Entrepreneur and Author Peter Shankman has a new book out – his first ‘non-business’ book – and I got a chance to talk to him about it on this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. The book is called “Faster Than Normal,” and the topic was a good one for discussion:
Do you fret and worry about tradeshow logistics to the point of even wondering what they are and what you might be missing?
Let’s go over some basics, as much to refresh my memory as yours.
Tradeshow logistics generally refers to the actions it takes to get things and people to and from the tradeshow:
Shipping: exhibit properties, products, and samples
I&D: setting up and dismantling the exhibit on the show site
Travel: making sure that people who are attending the show have flights, hotels, and transportation scheduled.
SHIPPING: Advice from the pros: plan ahead on as much as possible. Ship to the advanced warehouse to save money. Get all the paperwork done ahead of time. Label everything clearly. Don’t leave anything to chance: schedule the shipment ahead of time and call ahead the day before to confirm the pickup.
At the show, get all your paperwork in order, including the MHA (material handling agreement), work with the show services folks to make sure you have everything properly labeled and communicate pickup times to your freight company to avoid “forced freight” which will cost you an arm and a leg, for starters.
I&D: Installation and Dismantle: frankly, it all begins with the design. Properly designed, a tradeshow booth will minimize show labor onsite during installation and dismantle. Your exhibit should be designed to be as show-ready as possible. Sometimes that means shipping a counter fully assembled.
If you’ve hired an I&D team for your exhibit, be a part. Arrive early to supervise and monitor so that if any questions come up you can either answer them or pull out your phone where your exhibit house is undoubtedly on speed-dial.
If you are setting up a simple inline booth that pulls out of a rolling shipping case, chances are you won’t need to hire show labor. If you think that’s the case, make sure you know how long it will take to set it up ahead of time, and how many people you think it will take.
TRAVEL: here the only real question is: do you want each attendee that you’re taking to schedule their own travel, hotel, and transportation, or is someone doing it for all of them and then passing on the travel arrangements? In any event, I’ve found that if you’re booking hotels through the show site it’s better to do it earlier. In some popular shows, the good/cheap/close hotel rooms go very quickly. I’ve also had good luck booking through Airbnb. I try to book those several months ahead of time. As for travel, it’s been said – and I’m no expert – that booking your flight about six weeks out is the best. It seems to work for me.
It’s a common question: should you stay with your current exhibit house or move on to a new one? Naturally, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. So, let’s go over some of the situations where the question might arise.
How long have you been with your exhibit house? While the length of association isn’t a critical factor, it’s often one of the items that people look at first. If you’ve been using the same company for a decade, you may start to wonder if you’re being taken for granted. Which takes us to the next question:
Are you being taken for granted? As a longtime salesperson and project manager working with clients in the exhibit world, it’s easy to slip into the ‘take it for granted’ mode. You think that once you have a client, they’ll always be there. After all, loyalty works both ways, right? No. It doesn’t.
Is their creativity limited? Even though you’ve been working with the same vendor for years, do they have enough creativity to help you as you expand? This gets to the next question:
Are you outgrowing your own exhibit house? You may work for a company that is growing by leaps and bounds. If your current exhibit provider only offers standard kits or modular exhibit properties and you’re ready for a custom-design-and-build, maybe it is time to move along.
Is there a change in your management? Often, changes in vendors come about because someone new in management has made the decision, or given heavy influence, to using a vendor that he or she has worked with in the past. It could be because they have a good working relationship, or they’re good friends with someone at the other exhibit house. In any event, changes in key positions at a company can lead to changes in vendors.
Are you shopping around? Often, changes come because a new, large project is in the offing and the marketing team wants to have a handful of exhibit houses compete for the job, so a Request for Proposal or RFP is released to a few select companies. May the best company win!
How successful has your overall exhibiting program been – and how crucial to that success has your current vendor been? I’ve seen some clients I’ve worked with grow significantly during my association with them. Our part – design and fabrication of the booth – may be a small part of their tradeshow marketing program, but it’s a key element. And since it works well, from their point of view, there’s no reason to change. Why fix what isn’t broken?
Do you get along with all the key players? No matter what you’re buying or contracting for, if the project or ongoing business association demands a lot of interaction, it’s critical that everybody has a good working relationship. If not, things get uncomfortable quick. Getting along with someone and having good communication when issues arise means more than almost anything else.
Does your current exhibit house struggle to fill your needs? Are they a good fit? This may be one of those ‘you can’t see it because it’s behind the scenes’ situations, but if you sense that the vendor is stretched thin to meet your needs, they may not be a good fit. For example, at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, there’s no way we could handle a NIKE. It’d just be too much for us, even though having the contract would be a feather in our cap. You know, something to brag about to Mom. Our ‘wheelhouse,’ if we have one, is designing and fabricating smaller exhibits, from 10x10s to small islands, along with coordination of logistics when desired. Your exhibit house should know their capabilities and tell you if what you’re looking for isn’t a good fit for them.
