This week’s ONE GOOD THING: The return of the National Basketball Association. Season starts soon!
Yes, we’ve heard it a hundred time: perfect is the enemy of good. But what would a perfect tradeshow experience really look like – if you could make it happen?
From your perspective – the exhibit tradeshow manager or staff member – it might look like something like this:
- Fair prices for booth space rental, material handling, shipping and other show services such as installation/dismantle, cleaning, etc.
- Getting a nearby hotel, within walking distance, at a good price.
- Twice as many leads as you had planned for and/or more sales than you anticipated.
- Tradeshow exhibit getting plenty of compliments from visitors, maybe even recognition from the show itself with some sort of award. Graphics looked terrific, booth was always clean and presentable.
All of that would be great, right? Maybe not perfect, but as close as you can get.
But let’s flip the script and ask the question: what would be a perfect tradeshow experience for your visitors? Yeah, the people that come to the show – and to your booth – to learn about new products and services and hopefully find the right one that suits them to a T.
- Immediate recognition by a booth staffer when you walk into the booth: a smile and a good opening question that engages them on a topic that is relatable to their specific situation regarding your product or service.
- The visitor would feel like a welcome guest in your booth. After all, you’ve hired the best people and trained them well, so they know how to properly welcome visitors.
- Good follow-up questions from the staffer. Perhaps even a product sample if appropriate.
- Collection of contact information: no more and no less than what is needed for a timely follow-up.
- Their visit to your booth was useful to them but didn’t end up being cut off or taking too long. After all, they have other booths they want to visit.
- The follow-up was exactly as promised: on the day and time it was planned, and it happened like it was intended, whether an in-person visit, a phone call, an email, or a follow-up piece of mail with a sample or brochure or another promised piece.
- Based on their visit, the prospect decided that your company was indeed exactly what they were looking for and feel that the business relationship is just starting and, assuming all continues to go well, will continue for years.
Now that you know what a perfect tradeshow experience might feel like from the attendees walking into your booth, what will it take to pull that off, again and again?
The on-again-off-again return to events is proceeding as you might expect: with unexpected twists and turns that are keeping everyone a little off-balance.
In the past week, I’ve seen the following:
- A return to masking for the most populated counties in Nevada, which of course affects tradeshows and events in Las Vegas.
- A noticeable and stressful challenge is still with us when it comes to shipping. A recent email from our main exhibit manufacturer Classic Exhibits to its distributors outlines freight size limitations. Many tradeshow exhibit crates are 98 – 103” long, but now many freight forwarders will not accept any shipments that are not skidded or crated, and will no longer accept any shipments that are over 96” L or 96” H.
- A note just came in this afternoon from Freeman, which says that effective August 1st, Freeman will require anyone on their property or show site to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Freeman employees are also required to either show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours to be able to work.
- A Facebook page I follow had a recent post where the HIMSS Show has been canceled, but at this point, it seems to be a rumor. The show’s main page doesn’t mention any cancellation, but there are details on how they’re now requiring masks (see the above story on Nevada’s return to mask mandates), even for fully vaccinated people.
- Another one: we’re working with a client for a show in late October, and with the recent news of the past week, I point-blank asked if they were still planning to attend and move forward with a new booth project. Suffice it to say that they’re still in discussion about it and haven’t made a final decision yet (which has to be made within the next couple of weeks). Contrast that to just a couple of weeks ago where they were full speed ahead.
Yes, as Mink DeVille once sang, it’s a mixed up, shook up world (okay, they were singing about a mixed up, shook up girl, but hey, it’s about the same thing, right?)
All I can say is hang in there, in spite of the two-step-forward-one-step-back world we’re living in. We’ll make it through. I got faith in the world and in the industry.
If you’re a fan of Robert Heinlein’s classic science fiction book “Stranger in a Strange Land,” you know the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who was born on Mars, raised by Martians, and comes to Earth in early adulthood. He ends up in a political power struggle and as the title suggests, he’s a little lost in the whole thing.
I sense that many people are feeling a similar way when it comes to returning to the tradeshow floor. Exhibit designers, builders and exhibitors are looking to the future when things will return to normal and they can get back to the action of exhibiting and all that entails.
This morning I see a post in a tradeshow group on Facebook that a client has canceled an appearance in an upcoming show in early August. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the resurgence of the delta variant of the virus and the continued resistance by a significant portion of the population to getting vaccinated.
Another commented that they also had a cancellation at the same show, and a second cancellation by another client at another show in October. Also due to uncertainty of the virus numbers.
But for some exhibitors who are looking at shows in late October, the assumption is that everything will be fine and they’re proceeding with plans for new exhibits. So they’re forging ahead on designs and are getting ready to put significant money down on new exhibits.
I get the sense that with all the players involved – organizers, exhibitors, attendees, designers, fabricators, labor and support services – no one is sure of which way to jump, and unfortunately we’ll all have to jump several times before we learn where we’re going to land.
In the TV show “Billions,” one of the questions that come up now and then is: “Are you certain?” And the response is meant to be “I am not uncertain.”
