Less than three weeks after a just-completed tradeshow, I
heard from an exhibitor I’d met at the show. He was interested in looking at
doing something new for next year’s show, which was still more than eleven
I commended him for being on top of it! His response was
that they waited too long last time around and they didn’t want to let it
happen again next year.
So what can you do now that this year’s big expo show is
over to prepare for next year’s show, even though it’s almost a year away? Let’s
count a few:
Plan ahead. Seems simple. But so many companies I talk to end up waiting until the last moment. There is no urgency to act until the dates in the calendar are nearer than you thought possible! Reach out to the various entities you may end up working with, whether it’s a current exhibit house, design house, graphic designer or whomever, and discuss your plans. You’ll get a sense of how much time things take which will give you much-needed information to put together a workable plan.
Find out what things will cost. In the case of a new exhibit, not just updating graphics on a current exhibit, you’ll need to determine how much the investment might be. There are industry averages, there’s your budget, and there’s your wish list. At some point these will all have to meet in the middle. If you’re unsure of how much your budget is, and how much things might cost, the sooner you gather that information the better prepared you’ll be as you move forward. Learning the cost of a potential new booth helps craft and shape the budget. Knowing your budget helps craft the final design.
Determine to the best of your ability what products and services you’ll be promoting. In most cases, clients we work with put this off until much closer to the show mainly because they want to have a handle on what will be available for sampling, when products or services launch and so on. At this point in your design discussions, you will likely leave placeholder graphics in place. But knowing if you have eight new products, or three, or fifteen, will help the direction of the design.
If you are not sure if you’ll continue to work with your current exhibit house, talk to several vendors. Each one will offer strengths and advantages; some will have obvious weaknesses for your specific goals. Learn as much as possible about them, speak to their current clients, learn about how the process went. Some companies will be a good fit and others won’t – there’s no real right and wrong. Often, it’s just a feeling, but feelings are important. All things being equal, people like doing business with people they like and get along with.
Take your time. If you’re more than half a year out, you have lots of time to ponder things. Run ideas by other people. Brainstorm some in-booth activities. Research what’s worked for others. The more time you are able to take, the more comfortable you’ll be with the decisions you finally reach. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll take a lot of time making decisions. Some people make snap decisions that are absolutely right. Maybe that’s you.
Finalize the plan. Get the various entities (vendors, designers, booth staff) lined up and make sure they’re all on board with the plan. Confirm the timeline, and add in a little buffer time for unexpected circumstances.
Once the show is underway next year with few to no glitches, congratulate yourself for getting so far ahead of the project!
I’ve alluded to Seth Godin’s The Marketing Seminar a few times in recent blog posts and podcasts/vlogs. In this episode I discuss the online seminar in more detail – without giving away much at all. It’s a great course, and I highly recommend it. Check the below for some bonus Seth Godin material.
I spent 25+ years in radio, switched careers in 2002 to the exhibit industry and used my writing and broadcasting skills to learn more about the industry, and created a blog in 2008 called TradeshowGuyBlog.
What is/are the story(ies) behind your book(s)?
Knowing that having a book is a great way to differentiate yourself from other exhibit sales and marketing people, I finally made myself do it in 2014/2015. I did it again in 2018 by compiling dozens of list posts from my blog. I sell some copies, but generally I use them as giveaways to potential clients.
You’re there to sell a product or service, or to connect with distributors who will sell your products or services. Which means you want to know if the visitor even uses the product. Thanks to an interview we did with Richard Erschik, we know that the first question is often:
Do you currently use our product or a similar product?
After that, you’re trying to determine if the visitor is
interested in purchasing that product in the near future:
Are you considering making a purchase soon? When?
Next, you’d like to know if the person you’re speaking to
has decision-making power:
Who makes the decision? You? Or is there someone else that is involved?
And of course, you want to know if they have the capability
to spend the money you charge for your service:
Do you have the money you’d need to invest in this product or service?
Many shows really aren’t trying to make sales on the spot.
For example, the bigger expos are more about branding, launching new products
and making connections with current clients, partners or distributors. In this
case, what’s important is to get visitors to either sample your products (such
as food), know about the new products, or in the case of other products such as
electronic gear, cameras, software and more like we saw at NAB Show, to make
sure that visitors were able to learn as much as they needed.
