Tugging on the lines at Tradeshows: Prep and Prospecting

In my designer hat I’ve wallowed in and out of tradeshows for many years. Sometimes they are successful and sometimes they’re just fun, which I suppose is a form of success. The reality is, cold calling on people you’re asking for work from is hard. Period. Unless you’re the type that can saunter along and make new best friends left and right, it’s a challenge. Add to this, your “creative” personality, ie. socially awkward, it goes exponential. Currently, I’m getting myself ready for Outdoor Retailer in Denver, which should be fun and with this extra effort rewarding as well. 

Getting ready to head in to Outdoor Retailer, follow the blue bear.

My goal is to build more of my illustration business up. Why do I want to do this? The short answer is that I love illustrating, and have sort of abandoned it these last ten years. There was a time when I did quite a bit more, and really enjoyed the process as well as the end result for my clients. It gets noticed. It’s uniquely your work, and eventually clients will recognize your style. It seemed to have lost favor in exchange for a minimalist approach to graphic design and photography, but it appears to be trending again. The longer answer is that I need a shift in what I do. I have tried for years to entrench myself more and more into the outdoor world, and it’s a small, close knit, lots of good friends in the field, kind of world. It’s been a little tough to break into. To really break into. So with that in mind, I’m going back at it with illustration as my super power, and a focus on the girl-power/female outdoor enthusiasts advertising we’re seeing more and more of. 

Hanna is badged up and ready to roll. Our companion and diversion.

Personally, I have been standing on a soap box for years wondering why women haven’t been marketed directly to more in this outdoor-world. We play too. Honestly, we buy more gear than men, well at least we buy more clothes and accessories, but we do buy the bigger ticket items as well. The point is we are 50% of the audience. Now we’re seeing full page ads in Ski magazine of some female launching off of something, generally shredding and smiling in all her bad-assery glory. I want to illustrate to that! 

So how am I getting ready for this event? 

Identify what it is exactly you’re going to offer up

I’ve found that if you offer creative services that feel less committed to a client, it somehow makes you more approachable. I’m not walking into a booth and saying, hey your design stinks, hire me. I’m saying, I’ve got an idea for you to consider in your female specific marketing that would be fun and make a little splash. Consider illustration.

Identify and narrow down your targets

It’s virtually impossible to hit up every booth in a large show. Even if all you did was run through throw your stuff at them and move to the next, I don’t think you could actually make it through the entire show. So who is going to be interested in what you’re offering? There will be the obvious targets and these are absolutes, but open your mind up a little and see how what you are offering could appeal to someone unexpected. Yes, I can talk with all of the clothing brands, but I think it would be as or more interesting to talk with some of the gear brands about how a wild colorful illustration could be a great idea for their women’s specific skis or bikes. I’ll be sure to have those on my list as well.

What are you handing out?

Business cards are fine, but consider how many they receive. Now when these exhausted people return home and dump out all they have collected, while they were working and actually selling to their customers, do you think they will remember you specifically? Not unless you’re marching around with a mohawk, it’s highly unlikely. (I’ve done that) I’m not mohawk material any more so I’ve decided to put together a small packet, that packs easily in a suitcase with an illustrated mini poster of previously mentioned bad-ass girls getting after it, a business card, and a small CTA on what I do and why illustration is a good idea, closed with an equally cool sticker with my contact on it again. Make it easy, and maybe just maybe one of them will hang it on their wall of cool posters! 

Collect their info. Collect their info. Collect their info.

Because you too will return home, exhausted and it will all have blurred together. Do yourself a favor and get organized right away. Collect business cards, make notes on them, and review your pile of stuff the minute you’re back at your desk while it’s fresh. Then set about to make a list of those that were interested or pretended to be, and those that could be persuaded and follow up


We all learned this in Marketing 101. Frequency is important. We are all busy busy bees, and don’t have the brain capacity to remember everyone we talked with. I don’t. Assume that your potential new client doesn’t either, and help them out. Follow up with them within two weeks, and put it on your calendar to follow up again in another month. You don’t want to be obnoxious, but you also don’t want to disappear and lose the valuable and expensive momentum you have gained. Find a balance and follow up. I’ve been on the other side of this formula working in a booth and I get those stopping by to generate leads. I get it, but I also need someone to follow up with me after the fact. It’s helpful.

Well it caught my eye…

That’s it. Simple right? No it’s not, and it takes effort to make it work, but at the end of the day trade shows are valuable for so many reason, the least of which is generating new business. It’s an opportunity to stay connected, keep your finger on the pulse of trends and stay inspired. I hear rumors of trade shows going the way of the dodo, and this makes me sad. I understand they are expensive and supposedly large brands do better selling in new more innovative ways, but trade shows have the energy and vibe that I believe is beneficial to brand and consumer alike and a valuable piece of what makes the outdoor industries so wonderful would disappear with it. As long as they continue to exist, I will continue to go and do my part to support them. 

Author: poolcreative

I’m a graphic designer by trade and a creative type, travel craving, mother of two, nature worshipping, cocktail enthusiast and perfume fanatic by life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: