Takeaways from AUSA

22 Oct Takeaways from AUSA

Last week, thanks to our client Rapiscan Systems, I had the opportunity to attend the AUSA 2014 Annual Meeting and Exposition. If you’ve never attended AUSA, let me paint a picture for you. This event is massive. Every area of the convention center in DC was packed with 30,000 attendees including senior members of the US and foreign militaries, DoD officials, congressmen, and representatives from companies with the latest in defense technology.

The three-day event featured more than 500 industry and military exhibits showcasing the latest and greatest technology in the defense industry. I was in awe considering the logistics around filling the room with helicopters, tanks, machine guns, and (shameless plug) powerful dense cargo screening solutions.

AUSA really got me thinking about trade-show preparation in general. So frequently we see big tech companies spend thousands of dollars on trade-shows to maximize the reach of product news and to interact directly with their consumer base. The question is, are these companies really getting everything they can from the experience? Here are a few tips to consider that will make that $50 per square foot booth worth it:

Plan as early as possible: Planning for the big trade-shows often begins a year before the event and can be fiercely competitive. Events like AUSA are so popular that a set number of factors, such as how long you’ve been an AUSA member, are considered in determining booth placement. Walking into an event organized and ready to commit to the next year will often ensure that you get a better deal and better placement in the show. After you have a spot secured you should start to plan your announcements for the year. Being able to make a big announcement or demo an exciting new product at the show will significantly increase traffic to your booth. 

Write a good pitch: If your trade-show pitch strategy involves sending reporters a boilerplate and booth number, it’s really time to reevaluate. Consider this: each of the other 500 exhibitors is fighting for the same column inches from the same reporters you’re talking to. Unfortunately, unless you can offer up an interesting product announcement or a genuine story to care about there’s a good chance your email is going straight to the trash. Take the time to research the reporters who are most likely to be interested in what you’re showing off. Writing a short but tailored pitch just to reporters who might cover your news will usually garner better results than sending off a boilerplate to the 80 attending reporters.

Twitter is your friend:  I cannot stress how important social media (especially Twitter) has become, not just at trade-shows but at every event your company attends. Being able to post live updates of where you are and what you’re doing has become an invaluable tool, not to mention a free way to gain exposure to everyone paying attention to the event hashtag. Before the show, make sure you follow the attending reporters (that you have already researched and pitched) and pay attention to what they’re talking about. Don’t be shy about interacting with reporters if you have something intelligent or interesting to respond to one of their tweets. Additionally, follow any influencers or potential customers that you want to visit your booth so your name is on their mind. During the show:  Update and monitor constantly. Post pictures, post where you are, post your news, post your booth number, post frequently but most importantly post with the event hashtag. Trade-shows and events are very good about live-streaming tweets with projectors in showrooms and even on TV’s in meeting areas, and you want your name on that screen. The difference between tweeting “AUSA” and “#AUSA2014” is the difference between hundreds and thousands of people seeing your post.


Visiting AUSA and getting a behind the scenes look at what goes into preparing for a trade-show gave me much better insight as to why companies are willing to invest so much time, energy, and money into participating. My biggest takeaways were that A) organization and preparation are king and B) whoever figured out how to get the tank and helicopter into the convention center deserves a medal.

So what do you think? Have you participated in a trade-show recently? Share your thoughts and tips with us in the comments!

Sally McHugh
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