Having worked with engineering clients for my entire career something has definitely rubbed off. Just this week, I was asked at my expectant baby CPR class if I was an engineer after I quizzed the nurse about the realness of the CPR doll, as the response of its rib cage seemed less than lifelike. “Thanks,” I said” that’s a compliment, but actually I’m an advertising guy.”

This got me thinking as I was about to pen this article. I’ve been approaching all my campaign strategies like a Marketing Engineer, combining proven, marketing components with creativity to produce results. Reflecting on 24 years worth of MTT shows, I thought what better way to talk about ideas for this year than to share what I’ve found successful and keep as a constant in my toolbox, what new ideas I’ve been pondering, and what I’ve archived in my “at least it was good for a laugh” museum.

Photomurals rock!

Nothing brings me more joy than when a company hands me a booth and says, “I think it’s time to get rid of these disjointed graphics.” Photomurals force a company to think about their singular, most focused positioning message and how they fit in the market. Like the home page of a website, a good photomural delivers everything you need to say in a blink of an eye. Here’s an example of a nimble one Strand did for LPKF.

The most important square meter

While I’m a visually creative guy, I’ve found that nothing is more important at a trade show than the one square meter where your booth attendants are standing. It’s critical they are armed with knowledge of your pre-show strategy, a game plan for pulling folks into the booth, and something more than a candy dish of Junior Mints as an offering. Involve your booth team early in the planning stage, get their input, and incorporate their ideas. The beach ball may get someone’s attention, but when Charlie is on his game, no one is better at converting passersby into customers. You can even create a point system around who can hunt down “the best prospect of the hour.” By getting your team engaged, they will engage.

Speaking of beach balls

Quite honestly, nothing is more challenging than coming up with the hit of the show giveaway and promotion. Here are my best offers and the worst duds of all time.

The best:

• Balsa planes. The ad-hoc flying contest in the empty row next to the Adams-Russell booth was a viral hit, before anyone even knew what viral was.

• Blow-up bats and the integrated roof top party overlooking Fenway Park. San-tron fans were treated to Fenway Franks, cold beer, souvenirs, and a rooftop seat to the best game in town.

• Free 10-minute massages. Once again San-tron impressed the crowds, this time with an ease the tension with us idea. People kept circling back to check the queue.

• TRU Mints. They’ve used this idea every year since 2000. Some things are timeless, like Scott O’Neil’s laugh.

• Engineer’s Survival Kit. ARC’s box of sample absorber materials generated a lot of buzz and turned into another timeless sales promotion.

The duds:

• Paddle balls. Note to self: test samples more than 10 times before pulling trigger. I spent most of the first day of the show double-knotting elastic strings.

• Pens. They’re a dime a dozen and really a nuisance to get good logos on.

Spike the interest before you go

I had to get a whole new man room for my pre-show promotion toolbox a few years ago, as I believe this is key. But rather than doing the deep dive on all things tried and true, I’ll instead share my checklist for you to consider as it relates to this year’s show.

EMail: Send at least two promotional emails before the show to announce what’s going to be new at your booth. Also include your booth number with the show’s dates in the signature line in all outgoing company emails a few weeks before the show.

Social Media: The twitter hash tag for this year’s show is #IMS2011. Add it to your tweets. Shows are the time to see this medium at its best, as journalists are looking for fodder for the show’s daily updates.

Advertising: You’ve got about a week or so to jump in all the major magazines’ show issues and buyer’s guide. Be there or be square.

Sponsorships: Try the bag insert. It’s reasonable and you know everyone will get one. (Create a compelling hook, of course.)

And speaking of social media…

I must confess, while I’ve been at this for 24 years, I trust my social network more than ever to keep me on top of my game. After posting a question on one of my favorite networks, Marketing Profs, I got a nice response from a tradeshow guru I’ve come to respect, Ruth Stevens. Here’s her response to my question on what’s hot this year:

“The operative word is ‘engagement,’ Dave. It’s been one of the keywords at EXHIBITOR2011 going on now in Las Vegas. Engaging your target audience at a trade show calls for an array of communications tools and techniques that include advertising, email marketing, media relations, public relations and social media. Add to this engagement at your exhibit with booth activities that inform, educate, and entertain. Through pre-show communications and at-show engagement, you can identify those attendees that are open to a sustained follow-up after the show is over. One of the critical elements to success is how much you know about your target audience. The more you know the more focused you can be with these tools.”

Thanks, Ruth. Music to my ears.

See you on the show floor. Stop me to see my new baby, Luke or Olivia, who is scheduled to arrive any day now, before I force him/her on you myself. Just don’t ask me to show you CPR—I stopped paying attention when I didn’t get a reasonable explanation to my compression question. I am proficient at the Heimlich maneuver, however, should you find yourself choking on a crab.

Dave Strand is President of Strand Marketing Inc., an award-winning marketing and advertising agency specializing in the RF/Microwave industry. His campaigns for San-tron, Endwave, ITT Microwave Systems, LPKF, Emblation Microwave, Thunderline-Z and Vaunix, to name a few, can be seen throughout the year in Microwave Journal. A portfolio of work can also be viewed at www.strandmarketing.com.