Connecting With Buyers

SEMA News—October 2016


By Mike Imlay

Connecting With Buyers

The Eight Best Marketing Freebies for 2016 SEMA Show Exhibitors

  Connecting With Buyers
With the 2016 SEMA Show only weeks away, exhibitors should be double-checking that they’re doing everything they can to connect with buyers before, during and immediately after the Show. The Show offers exhibitors some really good free ways to help ensure success.

It’s countdown time for the 2016 SEMA Show, to be held November 1–4 in Las Vegas—which means that it’s time to assess your preparations for the Show as an exhibitor. Have you done everything you can to ensure success by attracting buyers to your booth? According to SEMA Vice President of Communications and Events Peter MacGillivray, more than 60,000 buyers are anticipated at this year’s SEMA Show, and an extremely large number of them are already deciding which exhibitors they want to see.

“You don’t want to treat exhibiting like a fishing trip where you just stand in your booth and cast for schools of buyers as they swim by,” said MacGillivray. “You want to activate the free marketing opportunities that will hook the right buyers early on.”

To that end, here are MacGillivray’s tips on the Eight Best Exhibitor Freebies that will help you truly connect with buyers before, during and in the immediate wake of the Show. Additional information about these tips, including those requiring registrations or RSVPs, can be found at

1. The Exhibitor Services Manual

Proper Show planning, booth logistics, hitting deadlines and knowing “where to go for what” are all key to creating a professional Show presence that attracts buyers. The SEMA Show Exhibitor Services Manual (more popularly known as the ESM) is a free information resource that will help guide first-time and veteran exhibitors alike through the complexities of Show planning.

“In terms of information, the Exhibitor Services Manual has everything you could possibly need related to exhibiting at the Show,” MacGillivray noted. “It’s the gateway document to everything SEMA Show, and our staff works tirelessly to make sure every question you might have is answered there. In fact, nine times out of 10, you can Google your question and the link to the appropriate section of the ESM will pop up.”

Access the Exhibitor Services Manual online at

2. The New Products Showcase

Connecting With Buyers
The New Products Showcase is perhaps the single smartest way exhibitors can drive buyer traffic to their booths at the Show. Yet a surprising number of companies fail to take advantage of this method of attracting new buyers and generating media interest.

We can’t emphasize this enough: The best way to drive buyer traffic to your booth is to display your brand’s latest offerings in the New Products Showcase. Located on the Skybridge of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the Showcase always ranks among the Show’s top buyer and media destinations. Your first new-product entry is free, with additional entries costing $75 each until October 7, and there’s no cap to the total number of products your company can display. Moreover, if you don’t have a totally new product, there’s also a Featured Products section you can take advantage of, which is designed to get top-selling products exposure among buyers who perhaps did not attend the show the prior year.

“We track where the buyers go each year, and we’ve learned that the featured products are often just as popular with buyers as the newest items in the Showcase, so there’s no excuse not to have a new or featured product in the Showcase,” MacGillivray emphasized. After October 7, the cost goes up to $150, but it’s still possible to enter products right up until the Show starts.

Remember, the New Products Showcase will yield dividends well beyond the Show, since every product entered is photographed and featured in later SEMA publications as well as made available to media year-round on The high-quality photography is also available to you for use in your own company media and advertising.

Even with all of the above information, many exhibitors pass this opportunity by year after year. Don’t be one of them—the Showcase is the best way to get new buyers to your booth.

3. The New Products Awards Breakfast

The New Products Awards Breakfast goes hand in hand with the New Products Showcase, so you won’t want to miss it either. Held in the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, adjacent to the LVCC, the breakfast is the first major event on Tuesday, November 1, the Show’s opening day, and features award presentations to the best New Products Showcase entries in a wide variety of categories.

“It’s like a pep rally for the industry,” MacGillivray said. “We’re trying to fire everyone up for a successful week of business at the Show.”

He also said that the breakfast is heavily attended by buyers looking for standout products, and is therefore another huge networking opportunity for exhibitors. “It’s an ideal venue outside of your booth to interact in a friendly setting, so make sure it’s on your schedule,” he emphasized.

Although free, space is limited with attendance expectations running as high as 2,000 participants, so don’t delay in making your RSVP.

4. The Online Media Center

Typically, around 3,000 journalists attend the SEMA Show each year in search of product and trends stories. You can alert them (and thus potential buyers) to your Show presence by uploading your product releases and media alerts to the official SEMA Show Online Media Center at

“The Show has the largest media footprint of any trade show on the planet,” MacGillivray said. “We don’t usually choose to talk about numbers, because our goal in everything we do is to be the best and not necessarily the biggest, but in this case, our numbers reflect yet another reason we’re the industry’s best trade event. The Show generates billions—not millions—of media impressions. As an exhibitor, you want to be a part of that massive buzz.

“And don’t be shy about tooting your own horn to the media. Let them know you’re coming to the Show, that you’ll be releasing or promoting your product. Come up with a story or an idea that you can push out there. In fact, don’t wait until you get to Las Vegas, and don’t push just one story; mix it up and let the media know what you’re going to be doing prior to the Show.”

