeople are used to rejection. That’s part of the job. There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be front and center, greeting each attendee as they walk by, inviting them to check out their product. Just because everyone is in the same place doesn’t mean that dealers are going to flock to your booth. You still need to “sell” them on why they should listen to you. The advantage is that you don’t have to do it over the phone — at a conference you can do it in person.

Have a great and successful 2016 conference season. I hope these tips and strategies help you be more successful in your investment, and look forward to seeing everyone soon!

Sara Callahan | Carter West Public Relations