The company is paying good money – usually a lot of money –
to exhibit at the show, which means that every visitor is critical. Ask good
questions. Stay off the phone. Don’t eat in the booth. And don’t ask about the weather!
Big video is, well, BIG. It seems like ‘the bigger, the better.’ Admittedly, the quality of big video walls has improved noticeably the past few years. I can’t speak to the price – if the increased competition and quality has driven costs down, like it has for other products such as LED lighting. But it’s impressive. Let’s take a look:
From extremely large video to big training sessions from Adobe and others, to keynotes and journalist panels, it was all there. And I soaked it up for a couple of days last week. Here’s my take on the first couple of days of the 2019 NAB Show:
Having never attended the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, I did not have a full grasp of the scope and size of the show. And once I was walking the floor earlier this week, it still took a few hours to fully comprehend how freaking big it is. There are nearly 2 million square feet of exhibiting space in 13 halls separable by movable walls.
Over 90,000 attendees showed up along with over 1600 exhibitors to see the latest in video and audio tech in all its glory: broadcast and cable TV, sports, podcasting, radio, lighting, cloud services and much more. It was all there. And it was overwhelming.
The biggest takeaways? As an old radio guy who started his career by playing single 45s on a turntable, I can safely say: we’ve come a long way (mentioning those 45s to the 20 and 30-something folks staffing the booths also was a good way to bring forth those puzzled looks along with a hesitant chuckle – yeah, I know I’m old).
Video is huge, as are the gigantic video walls, which seemed
to adorn nearly one out of three booths. Quality is impressive. Cameras are
going up in quality as the price creeps down. Seeing and playing with 8K
cameras showed attendees what the working video world will be working with soon
if they aren’t already.
Audio production, and in particular, the production of audio
in conjunction with video, is a really big deal. Avid’s booth featured a large
screen displaying how they mixed the music that was a part of the Oscar-winning
Bohemian Rhapsody. Also there were the Oscar winners, who sat on a panel discussing
Visitors also could partake in training on a large scale:
Adobe, Avid, DaVinci Resolve and many others were doing full-on all-show-hours
in-depth training on their latest products.
From an exhibit standpoint, I also saw something I’d never
seen before: many video camera and monitor manufacturers built set and had them
populated with stand-in actors. The idea was to give visitors a chance to put
their hands on the various cameras and zoom and pan and see how everything worked
under conditions that replicated what they’d find on an actual set.
I also saw at least three stationary cars equipped with cameras to film actors as they drove. One exhibitor went even further: behind the car there was a large video image of a road as if the car was moving. On the right and left were more screens with similar images. And for the coup de grace, a large video panel suspended over the entire car which simulated the movement of the sky, reflections of streetlights and more. An actor need only sit in the car and everything else is captured in one take, with little post-shoot work needed.
Lots of international exhibitors, including Europe and China, Korea and Canada among the more prominent. It seems pretty common that exhibits from China and Korea will set up exhibits with walls that enclose much of the space. I don’t see that as much from US exhibitors, so my hunch is it’s a bit of a cultural thing. I also don’t think humor passes easily from culture to culture. One exhibitor from China had a McLaren automobile on display (wasn’t really sure of the purpose, but it certainly looked sharp). As I was talking to one of the reps, I joked that maybe they should raffle off the car at the end of the show. All I got in return was confused look. Hey, I thought it was funny!
Exhibits were impressive from the big companies, and many of
the smaller companies also had a good look. Although as in any show, you always
see the smaller companies in the 10x10s around the edges of the main floor
struggling to be seen or to even have something worth seeing. The most
impressive things seen in the smaller booths were the company’s product lit up
with LED, or something moving that catches the eye.
Esports had its own section, showing off gamers and gaming.
We know that gaming has become a multi-billion dollar industry and if you
search for esports competition, you’ll find a lot. There were panels and
competitions taking place in the section, but frankly, since I’m not a gamer,
it didn’t hold my interest that long. However, my 18-year old son probably
could have spent all of the show in this area and it wouldn’t have been enough!
The tech that supports radio, tv, cable and Internet was
also displayed throughout the halls. Not being a tech guy, much of this was
over my head, but impressive nonetheless: network, audio, video controllers;
studio design and audio and video production boards, facility infrastructure,
transmitters, processors, automation software, captioning AI, streaming,
scheduling, logging, transcription…you name it, somebody was here promoting it.
