Of course, we always want to make sure our tradeshow best practices are out on display for everyone at all times. But as Steve Miller says, “Perfection is your enemy.”
And…we’re only human. That means you’ll find that your booth staff will sometimes be eating in the booth, or on their phone when people are walking by. Or they’ll fail to direct a visitor to the person with the right answer for the question. Or maybe you realize that your pre-show marketing efforts were lame this time around. Or your post-show follow up really left something to be desired.
Sometimes your graphics will be scuffed or torn. Perhaps your flooring is ripped and mended. All of these are irritating, aren’t they, because you want to always have the best presentation at all times. But perfection is not attainable.
So, keep moving forward. If one of your staffers is sitting in the back of the booth with hands in pockets, put on a smile and ask them to move to the aisle where they can be helpful. And vow to schedule a trainer who can teach staffers better habits. If your hanging sign or large graphics look great but are outdated because some minor branding thing changed, take a photo and plan to get together with management to find the dollars to make upgrades.
There are times that you’ll come up short. There may even be times you consider your tradeshow efforts a failure.
Improvement doesn’t happen all at once. But keeping tradeshow best practices in mind every time you’re involved in setting up the booth, planning upgrades, scheduling your booth staff and related show logistics, you will see improvement. But chances are you won’t see perfection.
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.
As a company owner, salesman and project manager for TradeshowGuy Exhibits, I get tradeshow marketing questions. Hoobooy, I get a lot of questions. I thought it might be fun to answer a handful of the most common questions I get.
Our shipping costs are sky-high. How can we bring these costs down?Many questions are about costs, so it’s a good place to start. Certainly, if something is heavy it’s going to cost a lot to ship. Wood panels are heavy, and many older exhibits have a lot of wood pieces. It also adds up in drayage costs at the show. Some clients like the image that wood gives them, so they bite the bullet and build the cost of shipping into their exhibiting program. Others that want to bring the shipping costs down look at lighter materials, such as silicon-edge fabric graphic panels (SEG) that give a great look but don’t have the weight and heft of wooden or other types of panels.
How can we increase our ROI?It seems that tradeshow marketing is hit and miss. Yes, investing in tradeshow marketing can be expensive, but done right, it can be a boon and open doors to markets that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise reach. Sometimes it comes down to exhibiting at the right shows. It often means putting more time, energy and resources into pre-show marketing, booth staff training and a booth that accurately represents your brand (among others). There are a lot of moving parts and if you let a few of those parts go unattended to, it can contribute to your failure. I spoke with a former exhibitor recently who said the last time they exhibited was years ago and it was a bust. When we spent a few minute dissecting it, we come to the conclusion that as a small local business, one of their biggest challenges was finding a local show that could provide a large enough audience of potential customers. Without deeper digging, it was impossible to know in that brief call, but we both felt that we identified one of their most important challenges: getting in from of the right audience.
How do we work with a designer? We’ve never done that before. Often I end up working with exhibitors who are in a sense moving out of their comfort zone. Before now, they have purchased exhibits from a source that just shows them a catalog of pre-made items. Nothing wrong with that, there are hundreds and hundreds of modular exhibits and accessories that are more or less ‘off-the-shelf’ that will do a great job for you. But exhibitors will often reach the point where they have the budget and desire to move into something custom. Working with a designer is straightforward – but you have to choose a designer that knows how to design in 3D. Graphic designers typically won’t have the skill to do so. However, trained 3D exhibit designers know how to design exhibits that take into account all of your functional needs: storage space, display space, foot traffic flow, graphic layout and so much more. A typically-trained graphic designer won’t have the skill that a 3D designer does. As for working with a designer, it’s typical to have a long conversation, either in person, or on a conference call, with the company stakeholders so that all needs are discussed. At that point the designer will create a mockup or two for review and once comments are in, changes are made until the final design is agreed upon.
