In this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I wanted to see how companies that rely on the tradeshow and event industry are doing. Friday afternoon I invited a handful of them to chime in to see how they’re working to deal with tradeshow cancellations and the upended event landscape. Guests include Kevin Carty of Classic Exhibits, Marcus Vahle of Share Experience Company and Andy Saks of Spark Presentations.
Shout out and thanks to all to participated, including Stacy Barnes of Eagle Management, who also passed along her thoughts which are included in the program.
This week’s ONE GOOD THING: the positive, upbeat “can-do” attitude of all that I have spoken to in the event industry, including partners, colleagues and clients, who all are working hard and planning on how to deal with the situation to make the best of it.
You built an event calendar out for the year. You planned,
you upgraded, you designed and produced new graphics, maybe you even invested
in a new exhibit. But if the show doesn’t take place, how can you make the best
use of your upgrades or your new graphics?
A couple of suggestions:
Put together a short video, maybe a minute or less,
that you can share on social media. Explain that while you were planning to
launch a new product or debut a new booth, but the show cancellation prevented
you from doing so. Instead, show it off in the video. If it’s just a graphic upgrade,
show those off in the video. If it’s a new exhibit, your exhibit house should
have provided 3D renderings – show those off as well, and make sure to tell
your clients and prospects and social media followers that you’ll be using it
as soon as you’re able at the next show – whenever that is.
Use social media to launch the new products. If it’s
feasible, have a little contest and give away some samples. Pick a few winners
and mail them the samples.
Convene people for a Zoom virtual meeting. Maybe even make it a virtual tradeshow to where you can show off your new booth renderings – and hey, if you want to go all out and it makes sense for you and you have the room, set up the booth and use that as a backdrop for your Zoom call. Show it off!
Do one-on-one outreach to clients. Make calls, send
emails. If convenient (or wise), schedule coffee or lunch. Keep in touch! Heck,
schedule a Zoom call and send a coffee gift card ahead of time so they can have
a fresh cup on hand! Talk to them about what you were going to do with the
Other promotions: create a small brochure and mail it to your clients and prospects showing off your new products that you were going to debut at the tradeshow. Have a sale. Offer free shipping. Do a BOGO sale.
Bottom Line: It looks like the frequency and functionality of tradeshows and events are going to be drastically cut for the foreseeable future. Don’t wait to figure out what you can do in place of tradeshow and events. There’s always something.
I just got an email a few moments ago, the first exhibitor
at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), saying they were withdrawing
from the upcoming event, scheduled in Las Vegas April 18-22, 2020.
So far, there’s nothing on the show website that indicates they are even considering postponing or cancelling the show over coronavirus concerns.
This is somewhat reminiscent of the way things played out, albeit in a very quick fashion, at Natural Products Expo West. A week before the show was scheduled to start, Unilever announced they were pulling all of their brands, including our client Schmidt’s Naturals. Other exhibitors followed in short order, one by one, over the next few days. Show organizers tried to put on a brave face and keep the show afloat, and that made sense at the time, since the show was literally hours away. But finally, about 40 hours before the doors would have opened for the first day, they pulled the plug, saying the show was “cancelled.”
No one really knows exactly what to do.
In the past few days, here are a few things that have passed through my newsfeed: NBA is considering holding games without audiences. March Madness may consider the same thing, but so far they say the games will go on in front of live audiences. Rock concerts are wondering if they can go forward. Some schools and universities have gone to online classes, including (at least) Harvard. SXWS pulled the plug, leaving numerous small businesses out in the lurch. Lots of restaurant and clubs in the area will lose tons of money as will their servers, bartenders, hotel workers and more.
CPAC, the conservative annual gathering, is making news because a so-far unnamed high-profile person has been confirmed to carry the virus, someone who has come into contact with dozens if not hundreds of people. Many of those have had contact with members of the Trump Administration, including the president himself. Some of those confirmed to have had contact with the carrier have self-quarantined, others have not.
The story is fast-moving and given the changing and
increasing numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19, more and more people are
acting out of caution.
The event industry is squarely in the bullseye. Rightly so,
since events draw together tens of thousands of people who shake hands, hug,
share rides on public transit, climb on planes and buses, cabs, ride services.
That’s a lot of contact.
And again, no one really knows what to do, but more and more
decisions are being made to err on the side of caution.
Just this morning, I read that Chinese President XI visited Wuhan, the city at the center of the COVID-19 outbreak, as a show of confidence that the Chinese government is containing the outbreak. The story also mentions how the rate of infections is slowing, which must be good news for officials around the world trying to get a handle on everything. But still…
The coronavirus will continue until governments and health
officials get a handle on it. Events will be postponed and cancelled until
things settle down.
And who knows how long that’ll be?
I think the event and tradeshow industry is in for a bumpy ride.
A week before Natural Products Expo West 2020 was set to open, I got an email from one of the tradeshow exhibit houses handling brands for Unilever, which had several brands at Natural Products Expo West and had acquired one of our clients, Schmidt’s Naturals, a couple of years ago. They had made the decision to pull out of the show due to concerns over the spreading Coronavirus COVID-19.
A day later, another client pulled out. Then another. Then another. By Monday the 2nd, when I was set to fly out to the show from Portland, I had one client out of nine that was still planning on being there. My plane was scheduled to fly out at 5:30. As I sat on the tarmac after boarding, I got an email from the last client that they had decided to pull out. By now, I was seeing on Twitter that as many as 40 – 60% of exhibitors and attendees would probably not show up, making the show a shell of its former self.
Finally, a few moments before wheels lifted, New Hope, the show organizers, sent out an email saying that they had decided to “postpone” the show.
And away we flew.
The next morning, I went to the Anaheim Convention Center with hundreds of other exhibitors and logistics managers to work through the logistics of getting crates shipped back to where they came from. Some crates had made it to the show floor. Some exhibits were already mostly set up.
It took most of the day to track down all the pieces of the clients that had items that needed to be shipped back.
A shoutout to the crew at the GES Service Desk at the Anaheim Convention Center. To a person, they were all cordial, pleasant and extraordinarily helpful.
We all wondered when the event would actually take place. Maybe not until next year?
A Few Thoughts and Questions
I’ve had the chance to speak to several people at the show, along with clients who had to bail or were forced to retrieve crates and packages, clients that had invested in the show with updated exhibits or in some cases, new properties.
No one knows what comes next. Not the exhibitors, not New Hope, which put a positive spin on it, saying “It is our intention to deliver a Natural Products Expo West event before the summer to serve the community, either in Anaheim or a suitable alternative location.”
I don’t see that happening, and neither do most of the exhibitors I spoke with. New Hope is obviously the professional experienced entity that has put on shows for decades. But exhibitors and others are asking where and when such a re-scheduled Expo West 2020 might take place? And if they can find a place that would accommodate the event, how many exhibitors would actually be able to show up, given that companies spend months putting things together to schedule an appearance at a large international show like Natural Products Expo West?
So yes, lots of questions.
But the big one for me is: if they manage to find a location and date that fits, what would change in the situation that would allow the show to go on?
And by situation, I mean the spreading Coronovirus. According to Worldmeter, the virus continues to spread unabated. Experts say we’re a year to a year and a half from having an effective vaccine. Many people seem to still be in fear mode over the spread.
But not everybody. I do believe that the essence of Natural Products Expo West is that, being a food sampling platform, it’s much different from say, a technology tradeshow. Many, if not most, non-food tradeshows are going forward. People still gather by the tens of thousands at events. People still board flights, go to grocery stores.
And the number of those infected keeps increasing, and will likely continue to increase.
Back to the original statement: the underlying situation has not changed, and doesn’t look like it will change in the near future which would allow a rescheduled Expo West to take place “before summer” as New Hope states. Given that, if nothing changes, I don’t see a rescheduled event taking place before mid-June.
In fact, if nothing changes, it’s quite possible the same issues may lead to a postponement or cancellation of Expo East in September in Philadelphia. Yet to be seen, obviously.
If the underlying Coronavirus situation doesn’t change, the only other thing that might change is the attitude and knowledge. We might learn more in the ensuing weeks and months that the virus isn’t as dangerous as the ongoing fear promulgated in lots of big media outlets would have us believe. Company leaders might come to realize that the risk of having their people at a show as either exhibitors or attendees is so low that a prudent decision would have them participating.
Other shows go on with no problem. Will Natural Products Expo West or Expo East continue this year?
