Sunday, April 27, 2008

Arranging freight

Getting the exhibit to the show is one of the last links in the chain, but a critical one: the show has to go on and it can't (effectively) without your goods being at the show.

When arranging a truck or van to pick up and drop off your shipment, remember:
  1. What are the size, shape, weight and number of pieces you are transporting?
  2. When will the be ready to pick up and returned and who is the contact person?
  3. Where are they going and who pays the bill?
Sizes and shapes. A trucker or shipping company/broker needs to know how many pieces and how much each weighs before they can give you a quote or estimate of the cost. You need to differentiate between crates, shrink-wrapped pallets or skids and loose items, like carpet rolls and rolls of pad. Since you have to calculate this anyway for your drayage (material handling) estimate and bill, it's best to know this (or estimate it) as early as possible.

Pick up times and locations. Let the carrier know when they can pick up your shipment (for example, between Noon and 4 on Friday the 2nd). If the show has a "quick facts" page (as Freeman does with their shows), fax it or e-mail it to your carrier's contact well in advance of the ship date. Be sure and designate a contact person on both ends of the shipment and be sure to include phone numbers (preferably cell phone numbers).

Destination. Be sure all pieces in the shipment are labeled clearly. If you are working with a van line, they will supply you with outbound and return labels as well as blank Bills of Lading for the return shipment from the show. Be sure that it is clear to the general contractor at the show who is to be billed for the shipment.

Lesson learned: know your shipment's condition, character and destinations and all will go well. Time is on your side, if you think ahead.


(thanks to my friends at Freeman Decorating and San Diego Mayflower for their input)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Some Graphics Basics

They are the third leg of the three-legged stool that supports your show experience. Along with booth structure and booth staff, graphics tell your story for you. While they are standalone elements many times, they are conversation starters and what catches the eye of the show attendee in the 3-second “walk-by” of your booth.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of graphics rules. It is only a starting place. Remember this about graphics, whether you have a tabletop or a 10,000 square foot exhibit:

  1. Keep the message simple and clear.
  2. Be consistent in style, appearance and design.
  3. Remember that the readable or viewable area shouldn’t be below the booth visitor’s beltline (or the “beltline” of your exhibit)

There are a number of types of graphics used in the exhibit industry:

  1. Vinyl. Cut and applied to surfaces, it can first- or second-surface (back or front of glass or reflective materials)
  2. Backlit transparencies. Usually photos or bullet-points and an image, these Plexiglas mounted inkjet images are usually hung in a light box.
  3. Murals and large photo images. Company or product images, murals help fill the backs or fronts of booths and have an impact with the viewer.
  4. Hanging signs. See your booth from across a crowded hall. Try something different with the shape and/or color.
  5. Cut-ins on carpets and floor graphics. Sometimes people don’t make eye contact because they are looking down. Give them something to look at.

Like I said, this isn’t meant to be exhaustive or an end-all, be-all. But these are idea starters and some simple rules.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

After the show

The real work begins when the show closes. Yes, the exhibit has to be torn down, packed and shipped back to wherever it is stored. But there are a number of things that must be attended to besides the crates and equipment:

  1. Be sure to collect and pay all bills associated with the show in a timely fashion.
  2. Collect and followup all leads from the show.
  3. Debrief the staff and brief management on what worked and what didn’t work with regard to execution of the show.

Bills. We don’t like to hear that word in our personal lives, but it is a reality. If all of your purchase orders and pre-show estimates are in place, paying the bills should be fairly easy. If you didn’t do any planning, however, this could be tough. However, I’m sure you prepared. It is good to make sure your exhibit house and all of your service providers are paid in a timely fashion (chances are you paid in advance with either a credit card or check, so you’ll just be dealing with overages at this point). Suppliers who are paid on time are happy suppliers.

Leads. Isn’t this why you went to the show in the first place? If you used an electronic lead device, make sure you turn it in on time and get the download (usually either a disk or USB drive). How you process leads internally depends on what your organization has in place: do you have a central data base that these data need to be integrated into? Or is it you (as the trade show manager) who has to follow up with calls or distribute the leads to the sales force? Whatever you do, don’t forget these important links to the customers you worked so hard to find at the show.

Debriefings. Postmortems or post-show reviews always should be done, even in the smallest of organizations. Poll your booth staff and executives (or anyone else who attended the show from your organization) and get their comments. Circulate a questionnaire if need be. Ask your suppliers what worked and what didn’t with them. Get your own thoughts down while they are still fresh. Then use it all to explain to management how the show went and how they profited from their marketing expenditure. Use this report and data collection to help you plan next year’s show and the rest of the program.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Booth manners

I remember when my kids were little I’d remind them to practice their table manners and good behavior at home so that when we were out in public they’d remember them. Good manners make a good and unforgettable impression on strangers, particularly ones you want to do business with.

