As the tradeshow world returns to something resembling normal, it does so in fits and starts and a few bumps along the way. In this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, Jim Wurm, Executive Director of the Exhibitor Appointed Contractor Association talks about those challenges:
One way to learn how tradeshows are progressing in this soon-to-come post-pandemic era is to walk the floor of a major show in Las Vegas and observe. If you can’t yet, the second-best thing is to talk to someone who did just that. And that’s what we’re doing on this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. I spoke with Andy Saks of Spark Presentations, who walked the floor at last month’s World of Concrete to find out how a big tradeshow in Las Vegas dealt with the relaxed safety protocols:
Tradeshows are a great place to bring in more sales. But to bring in sales and grow your company, tradeshows are also a perfect place for setting secondary and tertiary goals. Here are some you might want to consider:
Shep Hyken’s new book, “I’ll Be Back,” is still months away, but it’s not to early to talk about it, or to catch up with him on how he and his team managed their way through the pandemic. Shep always has a lot to say, and it’s good:
When you step up to a larger island booth and get away from the shorter inline configurations, your options for a private or semi-secluded conference or meeting area increase dramatically. You can go all the way from a private, enclosed space with opaque walls to more open meeting areas that, while open to the aisle, have a barrier of some sort, whether it’s a see-through wall such as a milk-plex or some arrangement of foliage or barrier that tells people “this is private.”
This topic came up recently during an initial conversation with a client who stated they wanted a private meeting area in the booth. That led to a discussion about what exactly they meant by “private.” Opaque walls? An area that is clearly delineated as a meeting area by invitation only? A second floor that would also clearly mean “invitation only”?
There are many approaches to creating a private or semi-private meeting area for you and your clients or prospects in a tradeshow exhibit, limited only by your imagination and budget. Here are a smattering of exhibits I’ve seen over the years that have various iterations of what a meeting area can look like.
If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Famous words, no doubt, and they certainly apply to any marketing endeavor you’re undertaking. If your goal is to simply appear at a tradeshow, you don’t have much of a roadmap. It might look something like this: rent a booth space, get an exhibit (doesn’t really matter what size or what it looks like); bring a few people from the office and talk to people that stumble across your booth.
Success! Of course, since you didn’t really have much of a plan, how could you fail?
On the other hand…
If you want to talk to bring home 300 leads, that requires a longer plan and a better road map. Setting a goal – any goal – immediately puts restrictions on your map. It forces you to go in a certain direction. And the good thing is that it makes you ask questions, such as:
How do we get enough people to our booth to collect 300 leads?
What kinds of leads do we want?
How do we qualify the leads?
What information do we want?
Do we need to do pre-show marketing to bring people to our booth? If so, what will that take?
How many people should we have in our booth?
How big of a booth do we need to support those people?
What will it cost to create that exhibit?
And so you. You get the idea. Sure, you can simply set up a booth, hand out a few brochures and samples and cross your fingers, but if you really want to bring home the bacon with a bagload of new prospects, it takes more than that.
It takes a roadmap that only you can put together, based only on what’s important to you.
If you want a little help, you could do worse than picking up my book Tradeshow Success. It’s got a pretty good roadmap planning guide, chapter by chapter.
But whatever you use, if you want to get somewhere, you need a map.
You’ve heard it many times in the past several years: the most important thing is showing up. Be there consistently. Be there with your writings, your photographs, your content, your thoughts and leadership. Keep showing up.
On the flipside, I’ve also heard for years that if you’re going to exhibit at a tradeshow, you have to do more than just show up. You have to have a good plan or your time, money, and energy are wasted.
I think both viewpoints have some validity. So let’s break it down.
Years ago I worked with a client that had been attending the same tradeshow for years. They just kept showing up, handing out samples, gauging feedback, connecting with clients and colleagues. No reason not to, it was a good thing to do.
Then they got sold and the new owners had a more circumspect view of the marketing budget and decided to look at it from top to bottom. And that year, the slight shifting of the show dates of the big show they set up an exhibit at every year meant that two years of tradeshow marketing expense fell into one fiscal year.
Uh-oh. We’re spending that much on tradeshow marketing? Hang on! We gotta take a closer look at this.
So they pulled out of that year’s show and put the following year’s appearance on hold. The new owners had to look for their reason for being there. They found it: it was a great show for them, the benefits were worth more than the expense and they came back bigger and badder than ever.
But they had to lift the cover, so to speak, of why they kept showing up year after year. And they figured it out. And now they show up year after year.
Showing up is important. As David Newman of Do It Marketing put it recently:
Keep showing up for the people in your life.
For your clients, family, community, friends, prospects, colleagues…
Show up with empathy.
Show up with value.
Show up with caring.
Show up with help.
Show up with gratitude.
So yes, show up and exhibit at tradeshows, but do it with purpose. Know why you are showing up. Know what your goals and objectives are. Make sure your staff knows why you’re there.
It was March 2, 2020, when things began to fall apart. When things really started to hit home.
