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Trade Show Zombies

February 3rd, 2009 · 19 Comments · Trade Show Marketing

Although I enjoy writing about my famous wife and winter snow, because I call myself the trade show guru, I think that I ought to, at least occasionally, write about trade show stuff, like trade show booths and trade show display design mistakes. However, because I tend to not take myself or this blog too seriously, I figure I can write about trade show zombies as well. So what are trade show zombies you ask? Well, they’re a bit like regular zombies (I’ll discuss real zombies and necrosledges at the end of this post). And, as should be obvious, you find trade show zombies at, of all places, trade shows.

Trade show zombies are those trade show attendees who wander up and down the aisles between the trade show booths with oversize bags, grabbing any available free candy and more importantly, grabbing any and all available free loot (aka trade show giveaways and/or trade show schwag). You can spot them by their glassy-eyed stares and often, by flecks of drool running down their chins. They have one purpose – to go by each and every trade show booth at the show and get whatever free stuff they can find.

The problem is that usually trade show zombies aren’t at the trade show to do business with any of the vendors at the booths. They are there for the free stuff (apparently they don’t know that free ain’t free). A horde of trade show zombies can clean a trade show booth out of free M&Ms or post-it pads in minutes…

So how do you avoid a horde of trade show zombies descending on your booth? If you don’t have a necrosledge (to be discussed at the end of this post) ready to fight off the trade show zombies, you can fall back on the following trade show advice. One key is proper trade show planning. Focus on bringing qualified prospects to your trade show booth. Don’t focus on the general masses (which often have a high ratio of trade show zombies). If you have a contest or giveaway, make sure it is targeted. If you are giving out an iPod, have people fill out a “qualification form” and answer specific questions. Require that they then talk to a salesperson before they are entered. Make sure your contest or high-value trade show giveaways are for qualified prospects only. When people come into your trade show booth, qualify them immediately, and see if they are interested in your business. A trade show isn’t the time to shoot the bull. Don’t cater to the trade show zombies. You’re at the trade show to create and conduct business, not to feed and supply the trade show zombies. When you identify one, send him packing. And, if you can, keep a necrosledge handy for the more persistent ones.

Speaking of necrosledges, I mentioned that I’d end this post by talking about REAL zombies. Actually, I’m going to quote from the beginning of a great post about zombies that I read a few years ago. I first heard about the following post from Tim, aka the King of the Rednecks. The post is called “How To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse” by Araminta Matthews, and it goes something like this…

“Now here we have a topic about which both my partner and I have thought long and hard about. When the zombie apocalypse takes place, he and I will survive and we will survive well. Let me share with you our plans so that you, too, might survive the impending doom.

First, we have NECROSLEDGE. Yes, they’re machetes painted black by my best friend and fellow zombie-anti-enthusiast, Steve [not Steve the trade show guru though], that read “Necrosledge” along the sides. These are mounted on our walls in the central room of our upstairs apartment for easy access from anywhere should zombies attack. Why machetes and not shotguns? Simple. There has been a lot of debate around the proper way to destroy a zombie beast, but all of them seem to agree that severing the brain from the spinal cord is the way to go. That somehow, without this pivotal connection, zombies are no longer reanimated dead: they’re just plain dead. So, machetes. They don’t need reloading, they don’t require precision and a good shooting eye, and they can be handled by young and old alike. Hack and slash, baby.”

To read this most excellent post “How To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse” in its entirety, go here. And remember, at your next trade show, beware the trade show zombies!

UPDATE: As I write in my newest post, this original post about trade show zombies seems to be attracting a heck of a lot of spamming zombies. I guess spammers must know who they are and what they do, and can’t resist a post about zombies. Fortunately I’ve got a comment necrosledge that works just fine to keep the comment spammer zombies at bay.

Remember whenever you go to a trade show, or even just leave your house (you can’t be too paranoid, can you?), carry a necrosledge and know how to use it, and keep your eyes open for trade show zombies, and zombies in general. You never know where or when you might run into them!


19 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lee (Tarheel Rambler) // Feb 3, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    I’m not sure if it was my upbringing or what, but when I go to trade shows…even the ones that cater to looky-loos…I only take the free stuff if there is an honest chance I’ll be a customer of a particular vendor. I have an ethical issue with just taking stuff because it’s “free” when I don’t intend to do business with the vendor. Like you said, “free” isn’t really free.

  • 2 The Trade Show Guru // Feb 3, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    hi Lee,
    I didn’t really write this post to be serious, but since your comment seems to be…
    I appreciate your ethics (I share them). Companies do have to pay for those “freebies”, and besides, how many yo-yo’s and planet-earth-stress-squeeze-balls does a person really need? But now when it comes to the bowls of (good) candy… 🙂
    Thanks as always for dropping by! ~ Steve

  • 3 Rudy // Feb 4, 2009 at 1:06 am

    I think it should be ok to give out your freebies freely. It has your or company name on it, so it’s free advertising. I have a ton of pens from trade shows, and I give them out to my friends and family. Now everyone knows where I got them from.

    As for your serious customers… they probably don’t want the free stuff on your table anyway — they want to good stuff you’ve hidden in your office!

  • 4 RT Cunningham // Feb 4, 2009 at 2:19 am

    I can’t say much about the trade show zombies, not having to kill any myself, but I like the zombie art.

