When you, as a mobile-entertainment company, participate in a wedding show, it is an investment in your business. Of course, all investments come with risks.
By Ryan von Ahn
In my market of Cleveland, Ohio, the shows worth going to typically cost four figures. Depending on the size, price point and health of your company, you may elect to participate in just one show… or many. Either way, you want to make it count. Whether you are just entertaining, participating in your first show, or you’re a veteran looking to make some changes to your booth, I’ve outlined some tips on maximizing your return on investment.
Before I registered as a vendor in my first bridal show, I was curious about them. I had gone to a few, and checked out the competition and the show traffic. At that time when I was looking at other booths, I didn’t know what was “good” or “bad” from a set-up perspective. Each one was as unique as the companies operating them.
In my walks around the arenas, I’d see everything from a DJ set-up and playing with colleagues handing out flyers and ushering people on to DJs pulling people “into” their space for meaningful conversations. There were also large multi-ops with no DJs present and, instead, a salesforce set up with point-of-sale systems. Knowing what I know now, 10 years later, I would venture to say none of what I saw is arguably “best practice,” and the ideal booth configuration is actually somewhere in between.
In my opinion and from my experience, the following are the Top-10 mistakes you can make when participating in a wedding show or setting up a booth:
- Not knowing your client or the area.
If you don’t want to perform at rustic barn weddings, you shouldn’t be going to the rustic-themed show. If the city isn’t your thing, there are probably some shows that attract mostly inner-city weddings, so you’d want to avoid these as well. Simply put, just because a show exists does not mean you have to be there. Oftentimes (at least in our market), there are multiple shows running on the same date. I always like to look at the other vendors who’ll be present. If these are vendors I typically work alongside (or want to work with), that is the show I will focus our resources on.
Additionally, many veteran show producers have an idea of geographic area and approximate budgets of their couples, which should align with your company. Lastly, it’s worth noting that if a show strongly gives preference to a particular DJ or company, who is not you, then I would strongly recommend avoiding that show. In my early days of doing shows, I have literally been hidden in the back and told to turn any sound in my booth off as couples are ushered to the show’s “preferred DJ” – not cool. Do your research ahead of time before committing.
While some would argue with me on this point (in favor of networking with new people), participating in shows where you know the other vendors gives you a competitive advantage. If you’re familiar with many of the venues the couples will be celebrating in, you can talk about what you have done in their venue to bring the conversation to life. You can also help point couples to other vendors you know who are physically present there who may be a good fit. These vendors will often return the favor if you have a relationship with them.
- Not matching your company appropriately to the show.
If you’re a single-op, just getting started as a small multi-op, or new to shows in general, it’s probably not worth doing the expensive multiple-day/multiple-thousand- couples bridal extravaganza. That is unless you a) have the availability, b) have ample staff for your booth and, c) can handle the lead list quickly and efficiently afterward. In my experience, when you’re lost in the mix of 20 or so DJs and have thousands of couples pouring through, it may not be the best use of your resources, especially if most of your peak dates are already full.
- Having a booth that is too DJ-gear-centric.
You’ve heard it at the DJ Expos. You’ve heard it in social-media posts. I’m here to tell you this again: Nobody cares about your gear, except for other DJs. All prospective couples care about is what your gear can do for them. Can people hear toasts? Does it look clean? Is it reliable? These are all things that can be communicated verbally or on a flyer. Not only does lugging out a full set-up take up a lot of room in your booth, but it could blend in with everyone else’s and potentially even cause problems, if it is not as high-end as a competitor’s or not in line with what you would typically bring out for your standard package.
- Having a booth that does not emphasize “we are DJs.”
This may seem contrary to my last point, but this is derived from an actual mistake I made a few years ago. A show producer upgraded me to a double booth, so I wanted to capitalize on this extra real estate (and not have something that looked small and underwhelming), as well as create a “draw.” Accordingly, I decided to bring all our photobooths out. While the signage at the booth read “DJ,” and the video screens all had reels of packed dancefloors, the reality is that, from a distance, what most people saw were photobooths. Consequently, when reviewing the comments on my lead list, many couples had entered “interested in the magic mirror” or similar.
We attracted many couples who already had secured DJs for their events and simply were curious about the mirror booth and, as a result, we likely did not spend enough time with the couples who genuinely needed DJs – i.e., couples we wanted to book. The takeaway from this would be: Draw out your booth and look at a picture, or step way back after you set it up. What do you see? If you can’t determine the booth belongs to a DJ within a few seconds without specifically reading anything, you need to make some modifications. This also brings me to my next point.
- Assuming people read (or listen, for that matter).
For a newly engaged couple, going to a wedding show is a little bit like attempting to drink from a firehose. If I had a bingo card filled with DJ terms and sales points, and I went around to talk to other DJs, I can almost guarantee I could get a bingo in one lap around an arena. Everyone is going to spout out things like “packed dancefloor,” or “we can do ceremony and reception,” or “we play all the things,” or “top-notch entertainment.”
There’s a fine line between having someone’s attention and having them begin to check out. Once they leave, unless there was something very memorable about your booth, all they will have is whatever materials they took. Make sure they are visual, easily digestible, succinct, and bulleted. I used to be guilty of having marketing materials with walls of text – working with a DJ mentor, as well as a marketer, helped solve that problem.
- Not doing or not having something memorable.
I like to build my display up high. I find that it calls attention to the booth. Once I get people to stop by, in conversation I will show them a few things, which they may find thought-provoking – perhaps pictures in their venue, or relating to a wedding vibe similar to theirs. One of my competitors has a much simpler display, but this company tiles their entire table with all their awards from Wedding Wire, The Knot etc. This is a good format, too – it also calls attention to his booth and causes people to stop, have a conversation. It helps make him memorable.
There is a larger company north of us that participates in some of the same shows that also builds up high and comes up with an edgy marketing slogan. Oftentimes, they’ll print it on stickers that people want and tag on social media. This generates a lot of traction for that particular company. What is your hook? What is making people stop? What is making your company memorable?
- Not reliably collecting visitor data (and/or not doing something with it in a timely fashion).
While most show promoters will provide a lead list – and it’s smart to use this list in a campaign – the most important thing you can do in your booth is capture your “warm leads,” or the couples who you had conversations with and are interested in talking more. Some companies, collect this on paper, some electronically. I recommend bringing both – capture electronically, and use paper as backup should you have a problem with internet or the technology. At minimum, you want names and a way to get in touch.
I also like to capture venue and wedding date, if known, as well as time entered the booth (with come comments or notes), as this helps jog my memory on the conversation after and helps me prioritize any follow-up. For example, I might reach out to couples at venues we are preferred at first and not reach out to couples where we are fully booked on their date.
When capturing leads, I recommend using a dedicated web form or CRM (like Salesforce, HubSpot or Zoho). I do not recommend using “event-planner” type software. I have attempted this with one of the popular web-based DJ-planning products before and (in my opinion) did not find it to be reliable for this purpose, or as flexible as I would like it to be for data manipulation later on.
- Wasting time on show-mandated giveaways.
Many shows require that each participating vendor provides a door prize of value, oftentimes specifying a minimum value, like $100. I can’t emphasize enough how much I despise when show producers do this. While they claim it will drive traffic to your booth and increase conversations, in all reality the only entity benefitting from this is the show, as they can advertise hundreds or thousands of dollars in free giveaways at no cost to them.
While some would disagree, I would argue that the traffic being driven from the motivation for free stuff is the wrong traffic. In the past, we have had people stop and chat because they felt “obligated” to before they registered for our giveaway, only to tell us they have a DJ… but “would keep us in mind, if they know of anyone else who needs one.” The reality behind this is that they just wanted the free stuff and probably won’t remember you long after the show. We’ve also had people that came and wasted our time just to talk specifically about the giveaway. (What is it? What does it include? When does it expire?)
To a show producer, this only costs face value (say, $100) and helps drive them traffic; the reality is that there are additional hidden costs associated. There’s the potential cost of the couples looking for your service, but they walked by the booth because you were busy. There’s the hourly rate of your sales staff, who now may even follow up with them if information was collected.
Shows with this requirement often won’t allow a discount on your services to be used. My mentor gave me a great solution to this – get professional gift cards to your company made. With these, you’re going to attract people who are interested in what you have to offer – that’s the right traffic. That said, this solution still won’t suffice to meet the requirements of some producers. In these cases, what I recommend doing is getting something self-explanatory (something people aren’t going to want to chat about), not exciting and something that can be ordered in bulk at a discount price, yet appraised at the higher value.
What I personally use is “Wedding Day Emergency Kits.” I move the prize and the drawing basket away from my booth (or off to the side as far as possible), and label it clearly so people who are there for the free stuff see it, know what it is, and don’t take up our time over the giveaways. I would make an exception to this if I had something that was hashtag-worthy and would generate social-media attention beyond the show.
- Having a booth that is too closed off or messy.
If you want to have meaningful conversations, you want the booth to look open and inviting. Personally, how I do this is mounting what I can get off the ground, usually using box truss. I also ditch the venue supplied 8-foot banquet-hall tables and bring in our own cocktail tables so people can stand around them, rather than sit. The banquet-hall-style tables just take up way too much space (and encourage sitting/uninviting posture).
Outside of opening up the booth, you want it to be well-lit, bright, attractive and easy to move around. Don’t bring carpeted racks or boxes, old stuff, or leave bags all over the place. While many companies use roll-up banners, I typically use one or more TVs, as I can update the signage for each show without having to involve a printer.
- Not having the booth amply staffed for the show.
This is another painful point brought to you by experience. I’ve participated in a few shows where my staff was sick and unable to attend shows and/or out on gigs. Consequently, I noticed my follow-up and booking rate was lower on these shows than shows where we had sufficient staff. Likely, this was because as I was in conversations with a couple at the booth, so other couples may have grabbed material and simply went on to a competitor they could make a meaningful and memorable connection with at that show.
What I learned from this is that you don’t necessarily need to have a company representative there with you. If you’re in a pinch with staff, you can brief a “brand ambassador” of sorts to warm leads and pass them off to you. This way, they can get relevant details, encourage registration, and make some small talk to buy you time then pass the couple off to you with what you need to know to have a meaningful conversation. I’d recommend this person collecting venue, date, vibe, and anything special the couple is looking for or doing before the handoff.
As we start off the New Year, many of us are participating in one or more shows. At a high level, your goal should be to have your booth set up as somewhat of a sales funnel, which allows you to provide a good first impression, while accurately relaying what you do, exchange some basic information, make as many connections as you can efficiently and either move on to close a sale or establish a plan for follow-up communication. Here’s to a busy 2024!