Trade shows are a unique marketing animal.

Trade shows are one of the few marketing options that will corral you next to your competitors for 12 hours, while an endless supply of potential customers come your way.

Now isn’t the time to hold punches. Be aggressive. In this arena, graphics and traditional advertising strategies go a long way, yet they can only go so far.

Here are the benefits and limitations of graphics at trade shows.

Size and Space

Benefit: As a very general rule, you can do pretty much anything you want graphically, as long as you stay within the space you paid for. That 10’x10′ booth is a blank canvas. And it’s not just graphics that can be used to fill the area. In graphic design, it’s a rare opportunity to work in three dimensions, which means there’s a lot of potential to do some really eye-catching stuff.

Limitation: Pre-made trade show booth set ups and the graphics to skin them can get pricey in a hurry. The more area you need to cover, the higher the price. Compound that with what you’re already paying to be an exhibitor at the show, and you can drop four to five figures in a heartbeat.

Graphics and Images

Benefit: Trade show graphics serve one primary purpose:  To get people’s attention. This means your graphics, banners and signs don’t have to do the same things a traditional ad does. Headlines, body copy, contact points or calls to action are optional.

Limitation: Most pre-made trade show kits feature similar dimensions. If you’re using a pull-up banner, it’s going to be a standard rectangle without the option to have specialty cuts or materials.

The other limitation and probably the more important of the two, is the need for staying power. Like I mentioned before, making the graphics for these events aren’t cheap. The great booths can be used for at least two years, so long as the brand message stays intact. Because of this, the design has to work just as well as a rerun did the first time it aired.

Messaging and Salesmanship

Benefit: The message should be a huge (metaphorical) arrow that entices people to check out your space and points towards the salesperson. It can be direct or indirect. The choice is up to you.

Limitation: Graphics can’t do it all. You need strong salespeople to operate the booth. Bullet points on a banner are not a substitute for talking to a potential customer. Banners can deliver one message. That message should be “Look over here” rather than “Here’s why we’re neat, buy our stuff.” On that note, don’t waste real estate by saying “visit us online” anywhere on your banner. A website address? Sure, but never “visit us.” Why should someone visit you online when you’re right there in front of them.

Trade shows are one of the more fun and exciting design projects. The theatrics, the competition, the energy and the demanding flexibility make for a rewarding challenge. Once you understand how get the most out of your space and use your graphics as a tool for your sales force, you’ll be able to spark interest, draw visitors and close deals.