Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for January, 2023

Are We Asking Exhibitors the Wrong Questions?

January 26th, 2023 COMMENTS
Trade Show Marketing Questions
Goals? Objectives? Or Something Else.

Recently I attended a charity event with a social mixer. Several introductions later, I was conversing with a CEO about trade shows.

He grumbled about drayage, shipping, and labor. I sympathized. Then he shifted to ROI. His company’s trade show ROI was terrible. Not surprisingly, his company didn’t have clear trade show objectives or a pre-show or post-show strategy.

It Got Me Thinking

Are we asking our clients the wrong questions?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking exhibitors about their trade show goals or objectives. Instead, we should encourage them to share everything they don’t want to happen. In other words, ask them to describe their trade show hell. We know the list will be LONG and DETAILED, and include topics like terrible booth traffic, the wrong prospects, worthless lead management. Or disengaged staff, ugly graphics, insufficient storage, or simply a boring booth.

Suddenly, your boring 5–10-minute conversation about goals becomes an intense (and entertaining) 30-minute session about their trade show nightmares.  Guess what… They’ve told you what they don’t want. Now guide them toward the solutions they need. I suspect they’ll be more receptive. And the conversation will be a lot more fun!

I challenge you to test this technique. What do you have to lose? You just might turn a disengaged trade show marketer into a dynamic trade show marketing cheerleader. Sans the pom poms.

Classic Exhibits has been designing and building solutions since 1993. We’ve been honored as an Exhibitor Magazine Find-It Top 40 Exhibit Producers and an Event Marketer Fab 50 Exhibit Builders multiple times. Along with numerous Portable Modular Awards. 

With over 200 Distributor Partners throughout North America, there’s a Classic representative close by to assist with any rental project. Contact us today whether you need an inline rental display, a double-deck island exhibit, or a contemporary kiosk rental. At Classic, we’re not just different. We’re better.

Industry Veteran Gina Porcaro Joins Classic Exhibits

January 24th, 2023 COMMENTS
Gina Porcaro Joins Classic Exhibits
Kevin Carty with Gina Porcaro

NEW Regional Sales Manager Gina Porcaro

Classic Exhibits is proud to announce that respected industry veteran Gina Porcaro has joined the company. Gina will serve as the Regional Sales Manager responsible for Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New England, and Eastern Canada.

Gina started in the print industry in 1995 where she worked as a production artist for an offset and large format printer in Grand Rapids, MI. In 2000, she moved into a recruiting/sales position for marketing, advertising, and creative. In 2003, she transitioned into sales at a trade show company, an industry she knew very little about, but quickly realized the creative, fast-paced, and varied pace of the exhibit industry was an ideal fit for her personality and skills. In 2008, Gina joined Optima, now Taylor, as a salesperson where she had a successful career for almost 15 years. 

“I am excited to bring my sales and industry experience to Classic Exhibits as a Regional Sales Manager. Classic and I have had a mutually beneficial partnership for years. Based on my experience with Classic and their Distributors, I can say without any hesitation that they are the exhibit industry’s leading private-label manufacturer. I look forward to working with Classic distributors in a different role with the goal of growing our partnership and business together!”

According to Kevin Carty, Executive VP at Classic Exhibits, “We are delighted to have Gina as part of the Classic Exhibits Family! Although, to be honest, she has always been a part of the extended family because of our long-term partnership with Taylor/Optima. Knowing Gina personally and professionally now for nearly 20 years, I am excited for our Classic Distributor Partners who will be working with a person of such high character and professionalism. She joins Jen LaBruzza, Tom Beard, and Harold Mintz in their respective regions. Our Distributor Partner Family is in the BEST hands anyone could ask for.”

You can contact Gina Porcaro at Or message her via LinkedIn at


Classic Exhibits Inc. – Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and builds exhibit and event structures for Exhibit Houses and Distributors throughout North America. As a private-label manufacturer, Classic fills a unique role within the exhibit industry. The company works with client-facing exhibit companies to assist them with portable, modular, and custom projects, both purchase and rental, as an “invisible” partner.

There are more than 200 Classic Exhibits Distributors in North America and in select international markets. For more information, see, and   

Classic Exhibits National Sales Territory

The History and Benefits of Trade Show Fabric Graphics

January 20th, 2023 COMMENTS

fabric graphics

If you’ve attended trade shows for more than 10 years, you’ve seen trade show graphics change dramatically. Not so long ago, laminates and direct print graphics were the default choice. Not now. Large print fabric graphics, either dye-sublimated or direct print on fabric, represent 80-90% of all graphics on the show floor. 

