Monday, October 27, 2008

Road warrior

I was fortunate last evening to sit on the plane next to a meeting planner/trade show manager. Jen is the event marketing specialist for a California-based software provider. She was headed to Orlando for Educause.

It was a brief conversation, but reminded me of some things that experienced event people have in their "collections." Things like:

Put a map of a convention center or airport in front of us and we'll probably be able to tell you from city each is from.
Each show is like a reunion: we meet up with other TSMs and vendor-suppliers that we only see in a given city or at a certain show.
Remembering where all of the good restaurants are in the show city.

These might seem like odd things, but as in any profession, there are things unique to the experience. They help you know what to do by instinct and be able to advise your client or staff with confidence.

Lesson Learned: have a good memory and use the information to save money and time.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Squeezing a memory out of a show

Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails....chances are somebody has made them into a foam stress item at one point in the trade show world. In an effort to reach out to trade show and event attendees, many exhibiting companies are resorting to the old squeeze play. OK, so I've overdone the analogies. The truth is the world of foam stress balls has grown beyond stress balls. And some of the participants are using the little foam guys in an integrated fashion and to great advantage.

At the recent NACS show I saw a variety of things in this category: foam giraffes, cars, sumo wrestlers, gasoline storage tanks (really), footballs and wrist bands. Anything tha
t you could want in a foam shape, you could have to take home. In fact, one of my colleagues said he's been collecting these things are several years and has hundreds of them.

The best example of an integrated use of a foam figure was Quantum Services. While most exhibitors come up with a foam thingee at the last minute or as a gag, Rachel Bernhardt and the crew at Quantum build their exhibit marketing image around the giraffe icon.

Quantum ( provides audit services to the convenience store industry. Their booth graphics rely on the giraffe icon and they've tied advance show mailings to an offer of a free giraffe when they arrive at the show. They've also used the spotted long-neck fellow in other media to attract attention. It's more than just a squeeze toy: it's a memory and a conversation starter.

Lesson Learned: use foam squeezers in an integrated way to attract attention, start conversations and be a reminder later.


*thanks to Rachell Bernhardt and Quantum Services

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sir, your fly is, er, down

Every once in a while you see a small exhibitor with a fresh idea of how to gather a crowd and get attention. At NACS this year, I met the guys from PestWest Environmental.

While they only had a 10x10 booth, they were close to the front of the hall. The company's roots are in lighting and lamps which, ultimately, led them to pest attraction and control (elimination). They had a popup backdrop with their logo and a draped table with samples of product and literature. Pretty typical small exhibit stuff. But their differentiator and conversation starter was the blow-up fly on a stick. Jerry and James used this prop effectively by standing in the aisle (hey, remember the easement approach to space?) and getting attention. It started a lot of conversations. And once they engaged a propsect, they had their messages down succinctly. Worked with me.

The point of all this is simple things and ideas work. Remember why you are there and think about what gets your prospects' attention and ear. Then, once you've "hooked" them, get to the point fast and clearly.

Lesson learned: simple ideas and visuals work.


Special thanks to Jerry Hatch and James Shaffer from Pest West ( or

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sign, sign everywhere a sign

With apologies to Bill Engvall and The Five Man Electrical Band, this entry is all about signs--the hanging variety used at trade shows.

The NACS show was a great example of companies using hanging structures as a part of their dimensional marketing strategy. Many use them as signposts so that visitors looking for them can find their booth from across the hall. Others use them as an extension of the booth itself--whether that be a physical extension of the structure or a graphical look that ties to the booth.

They can also be used to convey a message--verbal or visual. Perhaps it's the logo of the company, an extension of the booth message or look, or perhaps it's a symbol from a related or overarching campaign. Any and all of these approaches are justified when it comes to the highest signage in (or above) your space.

If you have an iconic product, then you have a real advantage. Heinz Ketchup and Goetze's Candies are examples of those who hung signs representative of their product. You have to be careful with scale (the size of sign in relation to the booth and the height limit), or your sign could get lost in the air. Keep in mind that at some shows the height limit can vary by the type of sign you have or from where it originates.

Hanging signs versus signs supported by the booth structure may be subject to different height limits. In most cases, height limits are measured to the top of the sign and are either at 16, 20, or 24 feet from the floor.