But I don’t think anyone has much certainty right now about the tradeshow world and when it might return to normal. Or even settle into a “new normal,” which will be different but at least predictable.
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:
This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Listen to Micky Dolenz’s new album “Dolenz Sings Nesmith” on Spotify.
I tend to make a lot of lists. Not as many as I used to (maybe I think I have enough lists by now!), but I still write things down. You’d think this makes me organized, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Several years ago, not long after I got married, I sat down and wrote out a comprehensive emergency “If I Get Hit By a Bus” list. It’s self-explanatory: it’s where my wife can find all of those things she needs if the worst were to happen: passwords for phones, computers, websites and more; will, important papers, all of that stuff.
I realized over the weekend that I should probably update the list soon because things change. Some old info drops off, new stuff is added. But then I thought: should tradeshow managers do the same thing? After all, there are a lot of moving parts in tradeshow marketing.
Hey, life is unpredictable. Things happen that you haven’t planned for. Most of us really don’t spend much time thinking about the worst thing that could happen. And subsequently, that means we really aren’t prepared for it, at least not as much as we could be.
What should be on your list? It may vary from person to person, and company to company, but here are a number of things that come to mind:
- List of shows: Include booth sizes, dates, locations.
- Vendors: who handles your exhibit; who designs graphic updates, who prints them? Who fixes your exhibit when it needs repairs?
- Service providers at the show: while many companies use show services at the venue, many also bring in outside exhibitor-approved contractors to set up and dismantle the booth. Or print something on demand in a quick turnaround.
- Personnel: Who went to what shows, what their duties were. Who’s still with you, who might have left. Contact information.
- Where files are kept: tradeshows generate paperwork, either digitally or actual paper. If they’re kept on a server, note the location. Same with your work computer. Same with your file drawers.
- How much things cost: similar to keeping track of paperwork, but building a spreadsheet to track costs from show to show and year to year can also be of great use.
- Exhibit details: size of booth at particular shows. Size of graphics (you’ll be updating them frequently); number of crates, storage location, what shipper you generally use, along with contact information on those various entities. Names and phone numbers are always a good thing.
- Social Media access credentials: whether you handle these personally or not, if you’re involved or if there is to be social media engagement from the show floor, add those login details to your list.
Once you have your list, give a copy to your immediate boss, or to someone on your team you trust that will use it if necessary. You should be good to go for another year or so before updating it.
Inflation is kicking in, have you noticed? Have you recently tried to price a piece of plywood, for example? And no doubt you’re feeling it at the pump, too.
It’s affecting the cost of tradeshow exhibits and tradeshow marketing, too. In a recent Classic Conversation – where Classic Exhibits distributors gather monthly to share info and chat – much of the conversation was about rising prices. And it’s apparently affecting a lot of the marketplace. Prices are moving up, and time frames are also changing.
For example, when the pandemic hit, companies had to shed employees. Many were furloughed indefinitely, many were simply let go. Now that things are moving in the other direction, albeit slowly in many instances, companies are having to staff up again. And many are finding it challenging to get dependable people back into the workforce.
Also, supply lines are either clogged or pinched, or negatively affected, meaning that it takes longer to get the materials that you need. There’s a high demand where there was recently very little demand, which means that the ramping up of production is happening, and it doesn’t happen overnight. And shipping is taking longer than it used to. Much longer, depending on where things are coming from. If materials are coming from Asia, for instance, the broad stroke take is that shipping containers cost more and are harder to find, making shipping not only more expensive, but things are taking longer.
In the states, shipping times are expanding by a few days in some instances. Again, these are general observations, but people who handle shipping logistics agree that it’s taking longer to get things from Point A to Point B.
Other things to watch for
It’s been noted that in some locales, show services are being impacted. In a quick addendum to our regular monthly chat, someone observed that GES was allowing only their rental exhibits to be set up, and not allowing any EACs (Exhibitor Approved Contractors) onto the floor. Again, this seemed to be only in a few places, but it raises flags about how you should approach planning for your next show.
What to do:
Talk to your exhibit house: find out prices ahead of time; find out how long the quote will be good for (expect that 30 days is a likely limit).
Talk to your labor and show services contractors well ahead of the show so you are prepared for any changes that you may have to deal with for the upcoming show.
Download and read the show manuals from top to bottom and if you notice changes or have questions, take the time to reach out and get clarity on anything you’re uncertain about.
Finally, don’t wait until the last minute for any booth changes. Plan on adding an extra week or two or three to your design and production schedule. Show dates won’t move, and if you want any significant changes to your tradeshow booth, make sure your planning includes the extra time needed.
Yes, you got a lousy location. What to do to prevent poor traffic and lack of leads by the end of the show? Here are a handful of things you can do to bring people to your booth:
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.
One of the ongoing challenges I find with exhibitors is working with show services. There seems to be some sort of mystery about what they do and don’t do, how much they charge, how to save money on it, and much more. I caught up with Jeff Quade, EVP of Exhibitions at GES to talk about all of these topics and more. We started with the news that shows are moving back into Las Vegas.
Find GES here.