It makes sense. The color vibrancy and clarity have improved significantly. Fabric graphics are lighter, more durable, and frankly easier to install than direct print graphics on Sintra or other foam-based materials. The purchase cost is comparable, but the shipping expense isn’t even close. Fabric graphics are much, much less expensive. 

And then there’s backlighting. Even with the introduction of LED lights, backlit graphics would have been a “no-go” without the concurrent rise in fabric graphics. Backlighting has gone from complicated and unusual, to easy and ubiquitous on the show floor.  It seems booths of every size and shape now include some backlit fabric graphics. Often multiple examples like towers, counters, conference rooms, and overhead hanging signs. 

What are Fabric Graphics?

The types of fabric available for trade shows include heavy knits, mesh, sheers, and everything in between. With fabric graphics, you don’t need to worry about dealing with reflections as there is no glass or plastic over your graphic. Printers typically have a range of fabrics available depending on the application. For example:

  • Stretch fabric. Some frames, especially portable displays and overhead signs, are perfect for stretch fabrics since the final sizing is more forgiving. 
  • Non-backlit fabric. SEG fabric applications, where silicone welting is sewn to the perimeter, typically specify a material with minimal stretch and internal blocking. The blocking prevents lights from behind the display distorting the images. 
  • Backlit fabric. Backlit fabric comes in a variety of weights and stretches. Choosing the right one depends on the size of the frame, the application, and the exhibitor’s budget. 
  • Blocker fabric. This fabric has one job. Serve as a reflector in a lightbox to maximize the brightness of a backlit graphic. 

Attaching Fabric Graphics

While there are exceptions to the following, the vast majority of fabric graphics attached to a display structure use these methods:  

  • Velcro. Velcro is sewn into the perimeter of the graphic (usually the loop). The hook, using adhesive, is attached to the frame.
  • Flat Silicone Gasket. The gasket is sewn into the perimeter of the graphic and fits into a channel on the frame. 
  • Zipper. Most pillowcase graphics and hanging signs wrap around an aluminum tube structure. The two sides attach with a heavy-duty plastic zipper (or zippers). 

5 Fabric Graphic Examples 

Portland Travel

Double-sided backlit fabric graphics on two towers and a bridging header.

fabric graphics

fabric graphics

Classic Exhibits

Large format backlit and non-backlit fabric graphics and a triangle hanging sign with pillowcase fabric graphics. 

branding fabrics

branding fabrics


Solid and printed backlit fabric graphics on an inline exhibit back wall. 

fabric graphic

PA Hardwoods

Non-backlit SEG fabric graphics on two rectangular frames and one peak frame. 

branding fabrics


Non-backlit pillowcase and backlit fabric graphics 

tension fabric

How Fabric Graphics Changed the Trade Show World!

Dye-sublimation fabric graphics took the trade show world by storm about 15 years ago. Before that, the only real way to print on fabric was silk screen. Dye sublimation printing changed everything. It offered a higher quality, lower cost graphic, which could be attached to aluminum extrusions with silicone strips or velcro. Suddenly, aluminum extrusion systems, which had been largely hidden or ugly duckling rentals became exhibit swans. Big, bold, and colorful exhibits with tension fabric graphics became the norm from 10′ x 10′ portable displays, like Symphony or Sacagawea, to 20′ x 20′ islands, like Gravitee. It was the classic chicken and egg scenario. Dye-sublimation fabrics made exhibits lighter and lighter exhibits allowed larger, more modular displays.

The Dye-Sublimation Process

Dye sublimation, also known as dye-sub, is an interesting process. In the first step, the graphic is printed on paper as a mirror image. If you’ve ever witnessed this process, you know the paper image is subdued and the colors muted. That’s OK. The magic happens in the next step. The printed paper is then run through the sublimation press.

The sublimation press transfers the paper graphic, via rollers, to the transfer fabric. The paper along with the fabric passes at a very slow speed and a very hot temperature. As they pass close to one another, the “solid” ink instantly skips from a liquid into a gas and literally impregnates or dyes the fabric. The vivid color jumps to life and the print replicates the original digital design.

Advantages of Fabric Graphics

The dye-sub process has several additional advantages as well. Dye-sub graphics can be folded without “breaking” the ink (similar to what happens when you fold a piece of paper printed on your desktop printer). The fabric is lightweight and durable and folds into a compact shape for secure shipping. 