I talked to well over a hundred people about the show, how
it worked for them, how it helped create leads, sell their products. Most told
me it was a great show for them. Several said this show in particular was the
one show that gave them most of their good leads for the year for them to
follow up on.
But not everyone agreed. One woman I spoke with said she’d been coming to the show for thirty years, and it’s not the show it used to be. One comment she made totally threw me. She said the “little Sony” booth wasn’t impressive at all. My jaw dropped because I’d been at the Sony booth (probably around 10,000 square feet) earlier in the show and determined it to be one of the top exhibits there, going so far as to walk through the booth for a minute or two shooting video to capture it all. But no, she said, “Sony used to take up a third of the hall!” She said that the networks (CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS) don’t send the people they used to, and the few they do send spend all their time behind closed doors in meetings, and don’t get out and mingle on the show floor like they used to. So her market wasn’t there to the extent they used to be. I found her perspective fascinating: no matter how much evidence you see to support one view, there’s always another view that’s just as valid.
I caught a couple of events on the main stage: opening day, NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith (and former Oregon senator) gave a keynote and ended by awarding MASH actor Alan Alda the NAB Distinguished Service Award. Alan sat for about 15 minutes after the award to chat about his career. I also caught the next morning’s panel, Tales from the White House Beat, featuring Smith chatting with ABC’s Cecilia Vega, NBC’s Hallie Jackson, CBS’s Steven Portnoy and PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor as they shared stories and insight into covering the Trump administration.
I was invited as a blogger which made me a member of the media, so I felt a bit of kinship with these professional journalists. I’ve been in radio news teams, hosted talk shows and been behind the microphone for decades, and it was great to hear the stories they told.
Lastly, a shout out to these folks: Josh at Time Lapse Cameras, Kent at Sharp Electronics and Suzy at FeiyuTech for their time and information. They reached out and invited me to check out their latest. Time Lapse Cameras has, as you might imagine, some great little affordable time lapse cameras which can be used to record any number of things from construction to exhibit setup and dismantle. Sharp showed off their new 8K cameras which are out later this year, and FeiyuTech demonstrated a new action camera, the Ricco, along with a handful of three-axis gimbals and other assorted goods for the video camera market. All good stuff and thanks for having me!
What does it take to be sustainable in regards to your tradeshow marketing program? Regarding your tradeshow exhibit booth? In today’s episode of the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I chat with Tom Beard, National Sales Manager of Eco-Systems Sustainable Displays:
I’ve had a lot of bosses over the years and have learned things from them. Sometimes because they were good bosses, sometimes because they were bad. But bosses are good people to learn lessons from, one way or the other.
The first boss I had was in a little radio station in a small town in Oregon. He was a diehard Baptist and I think that colored his approach to things (not to say Baptists are bad, just using his religion to show where it came from in him). He thought every other song on the air we played on the top 40 station was about picking up girls and having sex with them. Okay, I thought that was a little weird, but when he said it time after time, I realized he was a little obsessed.
He was also rather high-strung besides being focused on songs being about guys picking up girls. There was the time he rushed into the station all aflutter and demanded that I stop the record so he could go on the air and deliver an urgent news report. I waited until the record was over, turned on his microphone in the newsroom and put him on the air. His urgent report? He’d seen an accident where someone ran a stop sign and hit another car going through the intersection. Which was basically a side street in a residential area. So it wasn’t really affecting anyone except the people in the cars, and it was a minor crash anyway.
My takeaway and the lesson I learned? If you’re a boss, being high-strung is not a good way to operate. Unless you like to inject fear into your employees. To me, that’s never been much of a motivator.
A number of radio Program Directors I either worked for, or
heard about from fellow DJs, approached dealing with their subordinates by
yelling at them. Putting the fear into them. “STOP DOING IT THAT WAY! DO IT
THIS WAY!” And so on. Again, not a good motivator. It made you fear the next
time you were on the air, knowing he’d be listening and ready to nitpick you to
Another boss I had years later in radio – the best boss I ever had in radio – taught me a lot about how to communicate with employees. His name was Carl, and as Program Director, he was my direct boss. When it came time for an “aircheck” session in which we’d listen to telescoped recordings of my on-air presentation, he approached it completely differently than anyone I’d worked for before. We’d listen for a few moments as he made notes, at which point he said something like “That was good, this was good, and I’d like you to work on this, this and this.” This critique was delivered pleasantly and with encouragement. And you frankly couldn’t wait until you got behind the microphone again. No pressure, just build you up while you work on things that he requested.
