5 Ways to Stand Out at Trade Shows Like Commodity Classic

36,000 steps around the Houston Convention Center. It’s enough to give you a good sense of Commodity Classic, America’s largest agriculture trade show. My first priority in attending? Capture social media content for Curious Plot’s eight clients at the show. A born-and-bred city kid, my second priority was to learn all I could about the agriculture industry and how Curious Plot clients can stand out at industry trade shows.

Between client booth photos, education sessions and live posting, these were my biggest takeaways.

1. Pique Audience Interest Before The Show

With 435 companies exhibiting and 30+ education sessions, Commodity Classic is huge. Large trade shows mean many booths to visit in a short time. Once at the show, attendees have a lot of information coming at them from every direction. They’ve also often already made a show plan.

One way to stand out and draw potential customers to your booth is pre-show promotion. Mailers, email, organic and paid social are a few options. Getting on attendees’ conference itinerary ahead of time also makes a difference. Exhibitors should promote their presence and provide a reason for growers to stop by their booth or education session.

2. Think Like The Audience

At my first education session, the growers in attendance were clearly skeptical of the company’s sales pitch. Commodity Classic brought to life for me the many decisions growers must make in every area of their operation – decisions with potentially serious financial implications in a competitive international agriculture landscape.

So how do companies get in front of growers and give their product legitimacy? By partnering with them and those they trust at events. Partnerships with the media, ag influencers, consultants and universities can give credibility to a brand.

Nurturing and investing in relationships with these partners throughout the year is important. That way, trade show collaborations can happen naturally. For example, our client New Holland hosted Bridgette Readel in its booth for a live radio broadcast from the cab of the company’s T-9 SmartTrax™ tractor.

Woman standing in a New Holland tractor at Commodity Classic.

3. Make The Company’s Booth Stand Out

Big machinery or high-tech simulators aren’t necessary to draw people into an exhibitor’s booth. But companies do need something to encourage meaningful engagement with their brand.

Food and drinks may seem like a great draw. Espresso and cocktail bars weren’t an uncommon sight at Commodity Classic. But these often end up being a grab-and-go for visitors who need a pick-me-up. Find a way for your booth to engage attendees or at least capture generated leads.

Our clients at FMC offered booth visitors their selection of four pun-y T-shirt designs in exchange for their contact info. The United Soybean Board similarly offered people merchandise for completing a “treasure hunt.” Visits to several of their partner booths got attendees’ answers to quiz questions. For each correct answer, attendees received a wooden puzzle piece that helped make up a complete 3D soybean. The soybean could be redeemed for the merch of their choice.

Curious Plot team members holding t-shirts at the FMC Commodity Classic booth.

Standing out visually also makes a difference. A unique layout and some kind of interactive element goes a long way. This includes the booth’s overall “vibe” as well, from employees’ mannerisms to how inviting the space is.

If the booth is large, break it up into small, more inviting sections. Give people tables to gather around and kick up their feet for a minute, like FMC and Truterra. Add some natural elements. Our client Sound Ag used corn stalks to showcase its SOURCE Performance Optimizer demo machines. The more at ease people feel in the booth, the longer they’ll stay.

Truterra booth at Commodity Classic.

4. Drop Big News

Shows like Commodity Classic and Farm Progress are where big news happens. A speech by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was one of the most exciting events for Commodity Classic attendees.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaking at Commodity Classic.

Brands can take a cue from government agencies and use shows to influence this key audience. One large equipment manufacturer timed its national dealer rollout with the conference, bringing in 1,500 reps from across the United States. If a brand has a new product or is undergoing a name change or leadership shift, consider holding the news and instead make it part of the company’s conference PR strategy.

Exhibitors should also consider what they’re promoting and when they’re scheduling events during the trade show as part of their PR strategy. Many companies host in-booth events, making competition for attendees fierce. Instead, consider hosting or sponsoring an education session.

Event attendees watching a presentation in a large conference room.

These often fall during hours the trade show floor isn’t open and there are fewer activities for visitors to choose from. Our client Truterra’s early-riser session at 7 a.m. drew a full house. If exhibitors do opt for an in-booth event, they should ensure they have a big industry name speaking or a high-value prize drawing for attendees.

5. Have A Plan To Showcase The Company’s Presence on Social Media

Don’t leave social media as an afterthought. Make a shot list and draft potential posts ahead of the event. Pick a dedicated social media team member who knows the brand to handle posts and community engagement during the event. And be sure to keep in mind how the booth can inspire social media engagement.

Draft a social media shot list and post copy for on-site posts ahead of time, including any tags or hashtags to include, such as this year’s official event hashtag, #Classic24. The shot list should include any video or images that may be needed for post-event recaps too. If a company plans to share a show highlight Reel, for example, identify any shot transitions or interviews needed to capture on site.

Rose Miller at Commodity Classic.

The right equipment can make or break a company’s content. Don’t forget to invest in a microphone – available for less than $20 on Amazon – and learn to use the phone’s photo and video settings.

During the event, consider posting regularly to channels attendees will be checking for real-time updates such as X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram Stories. It’s common practice for expo attendees, sponsors and influencers to use an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” approach with sharing mentions. Attendees should think about the partners they may want to tag in posts and look for post mentions to reshare as well.

The booth itself can inspire social media posts with a selfie station (include handles and hashtag nearby), a giveaway that requires following the brand on social to enter or even a special prize for those who come to the booth and mention a specific social post.

Trade shows and events are a world unto themselves, and trade show success is nuanced. A general rule of thumb? Think about how the company is adding value for show guests. Make the show reflect the brand in a positive and meaningful way.

I may have been a Commodity Classic first timer, but I was surrounded by seasoned Curious Plot conference veterans to show me the ropes. We would be glad to support your brand the same way.

Looking for more 2024 agriculture content? Check out our 5 Looming Questions for the Future of Crop Protection.

Rose Miller, a social media strategist with Curious Plot, spent seven years on the digital team at Animal Humane Society before joining the agency two years ago. A St. Olaf College alum, she lives in Minneapolis with her two cats.