— Durability —

The major advantage of a dye-sub graphic is overall durability. In the past, many custom exhibits and even some portable displays used backlit plex graphics or thin roll-able graphics. Those had to be handled with “white glove” care because they could get easily scratched, broken, or dinged. A dye-sub graphic is much smaller to pack and can’t be broken. At the end of the day, the only way to damage a fabric graphic is to burn it, bleach it, or cut it. Dye-sub is also washable in the gentle cycle of most washing machines or it can be spot cleaned with a carpet cleaner. 

— Lighting —

One of the least talked about advantages may be the most important. Traditional photography or inkjet prints, which are laminated or mounted to plex, usually have some form of front lighting, such as halogen lights. That lighting looks good with one noticeable exception. The lights create a glare (even on textured laminates) or hotspots. And it never fails that the hotspot is always in the most critical part of your message, photo, or logo! Unlike traditional first or second-surface graphics, fabric graphics absorb reflective light, which turns a serious negative into a positive.

— Cost —

The last of the big benefits of fabric is cost. Money matters. Trade show and event budgets are getting squeezed or are under scrutiny. In most cases, fabric graphics are about half the price of a Lambda or inkjet print of the same size. With the new super wide dye-sub printers, you can print up to 120 inches without a seam and up to 72 inches with a “Better than Life” quality.

Rental Exhibits and Fabric Graphics 

Today’s rental exhibits are as custom as a Rolls Royce. Many have towers up to 20 feet tall in custom configurations that are less expensive to install all the time.  No longer is it necessary to ship huge panels and plex graphics when you can use lightweight aluminum and fabric. Most rentals have become indistinguishable from new exhibits. Even smaller 10′ x 10′ and 10′ x 20′ hybrid exhibit rentals are now available in shapes and features unimaginable just two years ago. Fabric graphics made all that possible.

3 Rental Designs with Fabric Graphics

RE-9167 | Island Peninsula Rental. (1) 12 ft. H x 9 ft. W storage tower with fabric graphics and a 12 ft. archway and graphic header. (4) double-sided SuperNova lightboxes with SEG fabric graphics. 

rental fabric graphics

RE-2094 | Gravitee Inline Lightbox. (3) Gravitee lightboxes with SEG fabric graphics and (4) non-backlit fabric graphics.  

fabric graphic example

RE-1592 | Lightbox Counter. Double-sided lightbox counter with backlit SEG fabric graphics.

branding fabrics

Fabric Graphics with Classic Exhibits

Looking at the big picture (no pun intended), dye-sub fabric printing hasn’t changed the world like the Internet or antibiotics or opposable thumbs. But for us who allow trade show exhibits to rule our lives, it is pretty darn important. 

Understanding how fabric graphics are printed, attached to the display, and packed is indispensable in today’s trade show environment. Nearly every display from tabletops to islands includes fabric graphics. The trade show professionals at Classic Exhibits guide clients through the design and printing process every day. 

Classic Exhibits has been designing and building solutions since 1993. We’ve been honored as an Exhibitor Magazine Find-It Top 40 Exhibit Producers and an Event Marketer Fab 50 Exhibit Builders multiple times. Along with numerous Portable Modular Awards. 

With over 200 Distributor Partners throughout North America, there’s a Classic representative close by to assist with any rental project. Contact us today whether you need an inline rental display, a double-deck island exhibit, or a contemporary kiosk rental. At Classic, we’re not just different. We’re better.

What Bigfoot Can Teach Us about Trade Shows

January 18th, 2023 COMMENTS
Trade Show Tips from Sasquatch
Advice about Trade Shows from the Big Guy

Trade Show Tips from Sasquatch

Sasquatch is no seven-foot dummy. He (she) has a brain to match that brawn. Bigfoot understands marketing, knows PR like a Madison Avenue insider, and can out Kardashian the Kardashians without taking a step outside the Pacific Northwest. Here’s what our ancestral brother from another mother can teach us about trade show marketing.

1. It’s Possible to be BIG and Still Not be Seen.

Bigfoot and Trade Shows
Bigfoot Action Figure — Smart Marketing!

All too often, exhibitors are told that an island exhibit will get them more leads, more traffic, and more attention. But a poorly executed island with bland graphics and a confusing floor plan is much worse than a well-designed inline.

2. Mystery has Its Allure.

Bigfoot knows the benefits of the tease. Revealing teaser information before the show about a new product or service creates anticipation from customers and the press. Apple is the master of this technique. So is Bigfoot. Being coy with a well-crafted marketing campaign before the show has its benefits.