In fact, some of the most successful exhibitors put out six to 12 different media alerts through the Online Media Center and then double down on those messages through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social-media messaging.

Every exhibitor has at least one product or story to share, and the final 30 days leading up to the Show can be especially crucial. Best practice is to formulate your stories and alert the media now.

5. The Industry Banquet

Held Thursday night of Show week at the Westgate hotel, the annual Industry Awards Banquet is a headline event that attracts upward of 3,000 people—and with good reason.

“We work an entire year on making the Industry Awards Banquet a first-rate evening event that conveys a sense of what SEMA is doing as a trade association,” said MacGillivray. “It’s a great time to learn about the incoming Hall of Fame inductees and new SEMA leadership. As an exhibitor you get free tickets to the banquet just by virtue of having a booth space at the Show.”

  Connecting With Buyers
The annual Thursday-night Industry Awards Banquet is a prime opportunity to deepen your ties to the overall industry. Plus, the free cocktail reception is another relaxed venue to network with buyers.

This year will mark the SEMA Show’s 50th anniversary celebration, so the energy is sure to be high. But beyond the celebratory atmosphere, the event offers a golden chance to immerse yourself more fully in the industry and make new connections.

MacGillivray summed it up: “As we do every year, we will have world-class entertainment and a great free cocktail reception where you can network with other exhibitors and, more importantly, buyers.”

Although tickets are free, you do have to RSVP, so make your plans today to attend.

6. SEMA Membership

“SEMA is really well known for presenting a world-class trade show, but it’s surprising how many people in the industry fail to tap into all the year-round advantages of SEMA as association members,” MacGillivray pointed out. “There’s a lot of other benefits SEMA delivers to its exhibiting members beyond the booth discount and other Show benefits they receive.”

Benefits include ongoing education seminars and conferences, market research, the SEMA Data Co-op and the new SEMA Garage, a first-rate product-development and emissions-testing resource. Member benefits also include discounted business services and much more. Utilizing these benefits strengthens your business and its products, increasing your brand magnetism for buyers.

The Show is always an ideal time to not only update your membership but to also personally acquaint yourself with all its advantages. You’ll find association representatives ready to assist you in SEMA Central, located in the LVCC Grand Lobby.

7. Staying for Friday Night

Connecting With Buyers
Staying through Friday at the Show to join the SEMA Cruise and SEMA Ignited events helps to maximize your exposure to buyers, media and consumers among the crowd of thousands.

After a week of Show frenzy, you may be tempted to wind it all down at event close Friday afternoon—but don’t leave town just yet. If you have either a booth vehicle or feature vehicle, each exhibitor is entitled to a place not only in the SEMA Cruise but also in the themed vehicle displays of SEMA Ignited, which continues into the night—again, all for free.

MacGillivray described the enthusiasm this parade of Show vehicles has come to generate among buyers and the general public: “We bring grandstands in for the SEMA Cruise, and they fill in 20 minutes. The crowds stack up 10 deep along the entire parade route. No one is going to stop you if bring some T-shirts or other branded items to distribute to the crowds along the way to SEMA Ignited.”

The SEMA Cruise begins at 4:00 p.m. on Friday as all of the booth and feature vehicles motor out of the Show to the nearby LVCC Gold Lot, where SEMA Ignited throws its gates open to the public. The nighttime event also includes the final winner announcements of the SEMA Battle of the Builders competition.

Buyers stay because they can observe what’s revving up the crowds. Plus, exhibitors can get additional media exposure and interviews with the journalists who cover these events. In fact, videos of the SEMA Cruise alone get hundreds of thousands of views, so both events are tremendous opportunities to get your brand out even after the close of the Show.

8. Leveraging the Show’s 50th Anniversary

Co-branding your Show promotional materials with official SEMA Show logos and graphics is a good idea any year, but especially this one. To make it easy, the official 2016 SEMA Show 50th Anniversary logo and related Show art are available to all exhibitors. Whether for presentations, packaging or other buyer promotions, you can find and download these assets any time under the Photos tab at the website. They’re high resolution, especially suitable for printing and convey a signature industry look.

“We like to know when you’re using them, but they’re free for you to work into your promotional materials,” MacGillivray further noted.

Bonus: Your SEMA Rep

We titled this article the “The Eight Best Marketing Freebies for SEMA Show Exhibitors,” but there are really nine if you include your SEMA rep as a year-round bonus.

“A few years ago, we brought SEMA Show sales and operations back internally to be closer to our industry and exhibitors,” MacGillivray said. “Every single exhibitor is now assigned a SEMA staff person. Make sure you utilize yours, because they are your primary advocates. They’re well-versed at connecting all the dots.”

In other words, whatever you need, your SEMA rep is that one-stop, go-to person who’s dedicated to helping you find it. They want you to be successful, not only at the Show, but before and after, and year after year.

If you don’t know your rep or how to reach him or her directly, call the association at 909-610-2030.

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