I need a new exhibit. Should I prepare and issue an RFP (Request for Proposal)? It depends. There’s no definitive answer on this one. An RFP does a couple of things: it helps clarify your exhibit needs by forcing you to articulate all of your needs, budget, timeline and so on. Putting it all in black and white is a great exercise whether you’re putting out an RFP or not. If you don’t have an exhibit house in mind, issuing an RFP allows you to vet a handful (probably 4 – 6) companies, and make them jump through some hoops to make their case, and perhaps even do mock designs for you. On the other hand, if you have been working with an exhibit house that has done you well – has created great exhibits for you in the past, has been an effective partner for years – then no doubt you’re in good shape staying with them.
How much does it cost?It’s a question people don’t really like to ask, but usually end up blurting it out. Some items come with a set price, like the off-the-shelf catalog items, but if they’re shopping for a custom exhibit, there is no obvious answer. In my younger salesperson days, I’d answer the question with “well, what’s your budget?” but that’s not really a good answer. The better response I believe, is to ask them how they come up with a budget from their end. What is their process for determining how much they are willing to invest? There are industry standards – which are pretty accurate, and a good starting place – but the client has to work through a number of internal issues unique to come up with a realistic budget for their project. A final thought on this: if their internal discussion gives them a number that isn’t realistic for their expectations, a reputable exhibit house will tell them so.
How quick can you get it done? Or: how long will this take? This question often comes from an exhibitor who hasn’t paid close enough attention to the calendar and are now scrambling to get something in place. A recent exhibitor asked me – months (almost a year) ahead of their need and asked “how long does the process usually take?” The question was about designing and fabricating an island booth from scratch. I silently gave him kudos for asking the question up front (and not waiting until a month or two before the show), then told him my answer: for an island exhibit, we’d love to have 3-4 months at minimum. Six months is better. But we’ve turned around island exhibits in 5 or 6 weeks IF the client has a really strong idea of what they want and all that’s need for design is for the designer to create the rendering and confirm that the look and feel and dimensions are accurate – and then we’re off to the races.
Certainly there are other questions I hear, but in reflecting the past year or two, these seem to be what come up the most-asked tradeshow marketing questions. What questions do YOU have about exhibit creation or tradeshow marketing?
In spite of a few minor technical glitches, Gwen Hill of Exhibit Force and I had a fun conversation that touched on a lot of problems that exhibitors and exhibit managers face: namely, dealing with the heavy-duty record-keeping, communication and collaboration requirements of an exhibit program. It’s a great look at the various ways that Exhibit Force is positioned to help thousands of exhibitors in their management programs.
ONE GOOD THING: Air conditioning! It’s summer. It’s hot.
It’s a good question: what does a tradeshow manager do? And frankly, you can come at this question from a few angles.
For instance, is the tradeshow manager (or coordinator, or project manager) employed by the company internally, to make sure the tradeshow appearance is as flawless and successful as possible? Does the tradeshow coordinator work for an exhibit house, tasked with making sure the new (or stored) exhibit is shipped to arrive on time, and get set up, dismantled and shipped back? Or does the company find a third party to coordinate the logistics from show to show on an as-needed basis?
There are several things to determine, such as: what is the scope of work? What tasks are expected of the tradeshow coordinator? Is there a marketing department that makes decisions on which shows to attend? Who determines the budget and where does that money come from? And so on.
Wearing several hats is not uncommon for someone with the larger and somewhat vague title of tradeshow coordinator. Mainly, she is responsible for:
Determining what shows to go to (usually in coordination with a larger team that vets the various options)
Scheduling or securing the booth space and coordinating logistics such as electricity, internet, cleaning, badge scanner and more
Work with vendors such as exhibit houses or printers for any updates to the exhibit
Scheduling exhibit shipping, I&D (installation and dismantle), return shipping, storage
Booth staffer hiring, training, scheduling and coordination of any special clothing such as branded t-shirts; develop and/or coordinate any pre-conference training for staffers
Coordinate with sales and marketing for any special product demos, etc.