Finally, when it comes to fit, are you lost in the crowd? Smaller exhibitors may work with large exhibit houses, but in some cases, your small 10×10 project may be such a small project for a company that is used to building those large custom islands, that your teeny-tiny inline exhibit is not all that important to them. And if your project doesn’t feel important, you don’t feel important to them.
There’s no definitive answer to the question of when you should leave your current exhibit vendor. If you’ve been with your current vendor, it may take a significant change in your needs or changes in key positions to get to that point. In any event, there are hundreds of exhibit providers ready to assist you if you’re ready to make a change.
Richard Erschik of TradeshowLeadstoSales.com joins me for a fun and very useful conversation about how to generate (and follow up with) great leads at your next tradeshow. What are the five questions you need to ask before you’ve identified a good lead? Watch or listen now:
It’s not hard to take great tradeshow photos with a smartphone. But it’s also really easy to take some pretty bad and frankly usely photos with your smartphone. I know – I’ve taken many! So how do you take good photos at a tradeshow? Let’s go over a few tips:
Hold still! The photo looks great on your screen, but when you blow it up, you’ll often see a photo that is slightly blurred. So, it’s not usable. Right before you take a photo, take a second to steady yourself, hold your breath for a moment and then press the button. Tradeshow lighting usually sucks, so holding your camera still will give you a better chance to get a steady shot.
Know what you want in the photo. Is it a photo of your exhibit? Do you want people in or out of it? If it’s a photo of the exhibit, you’ll often have to wait until people clear out of the way. If you want a great photo of the exhibit, the best time to take it is before the show floor doors open. That’s the time few people are around and the carpets are clean and everything looks great.
For people pictures, get up close. People pictures are great. You can post them online, share with colleagues or even use them in emails or on your blog. Faces should be recognizable, and if you’re planning on posting it, please get permission from the subject first. Cropping is easy, but if you get up close in the first place, you’ll have less to crop.
Take a lot of photos to get the one you want. With a chaotic moving environment that is a tradeshow floor, to get a great shot, you’ll often have to take several. Depending on the situation, that may mean taking a burst of photos by holding down the button if your phone does that or taking several using different angles, as well as using both the landscape (horizontal) or portrait (vertical) approach.
Take shots of things you wouldn’t normally consider. Given that the only issue with taking photos is storage space and not the cost of film like when I was a kid, you can take as many as you want and delete those that didn’t turn out. That may mean a shot of the carpeting, or a storage area, or the back of your booth, or close-ups of how things connect. Whatever – it doesn’t matter. The more photos you have of your exhibit the better you’ll be able to track down evidence of some issue that may come up later, such as what parts are missing or how a seamed image looks.
Don’t use flash. I’ve never been happy with how smartphone photos taken with the phone’s flash look. And with a lot of ambient lighting like that you encounter at tradeshows, the flash will generally put poor looking highlights in the closer part of the image and darken the rest of it. It most cases, using flash won’t improve the shot.
Look for different angles. If you’re trying to take photos of a crowd, hold your phone up (or get a tall person to help), or stand on something if possible. Or try taking photos from knee level and see what you get. Be willing to experiment to see what kinds of photos you’ll get.
Maybe these should be not-so-frequently-asked tradeshow questions. Or as we like to call them: NSFAQs. Because I don’t know if these questions ever get asked. But maybe they should.
What do I do when the exhibit doesn’t show up? Hmm. It comes down to having a plan B. Or being able to think quickly on your feet. Being resourceful. Being like MacGuyver! It might mean printing up a quickie banner at a local print shop, getting a couple of rental chairs and table, setting up a laptop with a slide show. Anything to show your guests. Yes, of course you’ll do your best to track down the exhibit and it MAY get to you in time. But if not…
Why do exhibitors do dumb things?
We’re only human. That’s why we left all but a half dozen business cards in the office. That’s why our eyes glaze over after a long day right when that big prospect comes up and asks a really good, engaging question. That’s why we can’t sleep in an uncomfortable hotel bed and we show up at the booth with eyelids and tail drooping. That’s why – when we do all of these things – we still suck it up, put on a smile and make the best of it.
Why did the company decide to invest in a HUUGE island booth but only provide three staffers? Or the flip version: why did the company cut corners with a small inline booth but have 15 people scheduled? Could be bad planning. What do you think?
