Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

December 2020

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, the Old Man is Snoring

The week between Christmas and New Year’s has, for me, been sort of a respite from the rest of the year’s calendar. Since the early aughts when I was VP of Sales and Marketing at Interpretive Exhibits here in Salem, the owner would generally close the business down. Most of our clients at the time I joined the company were from the government or nonprofit world, and as he put it, “they tend to shut down for a couple of weeks at this time of year.” He said that I could continue to work, but the office would generally be closed. After the first year at the company, I usually scheduled a week of vacation at the end of the year. I figured, why not, the company is closed, and I can get some extra time in skiing! And if clients wanted something, it was easy enough to monitor email communication remotely.

It’s different this year. Of course. 2020 is as different from a normal year as can possibly be. Most of the tradeshow world is not happening. Exhibitors are not planning shows, organizers are not putting final details on booth sales, exhibit designers and builders are mostly limping along. Exhibitor Magazine’s mid-November webinar reporting from the tradeshow world showed that more than half of exhibitors and builders expected their income in 2021 Q1 to decline.

And with no tradeshow business, I’ve taken to delivering for Uber Eats about half time. It’s not a bad gig, as the gig economy goes. It’s temporary, it pays all right, and there’s something noble about bring food to people (maybe that’s why I’ve always fallen for waitresses – seeing someone bringing you a plateful of food is great!).

Send someone a postcard!

So, I’m taking it easy this week. I’ll get an extra day or two in on the slopes. I’ll write extra-long on my novel (third go-round of the manuscript) because I’m almost finished. I’ll watch the Blazers and Seahawks on TV as they play in front of empty bleachers, which has got to be one of the weirdest consequences of COVID. I’ll reach out to friends more often (I’ve sent a couple of dozen postcards to random friends in the past several months, because, hey, who sends postcards anymore, right?). I’ll listen to music (the new Paul McCartney is pretty cool).

What I won’t be doing is counting the days until everything gets back to normal in the tradeshow world. I don’t think that normal is coming back. I think NOW is the normal. It’ll slowly evolve, but virtual shows and Zoom meetings are going nowhere soon, and even when live shows return, virtual gatherings will be a part of our world from here on out.

I’ll continue to reach out to prospects and clients and support them in whatever way I can, and let them know that while we’re dormant, we’re not going anywhere.

We will come out the other side. And I think we’ll be stronger for it.

See you in 2021!

Tradeshow Exhibit Customization Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

When I first speak with a new client about what they want in a new tradeshow exhibit, it usually comes down to one of two approaches. Either they want to start from scratch, in a sense, and have a good idea of the potential layout and scope of the exhibit, and they have a budget number in mind. Or, and this is the other extreme, they want to pick out a kit from our catalog and make do, mainly to save budget dollars.

There’s nothing wrong with either approach. Every company has a different agenda when it comes to a new exhibit.

The former approach means everything is custom from the git-go. A designer is brought in, conversations are had about brand attributes and guidelines, and the designer is basically turned loose. These are typically the bigger budget projects where, from the start, the designer is encouraged to cut loose, to try several approaches and show a number of structures with different traffic flow patterns, demo areas, meeting areas and so on. From that, the client decides on one (or two) that work best for them, and the design is refined until it’s ready.

The other approach, where the client is typically working with a more limited budget, starts with a kit from our Exhibit Design Search at More often than not, the client believes that the kit as shown in the renderings is the final design.

That rarely happens. Once the conversation starts, the questions begin. Can we add a counter? What about shelves? We need shelves. And something to sit at. And that panel isn’t big enough, what if we made it bigger.

The answers are yes, yes, and yes. Kits get customized, almost all the time. With new clients, there is a bit of a learning curve, but once they realize that even if they start with a kit, that doesn’t mean they’re stuck with everything that’s show. Kits are good starting points to get what clients really want, which is most often a customized version.

A good thing to keep in mind when starting from scratch, especially if your budget is pointing you in the direction of a kit. That kit can be revised, reduced or enlarged in size, configured to fit in more than one final setup (10×10, 10×20, 10×30 for example). Accessories can be added, freestanding graphics or tables can become a part. And those additions don’t have to be out of the catalog, either. Often a client will have custom-built tables that include their logo and additional lighting effects to make them stand out.

If you’re shopping for a new exhibit in 2021 and your budget is pointing you towards something out of a catalog, starting with a kit makes sense. But you don’t have to (and probably won’t) stay there.

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, December 21, 2020: Bill Stainton

Bill Stainton was a guest on this show three years ago, and I wanted to catch up with him to see how he is doing in the midst of the crazy times. We ended up talking about an article from Entrepreneur he had flagged in his latest newsletter that looked at five trends in innovation and how leaders can use them in 2021. It was a lively discussion:

Find Bill Stainton here.

ONE GOOD THING: Ducks win Pac-12 football championship.

End of Year Price Drops

The tradeshow and event industry has been gasping for air for months and months. Exhibitors are putting off investing in new exhibits while wondering if they’re even going to appear at any shows in 2021.

In steps Classic Exhibits, our main exhibit manufacturer, with a little help: a price drop on safety dividers and rental! Not to mention, a trio of eco-friendly sustainable exhibits: a 10×10, a 10×20 and a 2020 island. Let’s take a look. Click to enlarge. Find the links below to download the PDFs.

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, December 14, 2020: Peter Shankman

It’s been a couple of years since I checked in with author, keynote speaker and consultant Peter Shankman, and I was delighted when he said he would be glad to speak with me. I was curious how his business was going, how he was working with clients on how to move into 2021, and of course I was curious to learn how New York City was doing. An eye-opening and salty interview:

Find Peter Shankman here. And here’s a link to his Shankminds group.

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: “Memories in the Drift,” a novel by Melissa Payne.

Teamwork is Not Necessarily Democratic

When you set up a team to complete a task or do a job, or work together indefinitely, one major assumption is that everyone’s work is equal. Everyone pulls their weight. The workload should be distributed equitably. Isn’t that what you would naturally think?

It depends.

I got to thinking about this after listening to an interview with Brian Eno, the producer, writer, musician and longtime collaborator of David Bowie and others. He’s well known in the ambient music world for decades of work, and has produced albums by Talking Heads, U2, Devo, Ultravox and has contributed to recordings by Genesis, David Bowie, Massive Attack and on and on.

In other words, the 72-year-old has been around awhile.

So when he discussed how he worked with U2, producing The Unforgettable Fire, Wide Awake in America, Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and others, something he said caught my ears.

Teamwork is not democratic, and it shouldn’t necessarily be. (I’m paraphrasing). Sometimes you need more of one person and less of another person’s contribution. The dynamics of teams, especially long-term teams like bands, fluctuate and the work requirements of each person will come and go depending on the situation.

I think that’s a valid observation. Depending on the task or challenge in front of a team, whether it’s four people in a band, or three or six or fifteen people working to execute a tradeshow exhibiting appearance at an upcoming show, each person will have a different role, and their overall contribution may differ in terms of time and energy they put into it.

In Eno’s case, he gave an example that because he’s an outsider, and not a member of the band, he can give feedback on items that might otherwise be a touchy subject if given by one of the band members.

That would seem to be the case in a marketing team as well. You have a lead person, who is by definition not only a part of the team, but apart from the team as a leader, and has a different role to play in addressing issues as they come up; different than one of the team members may have.

I think the key here is that everyone feels they’ve contributed to the best of their ability, are aware of other’s contributions and were a valued part of the overall goal of the team, whether it’s a short term project or an ongoing team.

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