Hire in-booth presenters if needed
Track expenses as required
Coordinate lead generation activities, system and delivery of leads to sales post-show
Pre-show marketing: mailers, emails, any specific phone invitations
Post-show follow-up communication
Record keeping: maintain show schedules, project checklists, exhibit management, photos from each show, logistic and travel expenses show to show and year over year
Each individual position may include more or less from this list, but these are the main tasks on a tradeshow manager’s job description list.
And, just for fun, I looked at tradeshow manager job listings across the USA recently. There are a ton of openings. Just sayin.’
Yes, I tried to play back the recorded interview on Facebook but for whatever reason it wasn’t working. Still more research and practicing to make it work. But in the meantime, all the content is here!
Got a chance to chat with John Halvorson of Transgroup Global Logistics this week for the vlog/podcast. John was a great interview, unloading lots of great information on the ups and downs and back and forths of tradeshow shipping. Give a listen or take a look on either the audio podcast version below or the video version.
On this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I ramble on for awhile about business, podcasting, new projects, the makeover of TradeshowGuyExhibits.com tradeshow logistics and of course that One Good Thing we all should have. Take a look:
Yes, it’s upon us – 2017 – have you planned your new year tradeshow schedule? Chances are you’re at least planning a few months into the new year, but have you detailed out the entire year?
Tradeshow planning, as any tradeshow coordinator will tell you, is the key to success. And since there’s a lot to planning, it makes sense to spend a lot of your time making plans, checking plans and then double-checking.
Start with your tradeshow schedule. What shows are you going to? Make a master list of the dates of the shows.
Size of exhibit. Note the size of booth space your company has committed to rent at the various shows.
Break it down. Now start breaking out the various products and services that you’re promoting at each show. Chances are those items will change depending on the audience that’s expected at each show.
From there, you can start breaking out the graphics messaging, sampling needs if any, demos desired at each show and so forth. Break out the details as far as you can at this point; you’ll need to break them down further at some point anyway.
Now you can start determining how many people will be required at each show based on booth size and expected visitors. From this you can figure out what staff members will likely be tasked with working the show.
Beyond this, you can compile website URLs and contact information for all of the shows. Pull up previous year’s paperwork to compare to pricing and floor plan and booth location to what is happening this year.
From this you can compare costs and leads generated, perhaps going so far as to compile the number of new clients or sales generated from 2016 show appearances.
Once you’ve put down most of the broad strokes and details of your shows and booth rental spaces and so on, you can start the task of determining what, if anything, might be changed or added to your current booth properties. Is your exhibit in good shape, or does it need an upgrade of some sort? Or is this the year you’ve decided to invest in a brand new exhibit? That’s another task entirely, but it would be part of your yearly tradeshow schedule planning.
While this is really just a 30,000 foot view of the process, once you put this all together, the real fun begins of breaking out each element of each show and making them work successfully.
Tradeshow Infographics, like any infographic, serve a very useful purpose. They give you a way to visually digest information that might otherwise be a little more difficult to grasp or understand. But an infographic, if done well, gives a reader a quick look as well as a chance to dig deeper into a topic.
With that said, we ran across three tradeshow infographics that illuminate areas of tradeshow marketing that anyone in the industry can easily use. Let’s stack them up.
The first comes courtesy the Northwest Creative Imaging Blog, with best practices for tradeshow booth design. Maybe more directed at the folks who actually design and assemble the booth, but certainly any tradeshow manager in charge of a new booth can appreciate the ideas contained here.
Tradeshow record keeping. Yikes! Who wants to keep track of everything.
Record keeping is one of those things that most of us wish we didn’t have to do, – we know it’s tedious – but know we really should do. So how much should we keep, what should we keep, where is the best place to keep it, and WHY?
Tim Patterson discusses tradeshow record keeping in this brief but informative webinar: