Exhibiting is a big part of my Day Job life and the training and real-life experience colors my memory of General Assembly exhibit halls. (Chalicechick, I would love to hear your take on this, too. I think you have a set of experiences on the same continuum.)
When setting-up and breaking-down for trade shows -- anywhere from half to four times the size of the General Assembly exhibit hall -- the one overwhelming sensation is of garbage and waste. Not only packing materials, but very often the materials sent to distribute get tossed because they're worth less than the cost to ship back.Â (Not that everyone feels this way. On the flip side I recall General Assembly exhibitors who try to give out pamphlets that look half-chewed. Quite unappealing.) Also, for larger organizations, the weight of printed materials itself is a problem. I recall straining to move boxes of ancient, unloved journals at one booth, several GAs ago. Not a happy thought.
I had seen a lot of the paper disappear from General Assembly as late as 2003, and imagine it is better now. The rationale is environmental, but is a practical dimension, too. Consider that most distributed literature is discarded, either on site or before an attendee goes home. It would be better to get the literature into the hands of those who want it, and to know who they are so that they may be contacted directly in future.
Your friend is the sign-up list. Or cards. Have something compelling to give away -- more on that later -- and have a sample available at the booth. Mark it up -- one trainer suggested Sample written in a coarse hand with marker -- to discourage someone taking it. Offer to send a copy if the interested person gives over contact information. Then, have someone off-site ship the goodie to the interested person so it is there when they return from their convention. Everyone carries less to General Assembly. There's fewer papers or CDs or what-have-you to toss, meaning more money to create good resources. The right people get the material. The organization gets a contact.Â Your information is the price of the resource.
Indeed, I don't think I'd carry anything more involved than a business card and a membership flyer to General Assembly. I'd also ditch the candy and promotional junk so often seen. The work of engagement should be done by your display and (more importantly) trained booth staffers. More on that later.