Canadian Firefighter Magazine

The booth fairy

By Tanya Bettridge   

Features Hot Topics Prevention

October 2015 - You can see them coming. It’s almost comical that they think you won’t notice their evasive manoeuvres. There are the power-walkers who blow by your entire row, there are the if-I-don’t-make-eye-contact-I’m-safe folks, and then there are the ones who glance in your direction, their sensors picking up the safety aspect of your display and they high-tail it to the next area of booths. If my chief would let me, I’d post a sign that says, “We see you. We know you’re avoiding us on purpose.”

Think about what attracts you to booths at a trade show; the same techniques that draw you in there For firefighters manning their department’s fire safety booth at the local town fair

We can’t force people to stop and talk about fire safety. The good news is there are some simple – and inexpensive – ways to make people want to spend time at your booth.

Two words: free draw
Like toddlers to puddles, nothing attracts show-goers or event attendees like a chance to win something and the word free. Thanks to smoke and carbon monoxide alarm legislation, valued prizes can be safety related, too. Give away three carbon monoxide alarms a day, or two CO alarms and a grand prize of a home-safety prize pack, (which can consist of a few smoke alarms, a CO alarm, some batteries and a bunch of fire-safety information).

Here are some other cool ideas for prizes/draws:

  • Ask a fire safety question – those who answer correctly get an extra ballot.
  • Hold a separate draw for kids. Although a six-year-old might enjoy a smoke alarm, he/she might enjoy being a fire chief for a day even more. It doesn’t cost money and it’s a very exciting prize for the kiddos.
  • Smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and escape ladders are all great fire-safety-type prizes.
  • Host a dinner for six at the fire station. Full-time, part-time or volunteer departments can all manage to offer dinner at the station; it makes for a unique, much-talked-about prize. If you have the space, it could be a barbeque for more than six people.
  • Per-person draws: instead of ballots, get a click-counter and give a prize to every (e.g. 100th) person who stops and talks to you.
  • Bundle prizes: the words, “Prize pack” mean there is more than one prize and in the minds of the general public, it’s something amazing and a must-have!

As people walk anywhere near your booth, loudly ask, “How are you today? Make sure you enter our free draw!” Literally wave them over toward the ballots. Very few people will reject your offer of a free chance to win something. As people start lining up to fill out a ballot, seize the opportunity to chat about all things fire safety (or whatever the theme is of your booth).


Word will quickly spread at an event that your booth has firefighters and a free draw. The more people who line up around your booth, the more others will become curious about the fuss.

They’ll take it if you bag it
I’m sure at some point, somewhere on Earth, a study was conducted on human fear of brochures. Until I find that study, we’ll just have to rely on the experience of many public educators and firefighters. People hate brochures; they’ll take 100 pens before they’ll take one rack card. So how do fire-service personnel get the info to the target audience?

Bag it.

A bag is a promise of treasure, a pouch in which mysterious goodies are waiting for them. Plus, bags helps show-goers carry all those pens they mooched from the previous row of booths. Bags are even more effective if they are given to children. Children love the responsibility and ownership of carrying their very own bags of stuff. So throw in those colouring books, crayons – and yes, absolutely fill it with brochures! At the very least, you know people are taking the information home with them. While that is a win-win for all, I see it as fire department 1, brochure hater 0.

Nothing attracts like popcorn
If your booth has a popcorn machine you may as well double your booth staff, because that’s how popular you will be. No other scent wafts through the air like freshly popped popcorn. Rent a popcorn machine or borrow one from a local organization. Ask someone to sponsor the purchase of the supplies in exchange for getting a logo on the popcorn bags; it’s likely more financially feasible than you think.

Speaking of popcorn bags, here is your two-for-one solution: customize your bags with fire-safety messages.

Here are a few cool bag-customization ideas I’ve come across over the years:

  • Fire Prevention Week theme
  • Fire safety trivia – one side has questions, the other side has answers
  • Sponsor’s logo on the front, fire-safety message on the back
  • A sponsor’s coupon right on the bag that is good for the company’s booth at the same event
  • A list of events your fire department is attending that year

There are a lot of options when you combine a booth attraction with your department’s messaging.

Think outside the booth
Smart companies use cross-promotion as an effective marketing tool. Why should the fire service be any different? If you find out ahead of time who all of the vendors/exhibitors are, you can come up with creative ways to encourage people to visit certain booths – including yours. Here’s a scenario using the popcorn bags: You find out that the local hardware store will have a booth at the home and garden show your fire department is scheduled to attend. In advance, approach the hardware store managers and ask if they would give attendees $2-off coupons for carbon-monoxide alarms if they are presented with a card that says, “I talked fire safety with ABC Fire Department.” Since you’re in a position to talk fire safety and make it worth people’s time to do so, you’ll also be directing traffic to the hardware store’s booth where they can submit your cards to get the hardware store’s coupons. The coupon then directs traffic to the actual store.

Another example is to look at the exhibitor map/layout, find the vendor that is stuck in the poorest location and strike a similar deal. This is especially handy if it’s a food-type vendor who can give out a free sample if your recent booth visitor recites the fire-safety password or, better yet, a cooking fire-safety message.

If you park it, they will come
Is there anything more enticing than the big, red truck? If space allows, absolutely park a big, shiny, red fire truck near your booth. Got access to an antique truck? Even better! Kids and adults alike love getting their pictures taken with fire trucks. Ensure you have some firefighters on hand who can pose with people for pictures.

Everyone smile and say, “Fire safetyyyyy!”

Having a fire truck sets your booth apart from the rest; it’s a crowd-pleaser and can be spotted from quite a distance away. If it’s safe to do so, turn on some lights and sirens once in awhile to make sure everyone around knows you’re there. I know many kids who will literally drag their parents toward the sound of a fire truck.

Tell me, show me, try me
The best fire-safety booth is one that offers all types of learning – fire-safety information in the form of brochures, rack cards, posters, banners and signs (tell me); audio/visuals, trucks, equipment, gear, safety devices and more to see (show me); most importantly, a booth that is interactive and gets people involved in fire safety (try me).

Fire extinguisher training, stop, drop and roll demonstrations, trying on bunker gear, going through an obstacle course, or aiming a fire hose – all are designed to get people of all ages to experience some aspect of fire safety. Interactions can even be as simple as allowing kids to test those super-noisy smoke alarms and CO alarms. What kid doesn’t like to make noise!

The key to the booth
The most important aspect of the fire-safety booth is the personnel. Booth staff must be willing to approach everyone who comes near the booth, engage in conversations, get low and talk with the kids and be prepared to answer all kinds of questions.

It’s important that the people working your booth are passionate about fire safety and actually want to be there. Can-do-wanna-do attitudes will transfer into exchanges with booth visitors. You just never know whose lives you saved that day.

Tanya Bettridge is an administrative assistant and public educator for the Perth East and West Perth fire departments in Ontario.  @PEFDPubEd

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