Tuesday, January 27, 2009


It's one of the forgotten things of exhibits--crating and exhibit packaging.

This topic comes up as I work with a client who is making an addition to her exhibit. However, when the add is done, the panels the graphic is being put on to may not fit into the original crate. To top it all off, the crate the panels came out of is not holding up all that well and needs repair.

Rule #1: investment in a good crate will prolong and protect your exhibit investment.

Let's say you pay $1,000 for a good quality exhibit crate, gusseted 3/4-inch plywood, custom fitted to the pieces going inside. You could pay that extra amount for the crates or save the amount and pad-wrap and skid ship your exhibit. What you save in the crate cost, you may pay in drayage (pad-wrapped skids may be charged for differently that crated freight in your material handling bills) and in on-going damage to the exhibit.

From personal experience, I've seen a custom exhibit last only three years when it was shipped as a pad-wrapped shipment; a second exhibit I used lasted 5 years (or longer) because it was crated.

Lesson Learned: proper crating, while expensive initially, could prolong the life of your exhibit.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Be polite

Just remember, words can wound.

A friend just related to me a story about how a client "tore them a new one." Just went off the deep end over a few details of things that didn't go right on a show.

Well, we all strive for perfection. However, in this world you need to be realistic about expectations and also about what is really necessary.

Tearing into someone and having a temper tantrum is just bad manners. Besides, before you blow up at your vendor/partner/TSM, remember these items:

  • Is the problem fatal and will it stop the show?
  • Is it costly beyond the budget?
  • Does anybody but you and the person you are cutting up notice?
  • Will it keep you from doing business?
  • Will it damage your or your company's reputation?
  • Can it be fixed before the show opens?

Just stop and think. Remember your manners and that your primary purpose on the show site it to make sure the show happens.

Lesson Learned: you attract more flies with honey.


Ask questions

The only dumb question is the unasked one.

Really, if you want to know something, ask.

Ask your exhibit house why they missed the deadline or when to expect the truck.

Ask your I&D rep about the details of their last bill.

Ask the graphics guy how they put together that mural for you.

Ask your boss if they like your program.

Ask yourself if there is anything you can do better.

Lesson Learned: Ask and ye shall receive.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Don't just do things to drive revenue

An open letter to exhibit service companies:

I heard a story today from one of your customers. They had a simple request to have some advice (verbal and/or written) given to them. And all you could do was try and manipulate the situation so that you could make a sale. Send your guy to do the installation was what you suggested.

Hmmm...could maybe you have found a way to make them feel good about the work that was being to done to their exhibit which you built? that could have paid dividends in the long run. But, no, you had to find a way to get them to pay cash for something that should be a good will effort that will pay off (bigger, usually) in the future.

OK, exhibit producers, designers, service providers: I realize that this is about making money. But do you want to make a little bit now or more over the long haul?

Lesson Learned: be polite to your clients, find the best solution for them and be sure and say thank you.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Preparing for a show

The other day I met with some friends who own a small business. And by small, I mean it is the two of them, a contract sales guy and their "1099" installation crew guys. In the landscaping business, they know they have to maximize what they do with their selling time.

And they take it seriously.

When I asked the question of "who are you targeting at the upcoming golf show?" they answered me with statistics. They had done an analysis of all of their sales in the first year by age of buyer, annual income, geographic location in the metro area, and cost of sale. They also segregated commercial customers from residential and could recount repeat customers.

Now, I realize this is basic stuff and academic to most of you out there. But I have in the past worked with and for Fortune 500 companies who could tell you less about their customers and who they were targeting at a given show.

So, armed with these data, they compared it to the demographics provided by the show organizer and set up a "profile" of who they want to reach at the show. Further, they reached into their data base and, combined with what the promoter is provided, are doing a targeted e-mail blast and direct-mail (postal) mailing. They will also track responses to these items when they collect leads in the booth and will do a post-show mailing and an analysis of the traffic. This will prepare them for next year's show.

Lesson Learned: even the smallest player can win big with the right data and approach.


Thursday, January 15, 2009


Risk. At times I don't understand the word or concept. Truth is, we all need to take more of it.

