My first Book Expo America was when I was the Director of Advertising at Black Issues Book Review. I had not been on the job but a few months before I was charged with coming up with a booth and a marketing plan for a trade conference I had never seen in Chicago.
As a good marketer, I did a lot of research. What I found out helped decide my marketing plan
1. You can not sell anything at book expo
2. It is a trade conference. The primary audience is booksellers such as independents and major chains, and
3. There would be a lot of exhibitors so I needed to make sure my message was concise and effective
I made sure our booth was situated with in the middle of then Time Warner and Simon and Schusters. We needed to be viewed as a major player.
Since my product was a magazine, and I couldn't sell it, it was important for us to get information from everyone that came by the booth. This was a strategy I learned while in marketing at a telecommunication firm - never give any one something until you get something from them. Since my audience was booksellers I thought a book review magazine would be an attention getter and if not that, the fact that it was a Black book review magazine, had to do the trick. In trade shows, you have 30 seconds to get someone's attention and bring them in. Our pitch was the most important thing. This was it:
"Black Issues Book Review is a bi-monthly national publication that reviews books, by, for and about, African Americans" If that didn't get them in, they weren't our audience.
We spent about $2000 for a professional back drop, pamphlets, and shipping copies of the magazine.
The rest was ensuring that we had enough people to work the booth to prevent fatigue, needing time to eat, and that everything shipped to the conference ahead of time and that everyone practiced the pitch.
The three days of the conference were a whirlwind. There were plenty of celebrities and authors that came by the booth. Because we were situated on the main floor near a major publisher, we saw about 2000 people a day. Bernie Mac and E. Lynn Harris came by. We took photos of them holding copies of the magazine to use in future promotions.
We were also the stomping ground of self-published authors looking to get book deals. They would often stop by the booth to see if there were agents or editors to give their books to. They were good to have around because people paid attention to booths that had a lot of people around them and there were about 20 people at all time at our booth. As a side note, all of them were overcome by the enormity of the conference. There is not one that is still publishing today though.
On Sunday, many of the exhibitors were packing up and I made the decision to not pack up early to wait until 12 to put the booth away. At exactly 11:30am, a woman came by the booth and whispered, "Look sharp, Oprah is on the floor."
I wasn't sure that I heard her correctly, but just in case, I posed everyone, even the self published authors to make sure she had to stop and see our booth. I had cameras in everyone's hands at different angles, and promised whoever got a picture of Oprah at our booth, a free ad.
The first to come through was Stedman. We had reviewed his book and I was able to show that to him. Ten minutes later, Oprah and her entourage was sweeping through and I stopped her with the cover of Maya Angelou, and gave the pitch while there were cameras going off in every direction. She told someone in her camp to get a subscription and she thanked me and went on her way.
Our house ad for the next year was "Oprah subscribes, do you?"
It was an amazing three days. We spent almost $5000 on the booth and another $3000 to look as professional as our surroundings. The return on investment was over 6000 qualified contacts, which resulted in a $100,000 contract with Borders, and picture with Ms Winfrey and a $30 subscription to Harpo with the marketing legs that lasted for years.
The key to marketing at conferences like Book Expo America is to understand that your return may take up to a year. There is no instant gratification, but if you are prepared to be in the industry for the long term, your rewards can be great - Oprah great