3. Tap into Your Followers.

You won’t see Sasquatch sending press releases or typing a Twitter message. His followers do all the work. They have websites, Facebook pages, and a television show that keeps our big hairy friend in the news. Occasionally, a rogue “fan” will damage the Bigfoot brand name with a silly stunt, but that’s an acceptable risk with any loosely organized group. Even then, the real followers rally around the brand and repair any damage.

4. Spend Your Marketing Money Wisely.

Technically, Bigfoot doesn’t spend any money, at least that we know. But that doesn’t prevent him from getting maximum exposure. He’s got a TV show (Finding Bigfoot) and a website ( Your trade show marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. Planning is crucial. You can maximize your marketing by working with those who have a shared interest. For example, team up with other exhibitors on a prize that would be too expensive for one company, but not for five or six. Then create a theme or event that gives everyone more foot-traffic and exposure.

5. Training.

After all these years why hasn’t a Sasquatch been captured? Training. There are no unprepared Bigfoots. They know how to respond to nearly every situation, whether it’s a sudden encounter with Boy Scouts or a deer hunter. Exhibitors who “arrive” at their booth without adequate training and who do not know how to respond to most show floor situations will fail. Unfortunately, it’s the most controllable part of any trade show marketing program . . . and most exhibitors simply “wing it.”

Bigfoot and Tradeshow Marketing
Not All PR is Good

6. Leave Your Mark.

What’s the point of participating in a trade show if you don’t leave your mark? Bigfoot routinely leaves the big three: foot prints, hair, and scat. It shows he’s been there and people take notice. No one is advising you to leave the “big three” at your next show, but making a lasting impression is critical to your company’s success. Is your message clear? Does it show how your company can solve a potential client’s problem? How do you engage the attendees in the booth? And, finally, are you following up on all leads after the show?

7. Smells that Linger.

Bigfoot sightings often include a description of an unpleasant acrid or skunky odor. That’s not good, but no one expects our tall friend to bathe with Irish Spring. You, on the other hand, should do the following:

  • Clean that suit, sport coat, or jacket once in awhile. Just because it doesn’t look dirty doesn’t mean it doesn’t reek of B.O., Subway $5 foot-longs, and Vegas casinos.
  • Coffee Breath. No one’s telling you not to have a latte, cappuccino, or Dunkin’ in the morning. Drink away. But for goodness sake, don’t assume that your breath will smell like rose petals after five cups. Free Tip:  Breath mints are every exhibitor’s best friend. Take several. Rinse and repeat.
  • Perfume and Cologne. We aren’t living in 17th Century France where the aristocracy used fragrances to mask bad hygiene and a fear of bathing. If you insist on smelling like Jennifer (A or L), Antonio, Beyonce, Britney, or Paris, a little goes a long, long way.

8. Family.

How often do you hear of Bigfoot sightings where the dad, mom, and kids are strolling through the woods or frolicking in a stream? Never. Being Bigfoot is serious work and families can be a distraction. No one is telling you not to bring your family to the industry trade show. After all, it’s in Las Vegas or Orlando or San Francisco. If you are serious about maximizing your trade show investment, you already know that trade shows are not a vacation. Not only are you on your feet at the show all day, but there’s also meetings before and after the show with suppliers, clients, and coworkers. There’s the pressure of responding to emails and calls while away from the office. And nearly every show has non-stop educational and social events.

9. The Brand is Important.

You already know this, but occasionally, marketing managers think they can treat branding at a trade show the same as branding in a magazine ad. 3D marketing has a unique set of challenges which only advice or experience can teach you. Rely on your local trade show professional to guide you. You’ll save money, time, and headaches. There’s a reason the Lock Ness Monster is no longer in the news. Poor branding. That’s not a mistake Sasquatch ever plans to make.

Learn from the big guy and you too can maximize your trade show marketing potential.

Please share your comments.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or

Why is Trade Show Marketing So D@mn Hard?

January 18th, 2023 COMMENTS
Trade Show Marketing Tips

Most marketing professionals will hint at it. Others will whine and grumble about trade shows. Then there are those who are honest. They don’t understand trade show marketing. That’s not surprising. It’s rarely taught in college on either the undergraduate or graduate level. At best, it’s mentioned in passing in a textbook. I know. After earning an MBA, I went to work for an exhibit builder. On Day 1, I was clueless. Many years later, I’m still learning.

I’d love to say that trade show marketing is marketing but that’s not entirely true. It’s different in the same way that event marketing is different. Face-to-face engagements are less structured, more unpredictable, and frankly, messier than other forms of marketing. And, depending on the company and their goals, it can be difficult to measure the results.