When it comes to your program, look for the new, the different, the innovative. Don't be afraid to do fewer shows better or leave a show that you go to "just because we've always gone."

Try a new graphic. Or use a different staffing strategy. Implement an effective lead gathering approach. Push back on management when they don't understand a concept and want to change it because it's "different."

Explore new markets. Heck, explore markets in this economy. Make nothing out of bounds.

Lesson Learned: if you haven't done it, consider it; once you've considered it, do it; once you've done it, evaluate it.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009


With the NRF show breaking today in New York City and the IBS show going in this week in Las Vegas, it is time to remember an important part of the in-and-out of a show:

Do you know where and who your driver is?

Make sure before you leave for your show and before you leave the show floor at the end, check in with your driver. You should have their cell phone number and be sure to ask whomever made the arrangements (exhibit house, van line, freight company, your traffic manager) to provide you with their numbers, name and when you are to expect them.

When you first arrive on site (or the day before), contact your driver so their ETA is clear. Meet them on the dock and supervise the load out. Work with the forklift driver and your driver to spot your freight around your booth space to maximize your set up. Work with the driver and the freight manager at the show site to ensure paperwork is correct and if you can get copies.

On the down, call your freight contact or driver the day before load out. Usually the driver is scheduled to show up at show site at the show close and remain to help with some packing and labeling of the shipment. Turn in the bill of lading (BOL) and keep a copy. The freight manager will ask (and they will on the BOL, too) if you have contacted your freight company. Get the crate count right and make sure all is secure.

Lesson Learned: you can't know too many people in the freight process.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Make a list, check it twice

I know, I know, Christmas is past and Santa's gig of checking on good little girls and boys is done. However, today I was reminded by a friend of the importance of correct (and checked) manifests.

Make sure what you want at the show in time for set up is shipped. And you have a list to prove it.

When your exhibit house (or whomever is packing and shipping your display) sends you a manifest to review--DO IT! The more eyes that look at something, the less chance you will have counter tops or the wrong graphics shipped to show site. And, if at all possible, visit the exhibit house and physically review the shipment.

In my reminder talk today, my friend told me of the wrong graphics being shipped--well, supposedly. The portable display has two sets of graphics and one frame. When the one shipped graphic set arrived on show site, the set up guy opened the box and saw a photo of the other set (the incorrect set) of graphics. He didn't check the contents of the container, but called and asked (and received) the second set in a counter-to-counter shipment. This needs to be looked at from two points of view: always check the actual contents (don't assume) and double check the shipment before it leaves the warehouse. Kudos, however, to the exhibit company for the quick response to save this show, regardless.

Lesson Learned: check, recheck and receive and recheck.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Carrying through on brand

We all preach brand and consistent image, but here's an example of carrying a theme through all media to make your image clear to your various audiences.

Aviall is the world's largest aviation parts supplier. They have a significant presence in trade media and utilize a large slate of trade shows, both international (Australian Air, Paris, Farnborough) and domestic (NBAA) and across verticals (HAI, MRO). So, needless to say, their brand is strong and recognizeable.

Through a series of ads and other strategic planning and positioning, Aviall has an identity as "the box the parts come in." Their value proposition is based on the service provided before and after the box arrives. These ads have appeared in numerous aviation industry publications as well as show dailies around the world.

The image is so important that in 2007, the company instituted an internal (intra-company) training program to involve all employees with the brand.

iDeliver introduced every employee in the company to the brand pillars and educated them on the value and position of the brand as it relates to them.
Fast forward to the trade show program. How to carry over the theme to the exhibits without either diluting or overexposing the brand. Several ideas were floated, but on the floor of the HAI show last year, several people associated with the account thought out loud about having the box be the hanging sign.

"What if," they said," the box were to hang over the booth? It would be direct and simple, but be iconic." So, the search was on for examples and costs.

At the NACS show in October, a sample sign was spotted.
The shape, size and position were all of what was sought. Now, how to traslate that to reality.

Freeman of St Paul handles a portion of the program and came up with some concepts. Based upon a typical hanging sign frame, the design was crafted by Zachry Associates, Aviall's agency, and, collaboratively, appeared in the design for the 2009 HAI show.

Here's an example of owning one's brand and embracing it realistically and without fanfare.

Lesson Learned: own your brand and take charge of it without being overbearing.


Thanks to Kim Williamson of Aviall; Gary Donatell of Freeman St Paul; and Jeff Warr, Danny Flanagan and Brian Stark of Zachry Associates.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Detroit Auto Show

The beat goes on with examples of why trade shows are important and the place to be:

The International Auto Show opens in Detroit today.

What with the US auto industry bailout being in the news and with technology being what it is--ever changing--what better place to be to either exhibit and market your products or be on the floor and in the hall to hear (and be a part of) the buzz.

Case in point: newspapers across the land today are featuring stories of the new models and events of the show. Well, the do it every year, but this year brings a new spin or slant: what are the participants doing to make it work for them. In the weekend editions of the Dallas Morning News have been stories of how the exhibitors are saving money by foregoing special rollouts and assembling their stands in part off site. The dealers are also being interviewed and, of course, the models making their debuts at the show are being featured.

The best quote so far from those stories has been this: Jim Smith, a Saturn dealer in Lewisville, Texas, is quoted as saying he is "keeping his eye on the Detroit auto show for clues about the future of the industry."

That alone should sum up the importance of an industry show to the industry members.

You should be able to translate Mr. Smith's approach and sentiments to your industry. If you're in the retail industry, tomorrow's opening of the NRF show in New York is most likely the focus of your business life right now. Same for the home builders with IBS just about to open. And let's not forget Shot Show for the hunting and outdoor recreation industry. Take a look and a listen even if you can't go and take the pulse of your world of business.

Lesson Learned: understand the place of trade shows in your industry and markets to be ahead of the curve.


Special thannks to the Dallas Morning News.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


One hundred. 100. One-zero-zero. A C-note. A 10x10 booth. CWT.

I know in the realm of blogging, 100 isn't a lot. But the number 100 has significance in the trade show industry.

A 10x10 booth, the basic building block unit of a trade show floor, is 100 square feet. Everything on a floor is based upon this. Most exhibitors start with a 10x10 and work up. One hundred is where we all start.

CWT. Hundred weight. The basic unit of material handling. Whether it's single digits or over $100 per hundred weight, we all pay the general contractor in this unit to move our stuff from the dock to our booth. Still the most controversial and disliked concept and charge in the industry.

A C-note. We're all trying to save $100s from our budgets these days.

You can't get away from those 100s. Here's to the next 100.

Lesson Learned: we all have to start somewhere. Thanks for reading


Friday, January 9, 2009

Size doesn't really matter.....

.......but the size of the effort does.

Today's case in point is the Dallas Business Journal's outreach to the DFW business community. While this may be a small exhibit, it plays by all of the rules to make it work and produce results for it's owners. What more could a committed exhibit marketer ask for?

This is about as simple as it gets: a table drape, samples of the products, an offer for a prize, a place to collect cards (leads) and a staffer to ask questions and engage prospects.

This miniature set up works for them: the outsides sales folks have quotas of subscriptions to make and they apparently not only meet those quotas, but exceed them. They probably hit 2 to 6 events a week in the Metroplex and come away with a combination of new subscribers and convert readers (the word is the DBJ outsells the Dallas Morning News' Business section). They hit chambers of commerce events, sporting events, association meetings and other expos. They have a prominent place in the business community and this little bitty exhibit plays a consistent role in that.

Lesson Learned: the rules apply regardless of size.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

The real value of trade shows

Here's why trade shows are really important: they are newsworthy and a showcase for an industry, a market or a business segment.

Our case in point today is CES, the Consumer Electronics Show.

Here, datelined Las Vegas and shown on Yahoo, is a product announcement about the latest netbook: http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/patterson/32540 from Sony.

This is exactly why you go to a show. Whether you exhibit or not, you at least have to be on the show floor to feel the vibe, hear the buzz and be a part of the action. And it's not just with an industry like consumer electronics. The auto industry could be a really cool place to be this year with the challenges they have.

Being on the scene and being seen are two very important aspects of trade show and event marketing.

Lesson Learned: Leaders lead.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Set up instructions

I was talking with a client/friend of mine this morning and comparing notes on trade shows. He told me of something that is probably maddening to more than one of you out there.

Ineffective set up instructions.

Really now, can we NOT have the engineers who design most portable or pop-up exhibit systems write or create the set up instructions? Apparently the set up drawings with my friend's Nomadic portable covered nearly every conceivable configuration that could be had with the exhibit--that is, if he had purchased and owned every conceivable configuration? Why can't the instructions fit the model and pieces you buy and are going to use?

For example, this Manhattan phone book of instructions said things like "ignore steps g, h and i if you have x-type lights; if you have y-type lights, please see steps, l, m and q." Come on, guys, learn from HP and others--pack a simple sheet that says: "open box, attach panels and lights, and set up. Plug in lights. Do reverse to take down."

Do we have to make things complex to show they add value?

Lesson Learned: simpler is better and be direct and to the point. works for set ups as well as booths staff training.


Monday, January 5, 2009

The Exhibitor's Show

It's coming around again--the Exhibitor's Show in Las Vegas.

It's hard to believe it's been a year, but the package (actually, the latest one) came in the mail yesterday. It was like Christmas for exhibit people--lots of options for training and interaction. The crowd who attend are really a who's who of the trade show and exhibit industry, both from the supplier and the customer side.

Before you dismiss this as a shameless plug, remember this: every time management and self-help guru out there says we all need time to regroup and "sharpen the saw" or something similar. Don't neglect your training and certainly don't neglect your network.

Lesson Learned: always be open to learning something new and meeting new people--your career depends upon it.


Why We Go to Shows

A story in today's Dallas Morning News Business section spells out a few reasons why we chose to market via trade shows.

The story focuses on CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, opening in Las Vegas this week and the 30-plus Dallas-based companies attending. Big or small, these companies see the value in being at a nexus of their business and markets.

"I'm not sure what to expect. I just want to explore the scene and learn as much as possible," said William Ross of Industrial Gaming Peripherals.

This is the heart of why you want to exhibit: you not only get to sell in the environment, you get noticed and get to notice others. You get to have conversations that you wouldn't have on the typical sales call or sitting in your office. You get to notice what your partners and competitors are doing. You are the beneficiary of the "buzz" in the industry. And with with a place as big as CES, you get to be part of several "things."

"I tend to think we'll get lost in the crowd, but if a buyer from Best Buy stumbles across us and likes what we have, we could double our revenues on the spot. It's a roll of the dice, but there's not much downside," said David Freeman of Gemini Consumer Technology.

Now, there is a statement from a real business person and savvy marketer: it's a risk, but it's worth it for the one contact. Sometimes the math doesn't add up, but it could.

"We're not going to the show to exhibit what we already offer," said Karen Raskopf of Blockbuster. "We're going there to walk the floors and meet with the most innovative people we see. We want to find the next big idea.....for our customers."

Not exhibiting can work--if you can use the show as Blockbuster is doing. They are veterans and know where to go and who (and what) to look for. It's all about the face-to-face and the customer.

Lesson Learned: know how to use a show to your best advantage and take a risk to promote your company.


Special thanks to the reporting of Andrew Smith of the Dallas Morning News

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Plan some down time

As we enter this new year, don't forget to find time for you. I realize that we all live busy lives when we're on show site and, actually, all of the time leading up to and following a show. But one does need to recharge one's batteries or all of your work could be moot.

After a few years of traveling to shows, I finally declared that I would see things to make the trip somewhat mine. Whenever I was in a city with a MLB ballpark and it was the season, I would always make a point to take a cab to the park and buy a ticket, if even for a few innings. I've probably seen half of all of the parks in MLB this way. And I did it within my per diem for the day!

At any rate, whether it's museums or ballparks or a meal at that restaurant in Atlanta you always wanted to try, make sure you take time for you.

Lesson Learned: don't let your batteries run down and expand your mind at the same time.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

A big month, show wise

January has always been a big month for trade shows. Going back in my career, we had a number of shows that kicked off the year in a variety of industries. Now that I think about it, several industries anchor their years with January shows.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) is always at Jacob Javits convention center in New York City the first few weeks of January. This show started small (before moving to the big hall, it was held in hotel ballrooms and consisted of tabletops and portables) but has grown as retail has grown and changed. A large number of the anchor exhibitors are technology companies (Fujitsu, IBM, NCR, Motorola-Symbol, Oracle) as retail has become dependent on technology to target and find and define an ever-dwindling customer base.

The National Association of Home Builder's (NAHB) flagship show, the International Builder's Show (known as IBS) takes up 4 days in either late January or February on 2-year turns in select cities (Vegas, Orlando, New Orleans, Atlanta). A very horizontal show, it brings in over 1,000 exhibitors and 60,000-plus visitors to talk about everything from tools to paint to trucks to fixtures of all kinds. Houses are build inside and outside the hall and dancers and talent of all kinds are featured to help tout the wares of the likes of Sears, Kohler, Anderson Windows, Cambria and Whirlpool. This is (or was?) such an influential show that the Dallas Convention Center is nicknamed "the house that IBS built."

The heating and air conditioning world focuses on the AHR Expo (nicknamed ASHRAE for the association that holds it's conference at the same time). AHR is a bit of throwback in that no booth (with a few exceptions) can be over 8 feet in height. Hanging banners aren't allowed and in-line sight lines are also enforced. Johnson Controls and Honeywell used to be the stars of this expo, and live demos of burners, boilers, heating and cooling systems and software control systems were there for the 50,000-plus visitors to see in over 900 exhibits.

Also in the mix are Surfaces, Coverings and CES. These are just a few examples of anchor shows for key industries in our country. As we make our way through economic recovery, let's not forget that sales and progress are made in face-to-face sales and positive interaction.


Thursday, January 1, 2009


If there is one thing I've learned, it's that patience is a virtue when it comes to managing a trade show program.

Like a marriage, you are in it for the long haul. You can plan and plan, but things don't always fall into place as you think they will or should. Just because you asked for something from the exhibit house doesn't mean it will happen on time (more than likely, in all fairness and the wish for perfect customer service, it will). Or you get the space you wanted at that all-important big show (or the small one, for that matter). Change and detours are a way of life in the exhibit marketing business. Here are some words of advice:

Just roll with it.

Yeah, right. But really. If you can't get that space, work with what you you do get (but don't forget to ask the promoter just why--maybe they didn't get the real word on why you wanted your first choice).

Your best bet for success is to look at the big picture. Yes, the details of budget and graphics and all that are important, but be sure to look at your program broadly--how it fits with corporate and department objectives, when specific shows happen as events with regard to product releases and such, what you have to accomplish as goals over a series of shows, how a group of products interact with each other over that same course, and how your staff will work overall.

Lesson Learned: roll with the punches, be honest and look at the big picture.


Cost-cutting ideas

Let's ring in the new year with some ideas on how to save and make your exhibit marketing dollar (peso, euro, lira, drachma) go further.

There are several ways you can make your investments and expenditures go further. Here are three ideas:

  1. Streamline current processes.
  2. Review your freight plans.
  3. Standardize configurations.

Streamline current processes. Take a look how you are spending your money. Are you asking your vendors to do things you could be doing? Is there something that's being duplicated for each show that could be done once in the year? One of our clients, when she came on board as TSM discovered that her predecessor had had the exhibit company buying exhibit space and marking it up! Do you have a similar example?

Review your freight plans.
Do you have several shows in a row using the same properties in close geographic proximity? That is, is that 20x20 at the January show in Las Vegas going to be used within 2 weeks again at a show in LA when the shipment originates at your warehouse in Dallas? By planning ahead on configuration, routing and packing, you can save freight (no back and forth) and pull and prep charges by your exhibit house.Bold
Standardize configurations. Do you use the same properties for all of your configurations? Is the 20x20 configuration different each time? Does it have to be? Or can it use the same properties (cabinets, headers, walls) each time? Is the 20x20 the core of the 20x30 and 30x30? By using the same properties for each configuration, you standardize the pull and prep costs and the shipment size.

Lesson Learned: a simple review taking a few hours could yield a savings of many dollars over a year's time.

Happy New Year!