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Is Free Beer Enough To Win On the SXSW Trade Show Floor?

The trade show floor at SXSW is filled with companies competing for attention, but once they reel you in, are they delivering the message?
Photo by Nathan Bernier
The trade show floor at SXSW is filled with companies competing for attention, but once they reel you in, are they delivering the message?

Tech companies, ranging from independent iPhone app developers to multinational wireless providers, are competing for the attention of South by Southwest Interactive attendees who wander onto the trade show floor at the Austin Convention Center. Free beer and cotton candy are among the enticements, but once that traffic is built, is the message getting across?

To learn more, I interviewed Kristine Connor with Access TCA, the company behind a large, two-story booth.

KUT News: What’s the key to a successful exhibition display?

Connor: We have to understand our client’s objectives and goals.  Why are they going? Are they trying to increase brand awareness? Introducing a new product? It’s really just understanding what their desired outcome is. And then we come in with a solution to achieve that. It may be interactive walls. Plasma videos. It may be a huge two-story exhibit. It may be a pop-up display. Whatever will achieve that client’s outcome.

KUT News: One of the places I went to was handing out free beer, another had free cotton candy. Do you ever do that?

Connor: We do. It’s called traffic building, so what type of traffic building activities do we need to bring people into our booth? With this particular customer [], they come to our booth without having to invest a lot into a traffic building activity. We have a lot of fun games that are driving home the message of the product, versus giving you a good buzz.

KUT News: The guy handing out the beer didn’t seem like he was with the company. He wasn’t too familiar with the product, but he did give me a handout. 

Connor: Did they get a measurable result from you visiting their booth? Did they capture your name or email address? If they didn’t, then does the return on investment make any sense? That’s what we try to help our clients do, is make sure there’s a measurable reason why you’re going to the booth, and there’s also a return on investment.

KUT News: How does this convention stack up against all the others you attend?

Connor: This is really different. It’s the first time I’ve been here. It’s a little less traditional than a lot of the corporate events I go to. It’s fun. People are laid back.  People are here to learn and create, and they’re not here because their company goes to the show every year and they have to go. People are getting a lot of value out of attending.

KUT News: Give me an example of a traditional corporate trade show?

Connor: The medical industry is really very conservative. There’s a lot of new pharma rules. You can’t give out gifts anymore, but every industry has its own quirks. This is definitely just come and have fun and learn. There aren’t as many rules and regulations, which is nice. The attendees are having fun. Most attendees hate going to trade shows, but they actually want to come here, which is refreshing for us.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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