But above all (pun intended), keep the integrity of your icon--the same rules that apply to it in print or as a 3-D logo in the booth at eye level are to be enforced. Be sure the colors are true to the PMS colors specified for other uses. That can be tough when ink or dye colors change or look different under different types of light or from when they are applied to fabric or surfaces of sign material. Ask your vendor as they should have the experience to advise you of the challenges of the translation.

We'll discuss this again in a future entry with more examples.

Lesson learned: variety is the spice of trade show life in the hall.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Effective Booth Captain

The just-completed NACS show was a great exercise in being prepared and having measurable results at the end of it. My client, Retalix, did all of the things you need to do to make sure that the staff is prepared and knows what's going on before, during and at the conclusion of a show.

One of the critical pieces of preparing a booth staff for a show is the pre-show meetings, including the opening day standup meeting. Doug Fick, the VP of Sales for Retalix' Convenience Store business segment, gave one of the best, most complete captain's speeches I've ever heard.
In his Sunday morning speech, Doug hit on the important things he wanted his staff to know:
  • What to do when a client approaches.
  • Who to refer prospects to in the booth.
  • How to collect and qualify leads.
  • Which key customers would be visiting the booth during the show, when to expect them and to whom to refer them.
Doug spelled all this out to the staff as they stood around him. It was conversational in tone, professional and imparted useful information to the team. What's more, and beyond the staff training part of the show, Doug knows what to do with the leads and how to classify and distribute them at the show's conclusion. On the last day of the show, Doug was able to tell me who the key players were who visited the booth, could target and quantify the potential business from the show and was moving on to changing leads into business after the show. To Retalix' credit, they have a central customer/prospect database and use it to further classify, qualify and track the progress of a sale. I wish more people who use trade shows would use the tools that Doug and people like him use and implement to get the results that they truly want. The result of all this was a lead count and collection of gathered data that met the expectations of the sales team and executives and can be tracked.

Lesson learned: prepare your staff and the results will follow.


*Thanks to Doug Fick, Herman Beckley, Tal Spirer, Darren Vader and the whole Retalix team

Monday, October 6, 2008

It's not about the booth

I had dinner with a colleague from the industry last evening. We traded stories and leads and finally got to philosophy. After several minutes of spirited discussion, we both concluded one thing:

It's not about the booth.

While this seems an overstatement of the obvious, too many exhibitors and suppliers view the trade show experience as about putting up an exhibit. Great for those who want to think that way. But as suppliers and supporters of strategic marketers we really are solutions providers. As I've said many times, if you do this right, you can do it on a bear piece of concrete. However, you shouldn't have to do that. But the perception of exhibit marketing is changing as is the approach.

More exhibitors, facing reduced budgets because of tightening credit and higher shareholder expectations, want a lighter booth and don't want to store a thing for months out of the year unused. Suppliers want to keep designing and producing effective space-using exhibits that keep saws turning and warehouses full. we need to rethink this model?

That's not to say exhibits need to go away. Quite the contrary--the best and most effective way to sell to new and existing customers is face to face. there isn't a replacement for that. That said, that means that the exhibit space needs to be a strategic location for selling and effective in execution.

Fewer, more targeted exhibits that are part of a larger strategy--well-timed and placed trade advertising, trained staff, consistent messaging.

Let's not shoot for the tactic but aim a bit higher.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Finishing Touches

The last day of set up is always a day of punch lists and tending to do the last-minute details. Before you can leave the booth that one last time before the show opens, did you:

  • Put out the pen holders and other office supplies?
  • Label the last crates as "Empty"?
  • Cut the poly off the carpet?
  • Put out the wastebaskets?
  • Distribute keys?
  • Lock up?
  • Secure the last badges for the latecomers?
  • Give the booth one last heavy wipedown?

There's more, but that comes with making lists with some thought.

Have a great show!

Lesson learned: remember the details and the big things don't become big problems.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hanging a sign

They look so great and graceful (well, mostly) hanging in the air over the show floor. But somebody had to get hanging signs up there. Usually, it's up to you to get the job done.

Hanging your completed sign has a few steps:
  • Put in the order for the riggers well in advance of the show.
  • Assemble the sign.
  • Spot the location above the booth where the sign is to hang.
  • Attach the aircraft cables
  • Hoist the sign.
  • Make sure it is turned the way you want it.

Obviously, this is all done in cooperation with your rigging contractor. By putting the order in well in advance, you take advantage of any discounts. When you arrive at the show, check in at the service desk and, if you can predict it, let them know when you'll be ready for the riggers to come.

A typical rigging team is made up of two or three men: one on the ground and two in the basket (either on a forklift or a gooseneck crane, depending on the height of the sign.

Most promoters either have the sign at 20 or 24 feet to the top of the sign.

In most halls (like here in Chicago), the riggers open and assemble the sign. In some non-union environments, you or your I&D team can assemble the sign and wait for the riggers.

Spotting the location above the booth. Do this with the lead rigger. At NACS, they had the coolest laser device. We found the center of the booth and pointed the laser from that spot to the ceiling. This confirmed the location (a particular beam) where the sign will be hung from.

Part of assembly is to attach the cables. These aircraft-rated cables and attachments are usually specified by the hall or the city, so follow the lead of the riggers.

The cables are rated by size and the weight they can bear. The cables provided by the sign maker usually work, but in some cities (LA comes to mind), sometimes a heavier-rated cable has to be substituted.

There are several attach points (either 3 or 4 points on the top of the sign) from which the sign hangs. The number and location help the sign hang straight.

Make sure, as they are hoisting it, be sure the logo faces the correct direction (in this case the front of the hall). This signpost will help draw attendees and targeted visitors to your booth at the show.

Lesson learned: Again, plan and come prepared and your task will come off on time, within budget and look the part you've asked it to play.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Carpet installation

Laying carpet and pad may seem like a simple thing, but executed accurately, it can save you time and money, make your staff comfortable and improve the appearance of your booth immensely.

At this show we did several things:
  1. Notched the pad for the cables so that the carpet on top laid flat
  2. Measured from one lead corner
  3. Covered our finished work with visqueen

The guys started by taping off the lines of the 20x30 space with double-stick tape. This defines the edges of the booth and will eventually hold the carpet in place.

Next, the pad is rolled out. Usually, the pad is rolled in the opposite direction that the carpet is rolled. Since we have 4 rolls of 5 x 30-foot pad, we choose to roll the length of the booth to minimize seems. Once the pad is down, we notch it to accommodate the large electrical cords that will beneath the booth. Here in Chicago, the electrical power and internet/phone come from floor boxes, two of which are within the perimeter of the space. The large flat supply cords and round extensions are cut around and taped to the floor. The pad is taped together, but not to the floor, except in a few key places with gaff/duct tape to keep the edges from sliding.

Next comes the carpet. The two 10x30-foot rolls are started from the same end, lining up from the same corner as the pad to ensure uniformity. The guys are careful to match the nap and cut edges to make sure the seem that runs down the center match so that the line is unnoticeable. They kick the carpet until it matches and peel the top of the tape to afix it to the floor. Stories of floors too cold to allow tape to stick are traded.

Lastly, the visqueen is rolled over the top and taped in place at the far edges, outside the perimeter of the booth.

Now we're ready to start setting structure on top.

Lesson learned: roll each carpet roll in the same direction and try to roll pad the opposite direction. Notch for cables to have a flat appearance.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Guiding electrical installation

If you can get to show site early, one of the best uses of your time is to work with the electricians on the installation of your power in your booth.

At NACS in Chicago, I had a great experience with the electricians and telecom guys. They followed direction well, made solid suggestions and worked fast. If I hadn't been there to talk with them, they would have just worked off a diagram and put things where we guessed they should be.

When you respect the union rules and work with them, things get done well--usually. This time it worked.

Lesson learned: come prepared and early and be open to suggestion.


Staging Freight

One of the biggest time savers in terms of getting things off and running with your I&D crew is staging freight around your booth. That is, arranging the crates with your exhibit packed in them for optimum use around the empty space.

I was fortunate enough at this show (the NACS show in Chicago for Retalix) to arrive early enough to meet the driver and work with the forklift driver. As the crates came off the truck, we spotted them around the empty floor space. I got to my "cage" first and that allowed me to get drawings, cables and other early-need items. The rest (carpet & pad, hanging sign, first cabinets) were then arranged as to sequential need.

A side benefit was that the booth space was "walled off" from the adjacent aisle and kept other forklift drivers from crossing the space.

We start installation today.

Lesson learned: control your space and freight to save time and retain control.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Taking your orders with you

A quick reminder: have copies with you or have a reference to all of the orders you have at a show.

There is no substitute for the credibility a sheaf of papers that have the record of your order for electrical, material handling, rigging, rentals and whatever else you've ordered from the general contractor. The files will give you everything in one place (charge numbers, dates ordered, locations), so that is no question of the details involved.

Turst me, it's worth the effort.