Another boss I worked for in radio was the station owner in
a mid-size town. He respected all employees as professionals, so there was very
little he said about our on-air work. But I do remember a few things he said.
“When you have good news, bring it to me immediately. I like
to celebrate good news. When you have bad news, get it to me even quicker. I
want to be able to know it, understand it and deal with it as quickly as
possible.” Makes sense to me.
In dealing with clients or partners, he’d always try to get
the last dollar from them in any negotiation. He told me he wanted “to see how
much money was left on the table.” Another good lesson.
Finally, the last “real” boss I had was Ed at Interpretive Exhibits, the first and only boss I had outside of radio. Since Ed, the only bosses I have are clients. And generally, they’re all great to work for and with.
Ed did a number of things that were important. He showed me the
spreadsheets on how he estimated monthly, quarterly and yearly earnings, a
format I still use today (he retired and closed the business in 2011 which led
me to start TradeshowGuy Exhibits). He also spent a lot of time explaining how
things worked in the industry. In particular he walked me through, dozens of
times, how he created estimates for big exhibit jobs. He’d break it down step
by step, figure out the reasonable time it took to do something, and added
about 50%. Why? Because in his experience, he saw that the original estimate
was almost always low. Which meant that even experience shop managers didn’t accurately
calculate the amount of time it takes to do something. Even down to how many
steps and how much time it took to offload something from a truck using a
forklift. Armed with that info, I’d occasionally clock the time and the steps
it took, and he was right: the shop guys almost always underestimated how much
time it took.
And time is money, so if you’re estimating time (labor), you’d
better be right, or as close to right as possible.
You can learn lots from bosses: what to do, and what not to
do. Some are good role models, others not so much. Take away what you can from
Is that a weird question: what does your exhibit remind
But think about it. We all have triggers. There are things that
we see in the present that reminds us of the past. Maybe it’s a song that takes
you back to your childhood. Maybe it’s a smell that reminds of your first love.
Could be anything.
Images, colors, stories: they all are shorthand and they can
remind us of something. Things that make us happy, sad, safe, tense.
Back to your company’s tradeshow exhibit: what does it
remind visitors of?
One good example comes from a client of ours, Bob’s Red Mill.
Its iconic red mill structure is a stylized representation of what a lot of
people see as harkening back to a different era. Mills represent the
hand-crafted way of milling grains – the loving labor that goes into producing
a high-quality product. We don’t actually see the millstone or how the grains
are ground under the weight of the stone, but the mill reminds us of that.
On the tradeshow floor, stories are told in shorthand by
using various materials, colors, shapes, fonts and more.
Green tells you: earth-friendly, plant-based, life, renewal,
energy, harmony with nature.
Red is the color of fire, blood, energy, way, strength, power, passion, determination.
Orange combines the energy of red and yellow and communicates energy and happiness, enthusiasm, fascination, creativity, determination.
When it comes to shapes, meaning can be communicated in a
lot of ways. Geometric shapes such as squares, rectangles, triangles, crosses.
Organic shapes are more free-flowing: circles, leaves,
rocks, clouds, ink blots.
Fonts tell a story, probably one of the most important. Every font has a unique personality and purpose. Bold block fonts tell one story, while flowing script fonts tell another. Thin fonts tell a story that’s different than fat ones. There’s a psychology behind using various fonts that are more than I want to delve into here, but the topic is worth taking a deeper look.
Some brands have clearly designated, iconic images (the red mill of Bob’s, the iconic “T” of Tesla, the siren of Starbucks, the apple of both Apple Computers and Apple Records to name a few). These can easily be put on a tradeshow exhibit design.
Other brands are less-known or not as well-defined, and in
those cases it often means working with a 3D exhibit designer with the skill to
use the shapes, colors and fonts needed to clearly communicate the brand’s
story in a glance with an exhibit.
If you don’t have an iconic, easily recognizable brand
(yet), we go back to the question: what does your tradeshow exhibit remind
Do the colors evoke good memories and associations? Do the
shapes clearly communicate a message that brings up a positive connection?
It’s all worth considering as you market your business by using tradeshows. After all, a tradeshow is the perfect place to present a clearly-defined image to your visitors.