Saturday, March 29, 2008

Thinking strategically

Many times in the process of producing a trade show or event we forget the intention and goal. Or we just plain start out on the wrong foot. As with any strategic undertaking, you need to have a process, you need to have your hands around what it is you are expecting to accomplish. Still Thinking in Threes, we need to approach shows by:

1. Planning completely.
2. Executing aggressively.
3. Following up thoroughly.

This is about getting to done with a result at the end.


(Thanks to Marc Goldberg, CME, and partner in Marketech, Inc.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Getting to the point

I was at a presentation today that was about communicating with your audience. Within the presentation was a discussion of how to reach the Y Gen'ers in the workforce. Thinking in threes (I like that, you know), the speaker emphasized that communication to this audience should:

1. Summarize
2. Be concise
3. Be written for scanning

These three thoughts fit trade show graphics and the trade show space precisely.

Graphics should always be a summary of the benefits of your product or offering or message, not a wholesale posting of the latest thick PowerPoint slide from some internal company briefing.

They need to be concise and most likely bullet points and a single photo that get to the point quickly as you only have seconds to capture the showgoer's attention as they walk by your booth.

Created so they can be scanned. Again, this is about getting someone's attention and starting a conversation.

Graphics are only a part of the equation along with the booth structure and the booth staff. Each plays a clear role (along with pre- and post-show promotion) in reaching the audience you want at your shows.


(Thanks to Scott Cytron, Pierpont Communications; this was borrowed from his 3/28/08 presentation to the NIRI Dallas Chapter)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Amps versus watts: what you need to know when ordering electrical service in your booth

When ordering electrical service in your exhibit, remember that watts and amps are not equal.

1 amp = 100 watts

It's one of those things that can add up quickly if you don't remember it. An ampere is a measurement associated with the strength of electric current; wattage or watts are the measurement of electric power in watts (most often associated with the power of a light bulb or fixture).

So, be familiar with how much power your computers, demos and liughts in your booth draw in amps and watts as you draw your layout for power in your booth.


(thanks to Jim Anderson, Steelhead Productions, and Wikipedia, for the content of this entry).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Walking the AS3 Show

This show is aimed at the aircraft maintenance audience. Held annually each March, this show has reduced in size in recent years because of, I'm told, a split between associations.

The largest players at this show, by exhibit size, are Chevron, Phillips-Conoco, Simple Green, AV Fuel, Dallas Airmotive, PPC, Corridor, Deutz, FMC and TLD. A mixed bag of exhibits, it ranged from the small 10x10s jammed with parts washers to the elegent, simple exhibits with a clearly, cleanly labeled engine on a stand.

This is a three-day show that should probably be a two-day show as the last day is a tomb, according to the exhibitors. Another example of a show with fewer attendees but those that do attend are focused and serious.

Lesson Learned: this is a good example of sizing your booth to the audience and the show. A 10x10 can have as much impact with a prepared staff as a 20x30 without a theme or targeted program.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Leaving the Exhibitor's Show

This was a great time spent. Spent with colleagues, friends and acquaintances talking and learning about an industry and work we believe in, love and respect.

It gave me the opportunity to reconnect. Thanks, Joel, Steve, Skip, Jeff and others for taking the time to converse. Renewing friendships and connections are incredibly important in this industry, as it is elsewhere.

It gave me the opportunity to learn. Thanks Katharine, Ed, Corbin, Jim, Scott and the others for reinforcing that I need to understand my business (and that of my clients) before I can craft messages and delivering and measuring credible results. I'm glad to see the concepts of brand, measurement, messaging, engagement beside the industry buzzwords of logistics, I&D, drayage, design and fabrication. While they have always been there for many, it wasn't always the case in days gone by. At least not at the pervasive level I saw here.

It gave me the chance to meet new people. Thanks, Donna, Karen, Luise, Lauren, Kim and the others I met in classes and at parties and receptions. Thanks for talking with me and I hope our paths cross many times in the future.

It gave me the chance to renew and recharge. I learned again the passion I have for communication and translation of ideas. It was fun to talk about how to craft the message, how to measure the result, what product would work in that application, who can get something done in time and all those other things that make this a fun and interesting industry and career.

Lesson learned: this business, business and life are about relationships.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 5: How to Measure the Value of Trade Show Participation

Remember what I said a few posts back about a "professorial" presenter being the only one? I was mistaken. Ed Jones was by far the most academic guy I'd encountered at this event. But justifiably so: he earned a BFA and then was educated as a finance person, majoring in statistics.

Ed's presentation centered around measurement as had others at this conference. The difference was Ed layered over statistical justification and facts to give them method statistical credibility. Ok......

I did like his Thinking in Threes approach (wouldn't you guess). Early on he outlined these three reasons to measure:
1. Justify
2. Improve
3. Grow

They are not just reasons, they are a process. I could have stopped right there. While his statistically analysis was credible and important, it seemed a bit of overkill and far too complicated. I'm a keep-it-simple kinda guy, so don't weigh me down with too much stuff to make your point.

His payback ratio was a good thing, but could it simplified? I'll have to re-read.

One of his best lines: he lives in "the Estrogen Ocean" as just about everyone (wife, daughters, employees, colleagues) are women. He used this line to illustrate a point about product (Leggs panty hose) value implied.

Lesson learned: measurement should be statistically valid but credible and understandable.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 5: How to Position Your Company Through Trade Shows

Crafting a clear and concise position for your company so that trade shows are effective. That was the key to this session. But I'm not sure it flowed as easily as it should have.

There was a bit of disconnect in the flow from setting up the positioning statement to extracting the messages for use in the exhibit, but I'm sure it will come to me as I re-read my notes. However, Marilyn Kroner's (Kroner Communications, Boulder, CO) did make a great effort in mapping her process.

Again, the key is defining your company's position in the marketplace so you can translate it to the messages (and into the form) you want to deliver at your trade show. She capped her presentation with a discussion on how to train your booth staff effectively and engrain the messaging into their presentation and work on the floor.

Marilyn also took to her soapbox (and justifiably so) about trade shows needing to be auditable as other media are (advertising). Thanks, Marilyn, for reinforcing this important cause.

Lesson learned: Bring the right message or messages to your audience by understanding your position in your marketplace.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 5: Breaking Through the Measurement Mystic

Be consistent. And tough. And clear.

Those were Katharine Chestnut's messages in this session on show measurement. This theme was almost overworked at Exhibitor's, but it really has to be discussed and to the level and detail that it was. Ms Chestnut brings a freshness and warmth to this (and her other) topic because of her presentation style. The dry humor and engagement with the group really works.

Back to the session: Ms Chestnut outlined the recurring themes of setting objectives and reporting results. What was different was that she set those ideas up with defining what you are trying to measure, giving you reasons to measure and naming your stakeholders and their causes BEFORE setting the objectives. She got to the detail level of how meetings fit into meeting your objectives and it all rolled up nicely into the reporting process she outlined.

And when you report your results (to whomever), don't necessarily be nice (no "sunshine and buttercups"). Honestly and tactfully (well, maybe not too tactfully) tell them what worked and what didn't. If it didn't work it has to be fixed.

Lesson learned: Measurement is a disciplined business approach.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 5: Exhibit Design, Concept to Completion

The process of conceiving, designing and producing a trade show exhibit can be complicated and daunting. Jim Anderson, founder and principal in Steelhead Productions in Washington State, outlined the process he has used for years in this class.

