Here are ten simple and effective counterintelligence tips to help fortify your exhibit marketing program. You can use these tips to help identify which of your competitors are monitoring your company and allow you to keep an eye on them as they watch you.

1. Booth design: Before your next show take a look at your booth design and layout. Does it allow people to easily come and go without having to interact with your staff? Take a look at where you place demonstrations, products, meeting areas, etc. In many cases, our marketing instinct is to put our products and demonstrations near the aisles to attract attention. However, this allows many people to get information without identifying themselves to your organization. By simply moving these key areas further back into the booth (sometimes just a few inches or feet can make a big difference) forces your visitors, including competitors, to make a “commitment” to you by entering your space. This will then allow your booth staff an opportunity to interact with the visitor, identify them and present the information required.

2. Graphics and Messaging: Most exhibitors are guilty of having too much graphics and text on the booth. You need to consider what messages you are conveying. While you want to give your customers and prospects enough information to make informed decisions, all this information does not need to appear on the booth. For example, a mistake I often see at booths is displaying key information that could be provided in another, more discrete format. This type of information can be very valuable to your competitors:

  • Displaying or listing current and/or new customers on the booth.
  • Displaying detailed diagrams or specifications
  • Indicating key partnerships or alliances
  • Instead, you can accomplish your goals by providing the information in a hand-out format to qualified visitors (which could include your competitors) or displaying the information in digital format, e.g. PPT, computer or plasma screens, etc.

3. Demonstrations/theater presentations: Some exhibitors try to convey key messaging to the masses through demonstrations or theater presentations to reach as many people as possible. While this can be effective, design your presentations so that you can identify who is in the audience. This can be as simple as training staff to qualify all visitors before starting the presentation.

4. New product display: If you are displaying new products you can prevent the competition from taking useful pictures by putting the equipment on a rotating platform or behind plexi panels. The resulting flash or motion, in most cases will make their pictures blurry or un-usable. Another tip with pop-up displays is to use a high gloss finish on graphics instead of the more popular matte finish.

5. Collateral: A majority of exhibitors seem intent on displaying all their literature for anyone to take. Not only is this a costly mistake, it also does not allow you to identify who is taking the literature and what their interests are. I recommend you bring literature, but limit access to it. It can be stored in a reception desk or kept under a table and only offered if requested or you have qualified the visitor.

Interacting with them will give you an opportunity to follow up after the show.

6. Conference sessions: Conferences are a great way to demonstrate corporate knowledge and industry leadership. Have someone in your organization review all content, e.g. PPT slides/hand-outs prior to submitting them to the conference. Consider modifying the hand-out slides to only include key educational content. If possible, keep control of the hand-outs: “If you would like a copy of my presentation, please email me your address or give me your business card and I will forward to you.” Once again, if a competitor requests it, send it. At least you know they were in the room.

7. Booth staff: Clearly it would be beneficial to train staff to be on the lookout for competitors. At your pre-show meeting give them “corporate guidelines” for handling these situations. Be sure to have a “constructed” message to be consistently given to competitors. The counterintelligence approach will also reinforce to them why it is important to qualify all visitors before going into any presentations. Design a simple routine for booth staff to report competitors that they met in the booth, what questions were asked and what information was given. They should also use this routine to report any competitors they met while traveling, attending sessions, on the show floor, etc.

8. Booth security: I’m always amazed at the number of exhibitors who simply walk away from their booth each evening without putting away card scanners, brochures, etc. Be sure someone on site understands that one of their jobs each night is to lock things away. While the booth doesn’t have to be fortified like Fort Knox, it is important to imply “out of bounds. ” A gesture as simple as covering up key equipment implies “we don’t want you checking out our stuff when we are not here.”

9. Trains, Planes, Hotels and Restaurants: Staff should be trained to watch their behavior and conversations when traveling to/from industry conferences. Before they start talking to strangers on an airplane or in a hotel, they should find out who they are talking to and who else is seated near to them. They should also consider what they are wearing and carrying, e.g. corporate clothing, briefcases with corporate logos, luggage tags, etc.

10. Cell phones and computers: Remind staff traveling to your event to be aware of their surroundings and the conversations they are having on their phones. There is no need to raise their voice and they should never have confidential discussions on their cell phones. Also, if staff choose to work on their laptops on the plane or in waiting areas, again, they should be aware of who is seated nearby them or get a safety screen installed to prevent others seeing what is on their laptop.

Written by: Anne Barron, a Certified Manager of Exhibits and President of ABComm Ltd. , an exhibit and event management firm specializing in strategic exhibit marketing that focuses on competitive intelligence. She is a co-author of “Conference and Trade Show Intelligence,” published by SCIP,