Welcome back to the New Year! One of the questions that I was often asked last year at exhibitor forums concerns itself with the use of gimmicks – are they a good thing or not? Do they add or distract? I believe that overall they can be a good thing however as is true of much in life, you have to understand what effects they have and understand the implications of their appeal.

Take for example one of the most popular event gimmicks – the business card draw for the omnipresent bottle of bubbly or side of salmon. Is this effective? Well, yes, if you are after capturing niche data. This will hopefully result in you having quite a large number of business cards in your little box, and from this loads of names and telephone numbers to follow up. Names, that is, of people who like drinking champagne or eating salmon – not necessarily names of serious or potential prospects for your business. Therein lies the rub. At a particular training event where I was exhibiting, one of our competitors stole a march on us all by having a colossal wicker Moses basket brimming with crème eggs (it was close to Easter time). By the end of the three days of the event, they had in excess of a dozen of my business cards. I was not a prospect, nor was I ever going to be – in fact I was a direct (although wholly better!) competitor. I am, however, quite partial to a crème egg or twelve!

If your gimmick is illustrative of your services then all the better. There is also a place I will add, for having something unrelated but intriguing nonetheless. If all your gimmick manages to do is hold the visitor long enough for your stand staff to engage them in a conversation then it makes sense to provide one. In this instance I would urge you to attend other shows to appreciate the variety and effect these gimmicks can have. Sometimes they draw a crowd and once the ‘show’ is over, the crowd disperses along with your data. I suspect the limit here is simply your creative imagination. I have seen palmists, IQ tests, massage therapies, cartoonists, magicians and even a shoe-shine used as a gimmick. We once had a stand with a simple graphic board of questions drawn up that could be seen from a long distance by visitors walking up either aisle. “What do James Bond, Fred Perry and John Major have in common?” We had a great response from visitors chatting to themselves and in turn to us with possible solutions and links.

The fact was they were all names of bona fide delegates we had attend our training courses! The follow on conversation was about the sort of training we did and whether we ran in-house courses and so on. A perfect way to break the ice and lead naturally into a conversation about their training needs. You can also effectively run a series of ‘teaser’ ads during the lead up to the show to create more interest. Many good gimmicks take place before the show rather than at the show in question.

So the next time you are contemplating a gimmick, think of your objectives and your target audience and let your creative juices flow as fast as the visitors to your stand.