Cruising Twitter is always an entertaining proposition. Sometimes
because you find some really interesting stuff. Other times because you end up
wanting to pull your hair out. But it’s never boring!
In search of some #tradeshow ideas, I entered that search term in the box on Twitter. Lots of companies use Twitter to push out advertisements and come-ons, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you mix it up with good useful information. But I looked and came up with a handful of good articles. Let’s take a look.
Fortunate PR guy (his words) Jim Bianchi tweeted out a link to a post called “Top Lessons Learned for Automotive and Mobility Suppliers from CES2020.” Much of the lessons had to do with how beneficial CES is to exhibitors (which it certainly should be), but it illustrates how many traditional auto suppliers are finding their way into one of the world’s biggest shows. Another tip had to do with navigating around Las Vegas during show time, given that the public transit systems can be overwhelmed by an additional 175,000 people. Yeah, no kidding!
And finally, a list from Architectural Digest on Tradeshows You Should Consider Attending in 2020, assuming you’re in the architectural world. Most of the shows are stateside, but there are mentions of the London Design Festival, Heimtextil in Frankfurt and others. Lots of details on each show for the serious planner. This was shared by Skyline out of South Carolina.
Yes, Twitter has its detractors and it can be a little overwhelming if crazy politics are going on at that moment (okay, that’s always going on), but it’s also a good source for good information if you just know where to look.
Everyone is different, yet everyone is the same. We all
attend or exhibit at tradeshows with things we need, and if we end up there
without those things, we feel like part of us is missing. Here’s a short list of
things that I always take on the road to tradeshows. I mean, beyond the
clothing and other stuff that ends up in a suitcase. Here are a few things I’ll
have with me when I head to the show floor at Natural Products Expo West in
Charging cord and plug-in adapter for my phone
iPhone 6S: holds thousands of photos and songs, not so mention show apps and a million other things.
Boosa charger: this is the best I’ve had. It holds enough juice to re-charge my iPhone 6S at least four times before it needs to be plugged in again. Great to have on the show floor.
Laptop: while I suppose I don’t really need this I’d feel lost without it. It’s a 2011 MacBook Pro that’s been upgraded a couple of times and runs like a clock. Great to offload photos, do some writing and blogging, surf the web in the Airbnb. More comfortable with this than an iPhone for handling email or writing or sharing social media.
Spare key locks for client counters: most of these counters use the same lock, and it seems that the keys can easily go missing, so I keep a few in my backpack.
Backpack: where would you be without it, right? Like a purse, only bigger and it fits easily on the back.
Reading material: often it’s a piece of fiction, but sometimes something else.
iPad Mini 2: It doesn’t get a lot of use, but on the plane I find that it’s great to pull up something from my Kindle app and read.
Allen wrench set: always handy on the show floor.
Fitbit: belt version, not a wrist wearable. Plus extra battery because of course when you’re on the road, that’s when the battery dies, right?
Business cards: more than I think I could possibly need.
Rubber bands: always need a few of these to keep the business cards from spewing all over my backpack pockets.
Cash and a couple of credit cards. I don’t carry much cash, but a little comes in handy. Most everywhere takes cards, credit or debit.
Eyeglass cleaner spray with a mini-cleaning rag
Mini-flashlight: you never know when this will come in handy.
If you’re sitting on an airplane, there are certain rules
that need to be followed. First and foremost, the attendants and the captain
are in charge. In fact, on each and every flight I’ve been on, they remind you
that federal law dictates that you must obey any instructions from flight
If you’re playing golf, there are rules upon rules about addressing the ball, putting, where you can take a drop and so on. Same with basketball, climbing a mountain, lifting weights. Some of the rules are well-thought out and dictated by organizations that manage the sport. The NBA, for example, can have different basketball rules than the NCAA. Or different football rules. Some rules are just plain common sense but aren’t written down.
When it comes to tradeshows, as an exhibitor or an attendee,
as part of the agreement that allows you access to the hall, you agree to
certain rules. If you’re an exhibitor, there are dozens and dozens of rules
about the exhibit you are allowed to set up, heights, fees, and so on and so
What about rules that may not be written down, but are just
common sense? No doubt most of these are just rules of polite society: don’t be
a jerk, treat people as you would like to be treated, and so on.
There also several unwritten rules of etiquette that you should adhere to. No eating in the booth, no sitting in the booth, greet visitors with a smile and a great engaging question, being on time when you’re scheduled to work.
But about the tradeshow floor itself, rules are again often
unspoken. Let’s check in on a few.
Suitcasing is a term for someone who is walking from exhibit
to exhibit and trying to pitch their product or services. Or they occupy space
where people are coming in and out and hand out flyers or brochures. It’s considered
unethical because the visitor didn’t pay for being there. They have no money
Outboarding is when a company doesn’t exhibit, but they’re
willing to rent a suite at a nearby hotel and invite attendees to see their
wares. I’ve read that it’s less common than it used to be simply because show
managers now often reserve blocks of rooms for exhibitors and if someone that
is not exhibiting tries to reserve a room or a suite the hotel just refuses.
Extending beyond the booth confines is not something I see a
lot, but I do see. This is when exhibitors will push things like banner stands
or literature stands outside of their booth dimensions.
Using music in your booth. Unless you hire the musician, and
the musician is playing his own unpublished music (rare, but it could happen),
you’ll be liable for paying licensing fees. And they ain’t cheap.
After hours a good rule to follow is limit your alcohol
intake, don’t stay up late, make sure you’re well-fed and hydrated. If you’re
hosting a client dinner or event, let the visitors eat or drink first. Be a
There are literally hundreds of other rules we could get
into, and no doubt you could come up with your own. Rules about marketing
strategy, collecting and following up on leads, attracting key prospects, graphic
design and so on.
The final rule I’ll offer, though, is this:
You’re going to be on your feet for hours at a time. Wear
One of the most valuable aspects of tradeshow marketing is
the ability to reach markets you would not normally be able to reach. In fact,
it’s what has helped Bob’s Red Mill grow through the years. Bob Moore, the
iconic Bob of the company, recognized early that by exhibiting at regional and
national tradeshows, they could get their products into markets that would
otherwise be extremely difficult to crack.
It means going to the right shows where attendees are from
companies that can ramp up distribution, that can become good partners. It
means making those connections and deepening them over the years so that your
products are valuable to them, and their ability to distribute into outlets
that you would have a difficult time doing on an individual basis is valuable
to both parties.
Yes, selling and making connections at tradeshows is
important. But one of the most important things to recognize is that once you meet
and acquire a partner there, part of the purpose of the show is to use it as a
platform to introduce new products. Not only that, but when you’re in those longer
conversations with partners, you can dig deeper into what’s important to them
and their end users, the consumers. Feedback is critical not only to making
sure the right products are being created and manufactured, but for keeping the
lines of communication open and honest. When problems come up, if you have a
good partner, the communication can be candid, and problems can be addressed.
Often a tradeshow is the only face-to-face meeting that partners have each
year, and the value of meeting and shaking hands and seeing people in person
cannot be overstated.
Use the tradeshow as a way to find and open new markets. Keep in mind that relationships will solidify as time goes by and the face-to-face communication is an important part of those relationships. Which you get when you sit down across the table at a tradeshow.
It was a couple of months ago that we featured Dominic Rubino on the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee video blog/podcast. This month the interview Dominic did with me appeared on his Profit Toolbelt Podcast, which is aimed at the ‘growth-minded contractors,’ who often end up attending or exhibiting at home shows.
Our conversation focus was on how to stand out at a Home Show. Fun conversation. Click the image below or this link and head on over to the interview.
The first time I walked “backstage” at a tradeshow, I realized how nuts it really was. A thousand different things going ten thousand different ways. Thousand of exhibitors, laborers, electricians, forklift operators, scissor lift operators, and so much more are all involved in an elaborate dance that takes place over a few days until opening day when everything looks perfect. Then once the show is over the same crazy dance happens in reverse.
Most people don’t think about what goes on behind the scenes, as long as it happens and their exhibit looks great for the show. But, oh, the things that have to happen for the show to take place.
For this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I sat down with Jim Wurm, Executive Director of the Exhibitor Appointed Contractor Association. The EACA is the main organization that advocates for all of those behind-the-scenes companies and employers. And there are a lot of different ones. Really good conversation and yes, I learned quite a bit: