Friday, July 31, 2009

At the right show?

Recently a colleague related a story about a client's confusion over a show.

There are a number of shows in several industries that have similar names. In this example, the client thought they were going to the Dubai Air Show, when in fact, they had booked space at the Dubai Airports Show. The former is a defense and aerospace show on a par with the Paris and Farnborough Air Shows. The latter is an equipment and services show for the commercial or civil airport markets.

Fortunately for the client, his trade show service provider was able to flex with the situation and save the day. Appropriate graphics and booth properties were substituted in a 6-hour span and the on-site sales guy was pacified and able to sell in the space.

However, it is important to make sure that, either as a client or an advisor, that the right show for the right audience is chosen before you pay for space.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Report from the Field: Trade Show Bob at TS2

Our colleague, Trade Show Bob Milam was at the Trade Show Exhibitor's Association (TSEA) TS2 (trade show for trade shows) last week in Chicago. He filed this report for us.

"I have indeed just returned from TS2 last week, where I had some very interesting conversations with industry colleagues. It was my first TS2 in a number of years, since it always seemed to conflict with another show, or something."

"I was somewhat surprised, yet pleased, to see the difference in the attendee make-up between TS2 and Exhibitor Show. While Exhibitor Show caters to the client-side-based 'Trade Show Manager', I noted that TS2 attracted a much broader (yet sparser) spectrum of the industry. I&D Company principals, transportation guys, designers, show organizers, exhibit builders, etc., etc., were walking the aisles alongside some exhibit managers."

"I was able to have several discussions about current industry 'hot issues' with many of these industry participants - which was the most valuable part of TS2 for me. In listening to their comments, I have drawn the following conclusions:
  • Shows are definitely needed - face-to-face isn't going anywhere (I already knew that, but ...)
  • Attendance is down universally - with corresponding buying power % up.This isn't helping the health of the shows - down is down = less money coming in to stage the event.
  • The two big issues for shows these days are : 1) exhibitor retention and 2) attendee attraction.
  • Most shows don't know how to do either one very well.
  • Exhibitors continue to show how naively ignorant they are (as a group) when it comes to evaluating a show's potential for success.
"These last few bullets have really got me thinking about how to reach more potential clients for 'Trade Show Bob' while having the greatest impact on the industry. I'm formulating some plans now that I'll be testing out in the coming weeks. If all goes well, I may have new success stories to share."

Thanks, Bob, for your insights and observations.


Bob Milam can be reached at

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Revisiting choosing a marketing partner

In an earlier post, we discussed how you should choose a potential marketing partner. With the economic climate being what it is currently, you should revisit this process.

Just because the incumbent is the incumbent doesn't mean you should keep them--or shed them. Ask for regular reviews and to revisit your contract or pricing structure. If they can afford it and you need to make cuts, come to an understanding so you both can survive. You can make it up to each otehr later.

You should also broaden the scope of your view of suppliers. Many times you might be able to get away with one supplier rather than two or three. Can your branding agency handle your trade show program? Can your trade show house support your branding and marcom mix? Do you hyave an outside consultant who can broker all of the above?

Be creative in your approach and consider the many alternatives. There is more than one way to skin a cat.


Monday, July 20, 2009

TSEA and the exhibit manager

TSEA's annual TS2 event opens in Chicago today. If you are an exhibit manager and you haven't heard of this organization, take a look at the reports from The Windy City and consider keeping up with these folks.

The Trade Show Exhibitor's Association has been around for years and was my first exposure to a group doing what I did. Being a 3D communicator in an internal marketing communications group led by 2D people made me a bit of the odd guy out. However, when I went to my first Trade Show for Trade Shows (TS2) years ago, I found myself among my own kind and feeling like less of an island.

At TSEA I met those people in my community--the trade show and events community--and learned that what we did wasn't just an afterthought to the brochures and executive interaction that my bosses found so important. What I did learn was that me and my peers at other companies creating the selling environment that directly generated revenue and profit for our employers. Wow, I thought, this job could really make a difference to the bottom line.

Being able to walk the exhibit floor as a potential buyer and interact with my fellow TSMs and our suppliers (some of whom I still connect with to this day) gave me the energy to seek more. More information to make my exhibits powerful selling tools. More information to train our exhibit staffers. More information to justify and support the ROI of my program. It was that great culmination of training, salesmanship and camradarie that we all need as professionals in whatever field we choose.

While Lee Knight's Exhibitor Show draws bigger and is the CEU keeper now, it is always good to know that there is more than one source for information and training. and, for me anyway, the original trade show for trade shows.

Keep up the good work, TSEA. I hope to be back in a future year.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Report from the field: NECC Show

Our colleague, Micheal Edgren VP of Marketing at Renaissance Learning, just returned from the National Educational Computing Conference with this report.

“NECC has been on an upswing for years now. There was a time when shows like FETC (Florida Educational Technology Conference) were a national draw for educators interested in technology, but the attention has clearly moved to NECC. Reported attendance was 12,850. Although this is down 4% from 2008 attendance they’ve done significantly better than other educational conferences. Some, like IRA (International Reading Association) had horrendous years due mostly to the necessary belt-tightening on the part of our public school systems.”

“NECC was held in Washington, D.C.this year just before the 4th of July. You might think that there was something special in their thinking, but this show is always held just before the 4th. It is remarkable how successful they are considering that the vast majority of educators are on vacation or working second jobs at this time."

"The exhibit floor of NECC is everything an exhibitor might hope it would be. Attendees are hungry to learn what’s new. They are serious minded and willing to spend quality time to learn. About 2/3 of all exhibitors seem to understand how to engage these educators, while the remaining third just don't seem to get it. The best create highly interactive and engaging presentations that more often than not involve a hands-on experience. Entertainment can work but only to the extent that it is backed by solid information. Something we learned last year when we started each presentation with a 3-minute very physical comedy sketch that mixed The Matrix with Back to the Future and half a dozen other sci-fi fantasy films."

“This year, we (Renaissance Learning) scrapped the entertainment and did just as well without it. Exhibitors that don’t seem to get it often have conventional overbuilt structures that are foreboding, overdress their employees (suits and ties don’t get visited, polos and t-shirts with friendly sayings do, particularly if there is a chance that the visitor might score said t-shirt), or overstaff their booths.”

"It is a terrific show, very well run, and gets better each year. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) that runs the show is to be congratulated. Here’s hoping education budgets improve and we can see 15,000 or more in Denver next year.”"

Thanks, Mike, for a very complete report. It's great to hear from exhibitors that get it and know how to use shows to their full advantage.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

From Paris Air: is customer service dead or on life support?

Our colleague just returned from the Paris Air Show with a story that, in this day and age, is a bit unbelievable. But given our source, undeniably true.

Having hired a limo service for cars (for execs) and a bus (for staffers), it seemed that all was going well. the execs had drivers who were on time, knew their routes and spoke when appropriate. The bus, however, was quite a different story.

The first day, the driver not only arrived late, but shut off the bus. Doing that caused further delay in that it couldn't restart without a lot of gut grinding. Finally started, the driver proceeded to take the freeway to the show, causing further delay. This set of circumstances couldn't go without a call to the limo service contact.

Even with the call, the second day the same driver showed up (did I mention he lacked English-speaking skills?), again stalled the bus and had to have a second bus called for back up. More complaining and not a real clear conclusion.

Fortunately, the execs were immune to these problems.

The remainder of the show went smoothly. It's hard to say whether they will be used again.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Using space appropriately with your product

It is easy to get caught up in the size of your space and the properties you will use to fill it. However, one of the most effective ways to do space planning is to step back and look at your product (or offering or service).

How will your clients and prospects interact with the product? How do you want them to interact? What is the best use of space to display your product?

As they say, white (empty) space has weight. This can be used to your advantage. Why not base your display around your product rather than a display? One of the best recent examples of this is EBAA Iron's island booth at the AWWA show in San Diego.

EBAA has a distinct advantage when considering this approach: their product is large and dominates most any space.

Rick Rackow, the marketing manager in charge of trade shows, really populated the carpeted space with large pipe and arrayed graphics between them. Then hung a visible sign above it all. Straightforward, simple, but eye-catching and workable.

This also uses the space to their advantage in that conference and discussion space is easy to find. Since a large part of their business is relationship based (distributors, resellers and end customers who are government), having meeting spaces became a paramount consideration.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Good old boy networks

OK, the old ways do have a place. But do they?

Loyalty and dedication are one thing. Blindness relating to either is quite another.

A recent experience with a client and an incumbent supplier brought this to light. Just because there is an incumbent, doesn't mean they are the best fit. And from the supplier side, we think about this daily. Yes, choose your suppliers because they are loyal, provide the service when you ask, you like the contact person, and they've been with you since day one and know you and your business real well. However, in today's environment, both suppliers and buyers must be looking for or provide the best value for the effort. In recent times this has been referred to as "value-added" service.

Do you provide value-added service? Are you getting value-added service?

If the selection of a supplier is the responsibility of one of your direct reports, let them make the decision on who to choose. Chances are, your colleague has a great sense of what is needed from the supplier and best for the task at hand.

From a supplier standpoint, do you review your services on a regular basis with your clients? Are you evolving to support their changing markets and needs?

Having old, good friends as suppliers has its place, but we must be judicious, but polite.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

The convertible exhibit

Trade show program properties many times are engineered to do double or triple duty. That is, can your properties be set in multiple configurations--10x20, 20x20, 30x40--while still maintaining the look and feel of the brand and the company?

A variation of this is a property that can be configured and shaped into different sizes and appearances to support multiple clients. Our friends at Smalley & Associates in Dallas have a custom rental property that we'll use here as an example.

The booth was originally built for a client in the industrial power control business. The kiosks and graphic spaces featured the brand and products in multiple configurations.

The same properties were also proposed for a client in the security equipment and monitoring business.

While the offerings are quite different, the basic booth allowed for demonstration and client-staff interaction (the key to effective sales and marketing). The structure was modified with vinyl and/or graphic treatments to give it the look of the renting client.

The point of this case is to, as an exhibitor, be thinking of how you can direct your exhibit dollars by either having a versatile exhibit built for you or how you can rent someone else's booth and configure it for your purposes.