When did your co-worker take that weird/ugly/goofy photo of you and decided to post on your company Twitter account with the show hashtag and now you’re getting lots of comments? When you weren’t looking. Are you going to get even?
Why am I standing next to a handful of booth staffers who think they need to keep checking their phones 85 times a day, eat a sandwich in the booth, and ask questions of visitors such as: “Can I help you?” Here’s one with an easy answer: they’re newbies and nobody bothered to tell them that tradeshows are a unique environment. It’s a sales environment, but atypical. You need to discern if your visitors would use your product, if they’re in need of it now or the not-too-distant future, who is the decision maker and do they have the budget? Once you know that, you have a qualified prospect and you can set a follow-up that both sides agree on.
Well, first off, if it was my mom, I probably wouldn’t use the word ‘damn,’ but hey – there you are. My mom turns 90 (!) next June, has no interest in tradeshow marketing or tradeshow exhibits, but she has read and enjoyed my book Tradeshow Success. So maybe there’s a wee bit of interest. Still, she probably doesn’t really know what goes into a damn good tradeshow exhibit, so it’s a fun exercise.
“First, Mom, look at the overall impression the exhibit gives you.” The booth is big like an island, small (10×10) or medium. Doesn’t matter, it’s going to give you an impression. And as my mother used to say (ha!), you don’t get a chance to make a second impression. What does the exhibit say to you? Is it welcoming? Does it communicate any specific messages with the images and graphics? If there’s a hanging sign, you should be able to identify the company from a couple of hundred feet away.
“Now, Mom, look at the exhibit a little closer. Are the graphics sharp? Can you read them from 30 feet away? If they’re sampling items, it is clear that the displays are samples that you can take with you, or not?” When a visitor approaches a booth staffer should greet them, or there should be some intuitive understanding of what you are able to do. If there’s a sample of your products, is it easy to understand that you can take one, or if not, is there a sign that says “for display only”? Do you have an immediate understanding of the type of company they are, what products they offer, and how they want visitors to see them in their industry?
“Okay, Mom, do the booth staffers look like they know what they’re doing? Do they have a smile? Are they on their phone? Are they paying attention to passersby?” Well-trained booth staffers know how to greet people with good questions, offer a smile, and are not doing something that is off-putting such as staring into their phone or eating. They know how to quality and disqualify visitors with a couple of questions.
“Mom, look around: is the booth clean? Are there personal items stashed out of site or are they leaning up against some element of the exhibit?” A well-designed booth will have ample storage room for personal items and products or other things needed throughout the show by the staffers. It’ll be clean, garbage cans won’t be overflowing. Yes, at the end of a busy day, it may be impossible to have a spic and span exhibit, but an attentive staffer can take a few moments during a lull to run a carpet cleaner over the floor and hoist the garbage into a nearby garbage can.
“Finally, Mom, let’s pretend we’re interested in their products and see what happens.” At this point, a good staffer will start the lead generation process, whatever it is. They’ll scan a badge, collect a business card, ask a few questions that determine the level of interest, and finally, they’ll agree on a follow-up step with the potential client. It could be an email, could be a phone call, could be a personal visit, could be sending them something in the mail. And you’ll both agree when that step will take place.
If Mom – who has no knowledge or interest in tradeshow marketing, but is sharp as a tack – can understand these things and see that damn good tradeshow exhibit from many aspects, you’ve accomplished a lot.
Another list! Would any of these interactive things help to draw a crowd to your tradeshow booth?
Create a small box with a lock. Have a bin full of keys – only one of the keys opens the box. Each person that comes by your booth can try a key or two. Once the key has been tried, it goes into the discard bin. As the keys (say, a couple of hundred) slowly go down to just a few, more and more people will keep trying to get the thing to open. Once the prize box has been opened the winner gets a prize, and another prize is inserted in the box and you start all over again.
Create a large-than-life size front page newspaper mockup. Out of some solid substrate, like sintra. Have a hole cut in it so that people can stand behind it and get their picture taken for posting on social media. Invite people to sign up for a newsletter or something else for a chance to win some cool stuff, or just give them some swag if they post the photo on their social media accounts.
Make a big Jenga set, only have each block relate to a specific question or topic that relates to your product or industry. Once someone pulls a block, you can talk about the topic, answer the question, and find out of the visitor has any questions about the topic.
Bean bag games such as bean bag toss, or bean bag Tic-Tac-Toe.
Give away LED flashing pins with your logo. Tell the visitor that a ‘secret shopper’ is going to be walking around the tradeshow floor giving away swag to people wearing the flashy things.
Use tradeshow special printed flooring that gives visitors opportunities to photograph themselves standing there. How about a spot with footprints and some clever graphic and text including a hashtag phrase?