3D Structures vs. 2D Screens

Marketing has traditionally been 2D:  print and television, brochures, websites, etc. It’s also been static and somewhat controllable. Trade show marketing or face-to-face marketing is as much about human interaction as the message or the branding. It’s about creating conversations before, during, and after the show.

Then there’s the booth design. It’s outside most marketers’ comfort zone, especially the first two, three, or four times. The dollars involved make it even scarier. It’s easy to panic when the costs exceed six digits for even a modest island exhibit. Fortunately, great exhibit houses have amazing exhibit designers who have years of experience asking the right questions and guiding marketers to the best possible solution to meet their trade show objectives.

Variable Measurements

Trade Show Marketing

Unlike print, television, or web ads, there are no standards or no reliable sources for subscriptions, ratings, or clicks at trade shows. Counting leads works, but it’s a crude measurement. More experienced exhibitors track pre-show promotions, leads, and sales through the entire sales channel, but they are the exception.

That doesn’t mean there are no quantitative measurements. Lead tracking software has become very sophisticated as a tool during and after the show, which makes gathering data, exporting it, and tracking leads much easier. But like all measurements, it’s easy to set goals. The hard part is being disciplined about entering the data and then reviewing it during and after the show. For example, here’s a typical conversation one week after a trade show.

Sales Manager: “I see from the show leads that you chatted with Bill Burrows from XYZ company. That’s GREAT! We’ve been trying to get their business for years. What did you discuss?”

Salesperson: “Does the lead indicate the day and time I spoke to Bill? XYZ? Do they make sprockets? I think we talked about supply chain challenges for them and opportunities for vendors but I don’t recall the details.”



Trade shows are truly a competitive sport when it comes to marketing. It’s the one time you and your competitors are all in the same room, all vying for the attention of the same audience. You see what they’re doing… and vice versa.

It pays to be alert throughout the show. What products or services are your competitors promoting? What’s the traffic like in their booth? Do you have any shared customers? If so, what can they tell you about your competitors. And it’s not just during show hours. You would be surprised how “relaxed” some competitors become during social events and mixers. The best information at a trade show often comes from conversations off the show floor.

Uncontrollable Variables

No one likes unpredictability when it comes to their marketing campaign and implementation. Yet, despite one’s best efforts, trade shows can be chaotic. Freight doesn’t arrive on time. Items are broken. Flights are cancelled. An exhibitor on the far side of the exhibit hall is giving away beer and sandwiches. The exhibitor nearest you has their music so loud you can’t talk to potential clients without shouting.

It should go without saying that you can minimize surprises with advanced planning. Staging the booth to check for damage or missing parts. Leaving a day early or staggering flights. Shipping the booth to the advanced warehouse. But most importantly, communicating with potential clients at the show WELL in ADVANCE.


Most medium-sized companies participate in two to five trade shows per year. Some as few as one. That makes it challenging to become an expert quickly. Plus, each show may not only have a different audience, but also different rules, layout, and resources. Too often, when the internal “expert” understands how to maximize the company’s trade show efforts, that person is assigned to other responsibilities. Then someone new has to start fresh.

Sales and Marketing


Before, during, and after a trade show, sales and marketing must be dance partners. You’re a team. Face-to-face marketing requires sales skills and marketing expertise perfectly choreographed.

No matter how much sales and marketing claim to play nice, there’s always a wall at most companies. It’s that wall that dooms most exhibitors from fully benefiting from their trade show program. Successful exhibitors do two things well. They include everyone in the planning and they set clear, specific, and achievable goals. There should be no surprises and no excuses at every stage, especially once the show closes and everyone heads home.

Trade show marketing almost never leads to sales before the show. At the show, it creates opportunities. After the show is when the rubber meets the road and sales are closed.

How to Become a Trade Show Marketing Expert  

  1. Go to trade shows as often as possible as an attendee. Ask questions and listen to what works and what doesn’t. Plus, be willing to take classes at industry events about trade show marketing, even if your goal isn’t to become a trade show certified manager.
  2. Rely on your local trade show professional. If they only know how to sell you a display, but not how to succeed at trade show marketing, then find someone else.
  3. Tap into industry consultants. These folks know how to avoid the potholes and the meandering paths so often taken by trade show exhibitors. You can find them in LinkedIn, Google, or by simply asking your local vendor.
  4. Plan to succeed. Create a comprehensive plan that targets pre-show, show, and post-show marketing and put specific goals in place for each one.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or