  • 5 The Trade Show Guru // Feb 4, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Good points. Pens are cheap, and are “free advertising”. Actually, I think you have given me an idea for a post – “Trade Show Giveaway Pens – Do They Work?” I have plenty of pens on my desk with company names on them, but I don’t think I’ve ever started doing business with a company because I saw a name on their pen. Have you? ~ Steve
    @ RT (aka Master of the Philippines),
    I haven’t killed any trade show zombies either, and do not recommend it. 🙂 I guess I was just warning exhibitors to guard their more valuable “freebies”, and to be careful to not clog their trade show booth with unqualified non-prospects (aka trade show zombies). ~ Steve

  • 6 Tim // Feb 4, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    Funny, I just watched Resident Evil II last night. There sure were a lot of zombies looking for a free lunch in that one!
    So I take it that if the applicants fail the screening, off to the Necrosledge section of the booth they go?

  • 7 The Trade Show Guru // Feb 4, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Exactly! 🙂
    Thanks for stopping by, and the laugh. ~ Steve

  • 8 Will // Feb 5, 2009 at 2:09 am

    I don’t think I have ever been to a trade show so I have never seen a trade show zombie. But free stuff? Maybe I better take in a trade show. Just need to remember to bring my big bag!

    – The Blogging Zombie

  • 9 Todd // Feb 5, 2009 at 2:10 am

    hmm … I know this wasn’t meant to be a serious post, but I may actually be doing a couple of trade shows for my candle business once I get back to the mainland this spring. Sounds like I would do well to heed your advice for avoiding the zombies.


  • 10 jackie sheeler // Feb 5, 2009 at 5:33 am

    i confess: i was a trade show zombie. back when PC Expo was “the” trade show for IT people in new york, i was required (well, forced) by my managers to attend. it was not the kind of thing i would willingly do on my own. the javits center is a big, boomy cavern of confused noise, and crowds (especially greedy, pen-grabbing ones) are not my thing. i sat through the presentations, ones i thought my matter to my job, and none of them ended up mattering, it was all hype. so i did the zombie swing through the place with my IBM-branded shopping bags and brought back stuff for everybody in the office. sort of as proof that i had actually gone, and not just taken the day off to write poems or something.

    after a couple years i had enough seniority in that job to send someone else in my place. he was grateful the first year, as if i’d handed him something valuable and wondrous. the second year, he called out sick the day of the show.

    PC Expo died a fairly swift death, i think. haven’t heard a word about it in years now.

    a political convention (a democratic tradeshow?) would be much more my thing, but those tickets ain’t easy to come by!

  • 11 The Trade Show Guru // Feb 5, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    @Will (aka The Blogging Zombie),
    No need to bring a bag as every trade show I’ve ever been to has many booths handing out free bags (with their company name on the outside of course).
    Just make sure you don’t have any brains-scented candles and you should be ok. 🙂
    I think collecting a few free giveaways to prove to the boss that you were actually at the show (and not watching cartoons in your hotel room) is totally legit. 🙂
    Thanks as always to everyone for stopping by! ~ Steve

  • 12 Mitch // Feb 7, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I’m a trade show zombie, I admit, mainly because I’m an independent consultant, and therefore almost none of the booths I’d ever stop at can offer me anything, and they don’t want to talk with me anyway.

    Having said that, I believe that at some trade shows, trying to make someone stop for an interview of some type, even if it’s only 5 minutes, is not only going to keep people from wanting to stop, word will get out and people will make sure to walk far away from your booth. I know that happens locally for other things, so I’m sure if someone with a booth tried to get more aggressive that people would treat them like insurance salesmen.

    It might end up being effective as far as qualifying leads, but I’d hope it didn’t tarnish the long term experience for everyone else. Just something to think about.

  • 13 The Trade Show Guru // Feb 8, 2009 at 11:34 am

    hey Mitch,
    The first step is admitting you’re a zombie… just kidding. 🙂
    You make a very good point. If I was suggesting an “interview” I was thinking it would be for a high-value giveaway where people wouldn’t mind, and it wouldn’t be five minutes. There are good ways and bad ways to qualify people, and you don’t want a negative attitude about your booth floating around the trade show floor. And as to staffing the booth, you don’t want zombies working for you, or any carnival barkers or used car salesmen as I wrote in trade show zen. Thanks for stopping by! ~ Steve

  • 14 Master of the Philippines // Feb 9, 2009 at 3:29 am

    Steve, I want to steal your zombie pic and use it in a post. Is it okay?

  • 15 More Zombie Art | Art of the Living Dead // Feb 10, 2009 at 5:56 am

    […] I spotted an incredibly nice zombie picture. Steve used it as the lead-in to his article about trade show zombies. Being the good netizen that I am, because I wanted it, I asked him if I could use it here. He […]

  • 16 trade show zombies // Feb 17, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Good stuff. It’s also important to pick the right trade show company to work with.

  • 17 Kikolani // Apr 16, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    I hate to admit it, but I was once a trade show zombie. Not because I wanted to be in most cases, but because I was stuck with the company I was working for at their conference booth, and sent off to get freebies from the other places by my bosses or coworkers.

    ~ Kristi

  • 18 The Trade Show Guru // Apr 16, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Hey Kristi,
    This post seems to have brought a few “trade show zombies” out of the closet. 🙂
    The first step is to admit it… 🙂
    Can’t believe your company made you be a zombie… the things we will do for a paycheck! 🙂
    Thanks for stopping by. ~ Steve

  • 19 BB // May 4, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Hilarious!! And spot on.

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