There are some dos and taboos for everyone doing booth duty. Three key dos:

  1. Be clean and well groomed and presentable. Always have a breath mint handy. Wear the uniform or prescribed dress.
  2. Be prepared, do your homework. Know what is expected of you in the booth.
  3. Always be polite and well mannered; please, thank you, may I help you are all phrases that belong in your booth vocabulary.

Now the taboos. Then there are things you shouldn’t do in any booth at any time, particularly your own. Three key things to remember:

  1. Don’t eat, drink, smoke, sit down, converse at length with other staffers (or on your cell phone) in the booth.
  2. Don’t be late or absent to your appointed scheduled booth duty hours.
  3. Don’t pocket leads or interfere with the sales process.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a starting place. These skills and duties should be supplemented with a good pre-, during- and post-show meeting schedule that briefs and debriefs your staff about the show. They need to know what’s expected of them before, during and after the show. Competitive information and customer or prospect scheduled meetings need to be announced and know to all who may be on duty in the booth. Be prepared and do well.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sizing budgets to booth size

When upgrading from smaller spaces to larger spaces make sure you also grow your budget accordingly.

My example is a show that was on a schedule last year and is still on this year, but a 10x20 space was purchased rather than the 10x10 that was bought last year. The show was a success, so we wanted to expand our presence. This year's (inherited) budget was based on last year's plan (not actuals). Last year, the exhibit was a portable in a 10x10 space. This year, a custom exhibit with a larger staff graced the 10x20 space. Not only did the cost for the space itself (the real estate), but the cost of services (cleaning, drayage, freight, electrical, labor) grew along with the complexity of the presentation.

Gone was one guy (probably a sales guy) setting up a pop up on an unpadded rental carpet. In it's place was a custom exhibit that came crated and required professional labor to set up. In addition, multiple computers requiring internet lines and more electricity were in the booth. More staffers taking up more travel budget and running complex programs that needed attention to design and load on the computers came with the package.

Needless to say, the $10K budget did not come close to covering the $30K final outcome. So, other shows will either be not attended or downsized to meet the budget.

Lesson learned: always, always look at last year's budget and grow the planned budget for the next year. If the size increased, everything has to grow, not just the space cost. Plan on a 3 to 1 growth going from 10x10 to 10x20. But be realistic.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hanging signs

At some time in our career we all have to deal with the hanging sign. It is what you can see across the hall that draws your prospects and suspects (and maybe clients/customers) to your booth. They can see you "across the crowded room" without having to know or search for your booth number.

Hanging signs can take a number of shapes and sizes, but most are fabric-over-aluminum framed (otherwise known as Moss-type signs--after the most popular manufacturer) units. They can be hanging banners, pinwheel shaped, cylindrical (round) or square. They can be lit, motorized (so they turn); they can be hung from light trusses or straight from the ceiling. Professional riggers (usually a crew of two in most cities) must be hired to assemble and install hanging signs from aircraft cables using a crane (equipped with a basket) and proper tools.

Be sure that the design is complimentary to the graphic and structural look of your exhibit and is sized (neither too large or too small) for the space it hangs above.

Three rules to remember:
1. Usually only island booths are allowed to have hanging signs above them (20x20 and larger).
2. Typically they are hung at 16, 20 or 24 feet (to the top of the sign).
3. Don't forget to file your approval of the sign with your organizer and place the order for riggers (to install it) with your general contractor.


(thanks to Gary Donatell, Freeman Decorating St Paul, for providing the example show rules to me)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Rules to live by

I was at a conference today where the director of talent development of Southwest Airlines was a speaker. While this seems a bit removed from a trade show blogger's usual territory, Fiona MacLeod Butts, told the story of the SWA business model and core values and they had some roots in what we usually talk about in this space.

First of all, she got my attention by Thinking in Threes. The culture of SWA is built around these three values:

1. A warrior's spirit
2. A servant's heart
3. And a fun LUVing attitude (her caps and emphasis)

Taking these values to the show manager's world is easy and a good model. In our business we have to be the front line for our marketing efforts: we are the warriors for marketing. We make sure it all happens professionally, completely and on time: we do it with a servant's heart. And I have rarely ever not had fun working on a trade show, either before, after or during a show. Successful manager's love what they do.

Lesson learned: by sustaining their company with these cultural guidelines, SWA has seen a real ROI reflected in their less than 5% turnover rate. If we as trade show professionals implement these basic values, we should see a real return of our own.


(thanks to the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce and their annual Human Resources conference)