There is a fine line between selecting clothing for your booth staff that “promotes a cohesive theme” and that which appears unprofessional (screaming “costume” or worse) – it is up to you to decide which makes better sense for your business model. In this article, we will identify the eight most common trade show attire configurations and discuss the pros and cons of each option.
Most exhibitors select one of these eight options when dressing their booth staff:
- Full costume
- Partial costume
- Matching logo attire
- Matching non-logo attire
- Non-matching logo attire
- Non-matching non-logo attire
- Whatever each staffer wants with direction
- Whatever each staffer wants without direction
A full costume is typically reserved for booth bunnies or contracted costume characters, but may also be utilized by companies trying to appear more interesting or fresh. This choice is less common at most professional trade shows today so if you’re using full costumes, your booth is likely to be remembered for the unique approach; however, that’s not always a good thing. This option works best when its sole purpose is to attract attention and the costumes themselves can be tied back to your larger exhibit theme; however, even with these considerations, you still have to decide if it’s attracting the right kind of attention (in my experience, the answer is typically no).
Next is a partial costume, which is a safer way to show your creative side. The biggest issue with this option is that you can come across as confused or trying too hard (although, really, you’re not trying hard enough since you’ve only partially committed to the idea). If you do choose to integrate costume pieces, be sure that your team is fully on board with (and has the personality to support) the decision, that you make your intentions clear (whether it’s fun or focused, you have to choose one goal …if your goal is to be taken seriously as a professional, any sort of costume is probably not the right choice), and that it enhances the messaging you have invested so much to share.
Matching logo attire is an obvious choice if you want to make sure everyone knows exactly who you are and which company you’re representing. Even if you’ve selected one of the most common trade show attire colors (like blue, red, or black), your team won’t blend into their surroundings. This can be a great advantage for exhibitors in larger booth spaces (making it easier to recognize one another through a sea of attendees), but troubling in smaller booth spaces or during slower shows (where it’s painfully obvious just how many company representatives are present and how many attendees are not).
Matching non-logo attire brings the same pros (or cons, depending on your perspective) when it comes to looking like a cohesive unit of company representatives at or near your booth; but provides a different result when you aren’t together. Whether you’re wandering the show floor or stepping out for lunch, it’s less obvious who exactly you’re with and, although you’re always an ambassador for your company, you’re less likely to be recognized as such until (or unless) you decide you want to share that piece of information. Outgoing team members will appreciate the ease in which they can transition from show floor to other activities, as their evening can begin without necessarily having to make time to change.
Non-matching logo attire is a great way for your team members to show a little personality (whether that means they’re the type to prefer green over gray or a skirt over slacks) while still conveying their affiliation with your company (even when their name badges get turned over) in a relatively subtle way. This option helps attendees find the right contacts to answer their questions and may make your team members feel more comfortable in their attire; but it may not be a great fit when you leave the booth (as discussed above, there are times – like when you’re eavesdropping on an interesting conversation or trying to relax alone on your lunch break – when you don’t necessarily need everyone to know who you are).
Non-matching non-logo attire takes this a step further towards anonymity. A small or slow booth may appear busier because, at a glance, you just look like a group of professionals hanging out (after all, attendees are much less interested in approaching a booth in which only its employees are interested); but, your credentials are less obvious. Depending on your company’s industry standing, choosing not to include your logo on your non-matching attire can have negative repercussions: you lose valuable branding space (to create continued top of mind awareness throughout the event) and you appear less official (whether that’s commenting on your stability as a company or was simply your choice, this is something others may speculate about). That being said, if you are already well known in your industry, these potential issues may not be detrimental at all.
Allowing your team to wear whatever they want (with direction) is potentially risky. Even with your input, without complete control over clothing orders, you can’t be sure things will turn out as expected (for example, “business casual” may mean button down shirts and dark slacks to you, but clean khaki shorts and a polo to someone else). The pros for this option are that you do retain some input (although I’d caution you to be very clear on your expectations) and your staff should be completely comfortable on-site (because they are wearing their own clothing, there is little reason for argument about style, color, or fit).
Finally, allowing your team members to wear whatever they want (without direction) is only a good option if you really trust them. In doing so, you will still need to be fully prepared for unwanted surprises because, without any input, it will be nearly impossible for your team to select something that portrays the exact right image you are looking for on their own. Also, it’s important to be mindful of any team members who may feel that their comfort is more important than unwritten professional standards; before giving your team the freedom to choose their attire, you need to consider the best and worst case scenarios – if you can live with both situations, this may be a good option for you. While there are a lot of event planning decisions that can be fully delegated… attire just isn’t one I would choose (after all, your team can select their own attire after they leave your booth).
Which of these eight common trade show attire configurations will be the best fit for your company? That’s a decision you’ll have to make according to your specific situation. Want my recommendation? Use your goals and the information above to guide you or contact your trusted trade show advisor to weigh the available options.