I was getting ready to head out to Portland to catch a flight to Southern California to assist a number of exhibiting clients at Natural Products Expo West. It was a Monday, and I’d already heard from a few clients the previous week who’d decided to pull out. By the time Monday morning rolled around there were still some clients hanging on, but as the morning progressed as I alternated between packing and checking email and refilling my coffee, another couple of clients had cancelled.
In the midst of all of that, I managed to set my Hydroflask coffee cup in the microwave to heat another cup. You’re not supposed to microwave it. As I stood in the kitchen with a hundred things bouncing around my head, I didn’t realize what I’d done until it was too late. Oops! Hydroflask coffee cup meltdown!
The AirBnb was already booked, as was the flight and the rental car. I had reached out to a couple of friends that I was planning to drop by to see. I spoke with my wife and we came to the conclusion that since it was all paid for, even though there were only a client or two left on the list who still intended to be there, I might as well head out. What’s the worst that could happen, right?
As I sat on the plane in Portland awaiting takeoff, I got an email from the only client who had so far not cancelled. Now they were withdrawing. No clients left. A moment later, the official email came from New Hope: Expo West was cancelled. Nothing to do now but ride it out.
The next day, I went to the Anaheim Convention Center and found that about half of our clients had exhibit crates sitting in their booth space, but no one from the company had come to the show. So of course, I offered to assist. I spent the day coordinating return shipments, making sure that clients were taken care of.
The next few days were mostly a nice little vacation. I visited a handful of friends in the area, visited both the Nixon and Reagan Presidential libraries, which were fascinating, then spent a day at Joshua Tree National Park. Got a tour of the Entercom radio building on Wilshire, thanks to my cousin who worked there. Good memories. Hard to believe it’s been a year.
Since then, Expo West was initially postponed for a couple of months. Then cancelled. Then Expo East was cancelled. Then Expo West for 2021 was pushed back to the end of May. Then it was turned into a virtual event.
Shows keep getting pushed back, postponed and cancelled. Yes, a few are going on here and there, but industry vets seem to agree that tradeshows and conferences won’t return in full until early 2022. Sure, there might be an uptick in shows in Q3 and Q4, but not like it used to be. In fact, 2022 is still kind of up in the air.
Closer to home, TradeshowGuy Exhibits is still operational. We’re not going anywhere, and are looking to when clients are ready to upgrade exhibits for shows in 2022 and beyond. In the meantime, we’ve found a way to keep moving ahead – like most everyone we know – and keep after it day by day.
With the pandemic slowly winding down (fingers crossed), what does the future hold? I’m no prognosticator and I’m definitely not an economist, although I pay attention to a lot of what’s going on in the economy. Last summer, in a conversation with a colleague, we wondered aloud what it would mean for the tradeshow and exhibit industry when “normal” returned. At that time, we were only looking ahead a few months, but here it is at least two seasons later, and we’re still waiting for the new normal to return.
The country and much of the world are still slogging through high unemployment, many stores closing, restaurants on life support and little to no job growth. In monthly calls with tradeshow exhibit producers, sellers, and project managers, it’s clear that most vendors in the tradeshow world are still operating at a fraction of their full capabilities. And most still think that they won’t reach their full capabilities until sometime in 2022. Yes, Q3 and Q4 in 2021 should show some improvement, but it’ll be a slow go for months to come.
But, once things return, people are comfortable traveling and setting up exhibits and attending shows, what does that mean?
A recent article in the New York Times tagged a few economic markers they’re following, including a prediction by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia that US output will increase 4.5% this year, which if it happened, would be the best since 1999.
Optimism is growing because of a number of things: coronavirus cases are dropping, vaccine rates are increasing, and oh, yeah, there are a few trillion dollars sloshing around in the economy and if the current administration wrangles their bill through Congress, another couple of trillion dollars will follow. Consumers are also sitting on trillions of dollars thanks to lockdown spending dips and more stimulus payments.
But what does that mean for the business world or, more specifically, the tradeshow world? It’s hard to get a handle on exact outcomes, no surprise, but experts point to the fact that in many industries – tradeshow world likely included – a number of companies simply haven’t survived, or they’ve been gobbled up by stronger competitors. Which means that there may not be as much competition.
The world of shows, events and conferences is also changing. Floor plans may change, especially if social distancing remains in effect in at least parts of the country, meaning different shapes and size availabilities for booth placement. Does that mean revised exhibits? New exhibits? Downsizing or upsizing? Who can say? Any change will likely mean exhibitors be willing to spend money for either revisions or brand-new properties. Fingers crossed for all of us in the supply side of the industry.
One final note: Marly Arnold of Image Specialist does a biweekly live 30-minute show that appears on her YouTube channel, and a recent conversation with Jim Wurm of Exhibit Designers and Producers Association talked about this very topic. On the YouTube page here, she lists a number of links that are worth looking at. Let me share just a couple:
Here at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we’ve had the pleasure of working with Classic Exhibits, one of the top handful of exhibit manufacturers in the country, for over a decade. When the pandemic set it, it didn’t take long for them to do their best to adjust to the new reality. One of the things that Classic Exhibits implemented last year was a monthly conversation with distributors. On this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I sat down with two of the moderators of the Classic Conversations, Tom Beard and Harold Mintz, to learn more about how those came about: