TRICKS OF THE TRADE SHOW: Building a New Model

By: Laura Emanuel, APR – Director of Public Relations, Brownstein Group

For AEC firms, trade shows can be gold mines or money pits. Anyone in marketing knows that committing to a trade show requires a significant investment (usually a big chunk of an annual marketing budget), which means expectations increase with every dollar spent. Given that reality, if you’re still planning your trade show presence by arguing over things like booth dimensions, you’re doing it wrong.

Your physical presence at a show is important, but successful AEC firms understand the real return is found in building out ancillary digital and social media strategies that enhance your brand’s reach. To get the most out of your trade show, you need to become a thought-leading resource and cross-channel content publisher.


Most trade show organizers are great sales people, and often do a very good job explaining the benefits to certain levels of investment. If you’re an AEC firm that has targeted a specific show (whether for its audience, the fact that your competitors will be there, or you just want somewhere warm to golf), that’s great – those are all the right things to consider. But after you identify the show, the level of investment and what that gets you, now is the time to break the traditional model and plan your supplemental attack. Most make the mistake of obsessing only over samples and booth experience, all at the expense of valuable attention you could also be getting from the larger trade show orbit.


Trade shows can effectively bring prospects further down the sales funnel – if you move them physically, emotionally and intellectually. That’s a tall order that goes beyond collecting email addresses! By listening to prospects before, during and after the show, you can glean key insights that shape your strategy. This is easier than ever – by leveraging social media listening tools, real-time search insights and your own surveys.


Armed with audience insight, you’re positioned to build a sound, 360-degree strategy that taps into key trade show cycles, while also engaging year-round.

  • Curate Content

Create a thematic, digital content hub that will serve you over the long term. The content should be show-agnostic, so you build once, but leverage across multiple shows with few revisions. Offer content in “snackable” formats (shorter, visual, easier-to-digest) from authors who will be at the show. Audit your social channels, curate the best photos, graphics and videos and integrate them into the hub. If you don’t have visuals to support your story, make that a top priority.

  • Optimize URLs

While your content hub should be largely universal so it can extend beyond a singular show, create vanity URLs that include the specific show’s name. For example, your landing page is, but to attract Greenbuild attendees, your vanity URL could be This ensures plenty of qualified attendees will be organically exposed to your content.

  • Mix-It-Up Socially

Twitter is the ultimate real-time news feed and is effective for engaging in hashtagged trade show conversations, but it may not be your social hub or main referral source. Don’t be afraid to lean on different platforms at different times throughout the trade show season. LinkedIn offers great tools for reaching highly-qualified prospects before, during and after a trade show.

  • Go Off-Cycle

Trade media are bombarded with news on every inch of the show floor. Sure, they’ll do a “best of show” roundup, but typically any single brand will only receive a mention. Seed stories with media well in advance so your company has a more meaningful presence in the “show issue.” Additionally, use the show as a chance to build a relationship with the media rather than pushing your latest press release. By asking questions, you can uncover how to be a better resource for that publication. 

  • Let the Content Speak

You’ve spent the better part of the year curating your digital content hub and increasing its visibility, so don’t forget to show it off! Have iPads connected to your content hub and allow attendees to peruse it at their leisure. Lead attendees to gated digital content, solicit an email address and incentivize with a sweepstakes. 

  • Leave the Floor

Create a memorable touchpoint outside the show where there’s less competitor noise. Consider hosting a VIP cocktail reception at a local venue, where, instead of pitching your firm’s capabilities, you discuss an issue or shared interest.


  • Listen, plan, execute and listen again.
  • Not all content is created equal. Curate a hub that revolves around a theme that resonates, then optimize, optimize and optimize again.
  • Don’t reinvent; repurpose. Take existing multimedia content from social media channels and centralize it into one destination.
  • It’s OK to steal web traffic from the trade show organizer.
  • Vary your social media.
  • Forgo the obligatory press release push. Pitch stories to key media outlets off cycle.
  • Leave the show floor to break away from competitor noise.
  • Measure frequently and optimize swiftly.

About the Author:

Laura Emanuel, APR, is Director of Public Relations at Brownstein Group – the longest-running independent brand communication agency in Philadelphia. Her responsibilities include department management, strategic planning for both the agency and clients, resource planning and staff development and new business. In her 10 years at BG, she has worked for dozens of notable clients, including Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed, SageGlass, PREIT, Campus Apartments, Cecil Baker + Partners, Design Philadelphia and more.

Prior to becoming Director, Laura established the AEC practice group within the agency’s Public Relations department which supports brand communication efforts for a variety of clients in the areas of architecture, interior design, construction management, real estate development, building materials, home goods and energy efficiency. The practice group establishes and builds brands, creates collateral materials, raises profiles in the media and otherwise connects companies to their constituents and supports business development objectives.

Contact Laura at or 267.238.4118.

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