The Importance of a Smart Marketing Strategy for Trade Shows

By all accounts, my first time exhibiting at Surtex in 2017 was a success. I reached the goals I had set for myself, connected with lots of new-to-me companies looking for art, and finally had a chance to meet countless designers I "knew" online.

But that doesn't mean there's no room for me to improve. On the contrary, my freshman experience at Surtex highlighted just how much more I have to learn about this wonderful industry. So as I'm gearing up for my second time at Surtex, I thought it would be fun to reflect on what I did last year and ways I hope to improve my experience this time around. 

This will hopefully be the first of several 2018 Surtex blogposts and just like my 2017 blog series, I hope to highlight aspects of the trade show experience that aren't as talked about so I can help others avoid the mistakes I made.

 Surtex 2018 Blog Series | Marketing Strategies for Surtex: Lessons Learned from Last Year's Show | shannonmcnab.com

Of all the aspects of Surtex preparations, the one area where I feel I have the potential to improve the most is my marketing efforts. Last time around, I spent very little time marketing myself to companies and looking back it was a huge missed opportunity. 

So I spent a few weeks at the beginning of the year, taking a closer look at what I did in 2017 and developing what I hope is a stronger marketing plan that will pay off for me at Surtex. But before I dive into what I'm doing differently this year, let me recap what I did last year and the lessons I learned.
 

A Heavy Focus on Social Media

I spent a LOT of time creating lots of square Surtex images (seriously you guys, I made 11 of them) to post to Instagram in the two months leading up to the show. 

Of course they're pretty and visually represent my design style very well, but I'm not sure there was any benefit to doing so many simply because most of my IG followers are other designers and not brands I hope to work with. Looking back, I wish I had spent less time on creating these Instagram images and used that time elsewhere.
 

A Lack of Company Connections

I spent a couple of weeks last March creating a spreadsheet of companies I wanted to work with, researching their current product lines, and tracking art directors down with a month long LinkedIn Premium trial.

But after all that hard work, the ONLY thing I did with the information I'd obtained was send them a single postcard in the mail announcing my Surtex debut. Ok, that's not entirely true. I actually did InMail message a few of them on LinkedIn, but didn't send a single email to any of them to introduce myself and my art prior to the show (mostly because I didn't have their email addresses).

 Surtex 2017 Marketing Mailers | designed by Shannon McNab

It's funny because at the time I was so incredibly proud of myself when I put the big batch of postcards in the mail, yet I didn't realize that the effort, time and money I spent was mostly wasted because A) many of the contacts I had weren't even the correct person to talk to and B) I didn't try and cultivate a relationship with them first.

So if I had to pick one regret from last year's show, it would be that I didn't dedicate enough time to find the correct company contacts and start a dialogue with them prior to the show.
 

Not Identifying My Strengths

The back of my marketing postcards that I sent to art directors had my booth number, contact info and then simply said:

"I'm Shannon, a surface designer from sunny California! I'll be in New York making my Surtex debut and I'd love to meet you!"

It can't get much simpler (or more boring) than that! I mentioned in my May 2017 blogpost that I kept things simple for a number of very good reasons, but what I failed to realize at the time was that I wasn't giving these art directors any important information about how I work or what makes me different from other designers.

The surface design industry is incredibly competitive, with talented designers around every corner, so I was doing myself a HUGE disservice by not addressing the reasons why an art director should work with me over another designer.
 


My Marketing Plan for Surtex 2018

There is a steep learning curve in figuring out certain parts of this industry and although I feel my marketing efforts in 2017 weren't all that effective, I feel the experience I gained was worth the lack of results. So with that in mind, here's my plan of attack for this year's show:

Cultivating More Client Relationships

Since the beginning of the new year, I've been contacting new companies every other week. By starting earlier and working to build a relationship with them prior to the show, my hope is that more art directors and buyers will come to my booth and I'll receive more licensing and commission inquiries as a result.

I feel it's equally important to build upon the client relationships I already have, especially for those I met at last year's show. I send out a newsletter with new art once every two weeks and also send individual follow up emails to my contacts once a month. By staying on their radar and showing them I'm still interested in collaborating, I hope they'll continue to work with and buy art from me.

 My Surtex 2017 Booth: Counter Closeup | shannonmcnab.com

Being Laser Focused with Targeting Marketing

This one is the biggie! It is so important to me to make sure I'm contacting the RIGHT person. Tracking down contact information is time consuming enough as it is, so it's a waste if I'm taking a "shot in the dark" hoping I've found the right person.

The reality of this is that it's going to push me outside my introverted comfort zone as I'll likely have to resort to calling companies to obtain the correct contact (which honestly terrifies me because I hate talking on the phone). But as Neale Donald Walsch said:

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

That's going to be my mantra anytime I get anxious about this process. I just have to keep in mind that it's a worthy endeavor and one that could potentially have an enormous impact on my career.
 

Demonstrating my Talent to Potential Clients

My approach to my mailer is going to be a bit different this year as I want to make sure to articulate my strengths and what sets me apart from other designers.

Of course that's nearly impossible to achieve in a single postcard, so my current plan is to create a small booklet with a little bit about my design strengths. It will showcase new art, cover some accomplishments I've made over the last year, and most importantly, have a space for me to write a hand written note to each recipient explaining why I'd love to work with them and their company.

By being clear about who I am and what I can offer, my hope is that art directors will give my art some serious consideration and will decide to make the trip to Surtex to meet me in person and chat about surface design. 

Only time will tell if my new approach this year will pay off, but you can be sure I'll be blogging about it after the show!