Jim was the most professorial presenter I had seen (though I am sure there are others) at Exhibitor's. Thorough and complete, his explanation of the process and examples helped the large group on this last day and kept us engaged. He talked about how you take the Big Idea (combining specific objectives with corporate culture and image) and match it to Function and Design and how it will interact with The Human Element in and shape the space. During this journey, he weaves in the reality of budgets (he provides a small-medium-large estimation with examples) and investment (how long should/will it last?) with creativity (how to choose and engage a designer). Jim is also a big believer in lighting as a tool of engagement and his designs (and budgets) reflect that.

Overall, this was a helpful and, for the most part, engaging presentation. Thanks, Jim.

Lesson learned: the creative process doesn't have to be stifled by budget or business requirements.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 4: Top Technology Trends

Technology is transforming trade shows and events.....okay, now I've stated the obvious.

However, I didn't realize in how many ways until I listened to Corbin Ball's presentation. His reverse Top 10 format was a good way to get to the point. But, I tell ya, I felt like I was under an avalanche of information. But, such is technological change.

He did it the best way by saying up front, "hey, I've got all of these" cataloged at my website ( Saves a lot of rehash. But I would like to give my Thinking In Threes take on the key things I came away with:

1. We (as events and TS people) can't ignore Web 2.0
2. We need to push for universal retrieval devices or standards from our organizers
3. Virtual will ever replace face-to-face business

Lesson learned: Technology is great but let's not forget it really is a sharper pencil for us to use. Just be sure and use it.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 4: The Data War

You wouldn't think a revolutionary marketing idea would come from our government, especially the armed services. However, when a marketing mind meets the structure and process of the US Army, interesting things happen.

Colonel Casey Wardynski had a problem. He had to improve his recruiting results. Before, Army recruiting was process over results and activity over productivity. Now, since the Colonel has partnered with Fish Software and his event production company to produce the VAE (the Virtual Army Experience), the US Army can not only reach out to their target market, they have measurable results on which to direct their program and report to their superiors--credible information.

One of the best stories to come out of this session was how the Colonel was able to push back when asked to reconsider an event he had removed from the next year's schedule. When asked, he simply reminded his questioner that "here was the data" and that he had already approved the schedule. What can you say to facts?

I'm being brief here, so if you want to learn more go to or Google Virtual Army Experience.

Lesson Learned: Data trumps rank and structure makes measurement possible.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 4: Ignoring the Masses

Trade Show Bob is now one of my heroes.

This Everyman, while he took a bit to get warmed up, did get rolling and imparted some important information: ignore those people you don't need to talk with and get the right people from your company talking to the right, targeted prospects and clients.

Hmmm, what a concept. This is one of the best applications of the concepts we've been talking about for the last few days. Yes, you need to set objectives and measure them--but you have to implement a plan to actually do the work. His "dance card" concept is really cool and very workable. He rolled out 10 steps starting with Defining Your Target and ending with Post-Show Debriefings. But the most important steps, at least for me, were:

3. Assign roles
4. Ensure your staff knows their roles
5. Assign roles to ensure accountability

Imagine: people at a show who actually belong there! And gathering data that matters and can be measured.

Thanks, Bob Milam.

Lesson learned: assignments ensure focus and results.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008


It's nice to be the guest. We've had some good times with gracious hosts at Exhibitor's Show this year. And when you're being hosted by the best people in the world who know how to do this, even better.

MG Design put on a really nice evening for guests, clients and staff at a Vegas cooking school. Bussed to the site, we were treated to wine and a full-course Italian meal that we helped prepare. A nice evening with great people. Thank you Liese, Gail, Marci, Kris and the whole MG team for including us in a very nice and professional evening.

The ExhibitGroup party on Monday evening was also very nice. More traditional in that it was a cocktail party, EG took over Revolution at Mirage for most of the evening. Good reconnecting with our friends from both EG and SDD and others that were guests. Thank you James, Bob, Gerry, Jeff J, and the whole EG team.

(And EG: thanks for the ride from the airport on the courtesy shuttle. I appreciated that a whole lot)

Lessons learned: Partying with party professionals is a great experience. This really is an industry of relationships and people.

At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 3: Integrated Marketing Communications

Katharine Chestnut, you came along at the right time of day.

I was tired, in need of sugar or caffeine. Or sleep. And there you were, talking about integrated marketing communications as if you were describing your garden. Cool. You do have a garden, don't you?

Really, this was a refreshing session. Yes, it is labeled a beginner's session and is required for certification, but it was entertaining and fun to listen to. Ms Chestnut's relaxed style helped those things like budget definition, matching objectives and choosing tactics stick. I wish she'd been one of my professors back then.....

Seriously, KC laid it out in nine steps:
  1. Define show objectives
  2. Match show objectives to the right marketing program
  3. Recognize your target audience
  4. Identify budget requirements
  5. Set measurement benchmarks
  6. Using pre-show tactics
  7. On-site tactics
  8. Post-show tactics
  9. Analyzing your results
Are we sensing a theme here?

I didn't need to take many notes on this one--the handout was great and my retention with Ms C's style was at the top. More cool stuff.

Lesson learned: all that you do in a program (or surrounding a show) needs to sing together and can (and should) be planned.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 3: Selecting the Right Shows

If I come away from this show with nothing else, it will be Ian Sequeira's recommendation to use the ROI Toolkit. Cool stuff, Ian. Thanks. To quote Ian:

"Go to and about halfway down the page, sign in to use the calculator."

Can't wait to try it out. My colleague has some numbers we can plug in from her trade show program and try this out. It was the key point in Ian's explanation of his process of how to choose shows.

Basically, his process is 5 steps:
  1. Put together a full understanding of your company's markets, products, strategies, marketing goals and objectives
  2. Get customer and prospect feedback
  3. Search trade show industry sources and develop a universe of shows
  4. Interview organizers and exhibitors at your target shows (there's that word again)
  5. Do your analysis and make your decisions (like that's easy--he did say this was the hard part)

There's obviously more to it that this, but these steps are a beginning.

One more thing: traffic density is a really key element in deciding. Look over his formulas and let me know what you think.

Lesson learned: you can never collect enough data.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 3: Exhibiting Strategically

Plan carefully. Execute aggressively. Follow up thoroughly.

There we are--back to thinking in threes. Marc Goldberg's presentation on exhibiting strategically left me with those three thoughts. Good stuff to remember. Actually, memories to be brought back.

The good news is that guys like Marc are still on the program. He really knows his stuff. The not so good news is--does it still fit with the tone of where trade shows and events are going? I think it's a part of it, but it can't be the focus. There is a tone that is old school. That's okay, but we have to temper that with the movement we feel toward the greater good and the whole of what we, as marketers, have to do in the selling environment.

The whole feeling of this conference is one of change. Change in who we are as exhibit and events people. What we do in relation to the whole program that a client or our companies expect of us. This might be overstating the obvious, but it is true. And I suppose it comes down to the old line we throw around on this blog every now and then--it's not about the both.

Anyway, Marc's content was good and presentation solid. But I'm not sure where it fits into the whole of this program.

Lesson learned: knowledge is something acquired over time and to be respected, but times changes and we need to be dynamic.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 2: Objectives & Measurement

Ok, now we're getting somewhere. I've read Barry Siskind's books, but never had seen him in action. He is a dynamic speaker (with dry, B&W slides) with great information. Actually, the earlier presentation by Ian set me up really well for this session.

Barry was clear and quick on his feet. His basic thesis is that you need to establish a baseline, a benchmark for the year for your trade show program. All of your work in measurement needs to be set against firm business objectives. This guy thinks in threes (I like that, you know) and his first three are about balance between resources:
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Human
He also cites three basic questions you, as an exhibitor, should ask yourself:
  • Why are we in business?
  • Who are we?
  • What is our real purpose?
Once you can answer these (or come close or work toward answering), you come closer to a sharp focus. Two steps:
  • What are you hoping to achieve?
  • What will justify the time, energy and money spent?
This ream of information leads to two areas to measure:
  • Sales objectives--easier to quantify
  • Communications objectives--softer, but what most relationship-building exhibitors really want to know.
What I really came away with from this seminar is this formula that Barry called "doing the math":
a. Take a total show population of 5000
b. Determine the percentage who fit the profile of the client you want to reach (10%)
c. Take the average time spent with prospects (typically 10 minutes or 6 per hour)
d. What are the active hours of the show (assume 20 for this example)

The number of realistic leads is c times d or 120. However, deduct by 50% because of reality brings you to 60. That's 12% of the show total attendance. A realistic assessment of how many people you will really reach.

Like I said, this helped amplify and expand on what Ian had said. Coupled with the Tound Table run by Ian on ROI/ROO and it was a complete day of brand and measurement.

Lesson learned: the dynamic trade show program (and they all are) needs to be quantified and qualified to keep being effective.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 2: Walking the show floor

Walking the show allowed us to get some air, meet new people and forget about the terrible lunch we'd been served. Note to self: try the Mexican place across the way on Tuesday.

This area of the show is growing. Over 300 exhibitors ranging from simple banner makers to I&D companies to freight companies to exhibit builders are here. If a company provides a service to the the exhibit industry, they are here.

This walk gave us the chance to renew old friendships, meet new suppliers and see things that we only get to see at our own shows. Getting to share what we liked, what we didn't was a great exercise.

Most of the large builders emphasized their ability to design within a brand and be a part of the larger mix--or drive it if need be. Derse, Freeman, 3D, ExhibitGroup and Elements (among others) were front and center representing custom exhibit builders. Skyline was there with several booths touting their product and dealer network. Fish Software and Exhibit Surveys were among the led trackers. And Mayflower, United, ABF and LAS Worldwide were representative of the freight handlers.

Now that we've seen the floor from a larger perspective, we can go back and review what we'd like to focus in on.

Lesson Learned: this is a vast and complex industry, but it is largely built on relationships.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 2: Using Surveys

This seminar is one of the key reasons I came to this show: to learn how to apply my company's services to the world of exhibitry. Ian Sequeira of Exhibit Surveys was the presenter. Again, a full house and a good discussion. Less audience participation and dry slides, but a good, informative discussion.

Ian spoke of process mostly. He gave formulas and statistics and few real-world examples. However, the equations seem to work. His point was "why do you do survey work?" and "you should be doing survey work" even at a simple level. The more you know about your audience, the more you can target and get your messages to the right people. The results of even a simple post-show survey (the easiest to do) will help you shape your exhibit, demos and staff training.

Utilizing lists from the show promoter will allow you to survey the bigger picture: memorability, overall character of the show. Specific data from your own booth leads will help you understand your staff effectiveness and specific client needs.

His process maps and formulas are useful and good arrows to have in your quiver of resources.

His summary: determine the objective, apply the appropriate methodology, measure the effectiveness and act upon the results.

Lesson learned: anything can be measured and should be.


At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 2: Branding

The morning's first class was growing your brand and incorporating it into your exhibit program. Scott Leech of Brandspeak of Minneapolis ( was the presenter.

This popular (193 of 200 seats in the meeting room) seminar was clear and to the point, however, Scott did have to spend more time setting up brand to the room before sending the discussion off into how it relates to exhibitry. Rally everything around the brand and using exhibit marketing as a brand-building experience were the key messages. His examples (Pella, Qwest, Ultradent) showed this clearly. It also, by extension, showed that his exhibit-building partners understood how the integration of brand into exhibitry and how exhibits fit into the who of the brand program works.

Of note: staff training is as important (if not more) than the structure, graphics and other preparations.

Lesson Learned: Everything you spend money on should speak to your brand.


Monday, March 10, 2008

At the Exhibitor's Show, Day 1

I'm in Fabulous Las Vegas this week for the annual Exhibitor's Show, presented by Exhibitor Magazine. This 20-year-old event is aimed at industry professionals who either produce shows for companies for supply goods and services to exhibitors. There are over 300 exhibits in 2 halls along with over 200 conference sessions spanning 5 days.

I'm here on for Zachry Associates to learn, network and support one of our clients. This is a great way to get reconnected and learn about new trends and happenings in the industry. This has become the premiere "trade show for trade shows" (to borrow the line from TSEA's TS2 event, my apologies) and gets bigger each year. So far, I've reconnected with my trade show supplier roots, met with some new suppliers and potential clients and continued working on a project for a client.

The first day started (after a day of "volunteer" events) with a welcoming reception. I'd gotten in earlier in the day and ridden a courtesy shuttle in from the airport supplied by ExhibitGroup Giltspur. Walking over to Mandalay Bay Hotel from the MGM, registration was painless and straightforward. I met up with a long-time friend of mine, Gary Donatell, who now works for The Freeman Companies out of St Paul. We have a project we are working on and, since we know a lot of people in the industry, decided to take in the reception together.

The reception was a huge gathering of about 500 to 700 people. Carving stations and bars dotted the space and dress ranged from suits to shorts and tees. It was the largest event of it's type I've been to in all the years I've come to this event. I met up with contacts from Centerpoint Exhibits, Marvin Windows, Wooten Metals, Live Marketing, Derse, Brauer Consulting, Fine Design, the Term Group and Willwork.

Lesson Learned: Friends and colleagues are forever.

Classes start this morning at 8. Gotta go. More later.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Final words on Heli Expo

Our trip to Heli Expo in Houston was worthwhile. The purpose for going was to:

  • Discover the basic layout and flow of the show
  • Learn the major players
  • Experience the event
  • Discern how our clients fit into the show

The high-level analysis of the show:
  • Over 500 exhibitors
  • Halls A thru E of George Brown Convention Center (500,000 square feet)
  • Major players mixed in with smaller exhibitors throughout the hall
  • Exhibits open 19 hours over three days
Things to do going forward with regard to this show (or other shows requiring evaluation):
  • Analyze the show before arriving
    • Attendees
    • Competitors
    • Marketplace
  • Do survey work on the show floor
    • Measure attendee’s opinions
    • Understand memorability
  • Post-show analysis
    • Number of leads and classification
    • Time-to-purchase decision
This was a good one-day show example and there will be more to learn from as time progresses. Will attedn teh AS3 show in Dallas with this same client later this month.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Trade show marketing is an expensive proposition. Buying the space is just the start. There are some rules of thumb of how much to expect to spend. When you go to set up your budget, here are some broad categories:

  1. Space
  2. Exhibit, graphics, services and freight
  3. Promotion

Space. Probably your biggest cost, it is what the exhibit sits on and defines your space in the hall. This varies from size (tabletop to large custom) to location (front or back of the hall). Expect to spend upt to half (50%) of your allocated budget for this.

Exhibit, graphics, services and freight. The rest of your budget will be spent on these items: buying or renting an exhibit; designing and producing appropriate graphics illustrating your products and services; buying the support services (electrical, drayage, material handling, rentals); and the transportation to and from the show. Of this, freight is probably the largest percentage of the money left over.

Promotion. Set aside an amount at least equal to the space cost to promote your participation in the show: pre-show mailings, e-mail blasts, advertising, post-show mailings and followup.

The budget process starts at a 40,000-foot level and goes all the way to the ground. That is, it would be best to have a “bottoms-up” approach to budgeting so that you can be sure to meet it and not exceed it. Set the budget for each show and then roll those individual budgets up to the total number allocated for the program. If you have to trim, you can eliminate whole shows or allocate more budget. Don’t reduce the budget of indivual shows to meet the top goal without being sure you can produce the show effectively for that reduced number. It’s the kiss of death to underproduce a show just to go.