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The Rocket's Red Glare: What Fireworks Displays Can Teach Us About Tradeshows

By: Susan Friedmann

Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY is the author of “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies”. She works with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and training. Go to to sign up for a free copy of ExhibitSmart Tips of the Week.

Firework displays are a traditional part of summertime celebrations. There's something about them -- the noise, the color, the pyrotechnic glory -- that resonates with crowds. According to some experts, fireworks as we know them got started in the 10th century. That means that this basic technology has been wowing spectators for a very, very long time.

Yet when I attended a recent fireworks display, I overheard a woman saying this:

"I don't know how they do it. Every year it's the same thing, but they keep making it better somehow."

Wouldn't every exhibitor love to hear that about their booth? It appears that the fireworks companies have mastered what trade show exhibitors often struggle with: presenting the same products and services in a way that's new and exciting.

What can tradeshow exhibitors learn from the pyrotechnic pros? The answers might surprise you.

You can do a lot in a very limited time

Fireworks are not an everyday event. Most people will see only one to two fireworks shows a year, if that many. Performances are measured in minutes, not hours. The vast majority of shows -- industry estimates range close to 70%! -- are scheduled in a two week period in the middle of the summer.

Yet, even in this small window of opportunity exists the potential for profitability. There are more than a few decent sized fireworks companies out there, vying to show what a good show they can produce. Most of these companies earn the lion's share of their annual revenue during those hectic fourteen days.

These companies know that it is make it or break it time, so they pull out all of the stops. Extensive preparation is done. Things are practiced until they're perfect. When it's showtime, every team member does their best to ensure a flawless show.

Consider applying that mentality to your tradeshow participation. How would you approach exhibiting if you knew this was your only chance to market all year long? What if 70% of your sales had to come from trade show leads? What changes would you make? How would you train your people?

Know what your audience wants

Knowing what your target audience expects and desires from you is crucial. The fireworks industry caters to an audience that has certain expectations of a fireworks display: loud noise, bright colors, technical brilliance that also has an insatiable appetite for something new.

They're responded by adding new elements to the existing show: new colors, for example, or shows synchronized with music. The essential product has not changed, but it has been augmented and improved.

Tradeshow attendees have certain expectations of your booth, but they also want something new. How can you add to or improve your products, services, or presentation thereof to generate additional excitement around your display?

Understand that Audiences Change

The customers you have today are not the customers you had yesterday -- and they're definitely not the customers you'll have tomorrow. Sometimes the changes that occur in your target audience have nothing to do with your products and services and everything to do with a seemingly unrelated product.

For example: advances in high-definition televisions have dramatically impacted the fireworks industry. Forty years ago, no one was watching fireworks on television. Now, increasing numbers of people are, as high-definition televisions allow people to experience the beauty of the show without the bugs, crowds, noise, or traffic.

Firework companies have responded by creating brighter fireworks that deploy at a lower height, easier for the television cameras to capture. By working to meet the changing needs of their target audience, fireworks companies are striving to remain relevant and entertaining, rather than becoming a reminder of "what people used to do on the 4th of July".

How is your target audience changing? What recent developments have changed how they view, use, and purchase your products and services? Is this reflected in your marketing plan?

Connect with the media

In addition to the television broadcasts, fireworks companies have been surprisingly savvy about working with the media to promote their shows. From simulcasting the show's music over local radio stations (broadening the appeal to those viewers who are not at the point of launch) to blogs detailing the work that goes into a show to giving local media 'behinds the scenes' peeks at the show in progress, there's a constant effort to keep their name and company image in the public eye before, during, and after the actual show.

Apply this to your tradeshow participation. What are you doing to let attendees know they should visit your display? What are your media outreach efforts during the show? Does you stop sending press releases when the show lights go off?

Fireworks and tradeshows have some interesting points of comparability. With proper planning, promotion, and performance, pyrotechnic experts and tradeshow exhibitors can both get a lot of bang for their buck!

© Copyright 2006, Susan Friedmann

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