Sure, we’d all like to make big changes. Swoop in, push all the old stuff aside, and institute something NEW and DASHING and DAZZLING and TERRIFIC, something that impresses the hell out of customers, the media, and especially your boss. Because if your boss is impressed, he’ll remember you and you might be in line for a promotion, which means a raise and so on and so forth.
Sounds great! Except that making big changes, making that one BIG CHANGE that gets all of that attention, isn’t easy. You have to start from scratch, tear everything down and do something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. And if you change everything, you’d better have a damn good reason. First off, it’ll cost more. Probably a lot more. It has to be a big bold idea. How many of those have you had lately? And you have to get buy-in from the right people, and especially the people who control the purse strings.
There’s a better way, and it doesn’t cost as much. It doesn’t require big bold ideas. It doesn’t change everyone’s job that’s involved in the initiative.
Make improvements at the edges. Opportunity lies in the margins. Find a way to bring ten percent more visitors to your booth. Generate another five or ten percent leads by adding a small interactive element to your booth. Move your booth space closer to the main entrance of a big show once you’ve accumulated enough points and time in the show to warrant it. Take a survey of half of your visitors to uncover what they really think of your new products or services, adding just a little new information to your product development.
There are a lot of little things you can do on the margins to make a notable improvement that doesn’t cost a lot, take much time, or strain the system (and your brain). Yet little changes can still have a strong positive impact on the bottom line.
It’s pouring as I write this in my home office in Salem, Oregon. A guy just rode by my window on a bicycle, bundled up against the rain and wind. I took the dog for a walk this morning in the thankfully much lighter rain.
Ah, Oregon! I love it here! In 65 years, I have yet to find a good enough reason to move.
Technically, it’s still Autumn, but the dreary weather has kicked in full force with another four or five weeks until the official arrival of Winter. Seems my bicycle-riding days are over for a while although a sunny day may entice me out for a short ride.
No, my activity meter is revving up for ski season. It’s not that far away. My resort of choice, Hoodoo Ski Bowl, is 89 miles east and is a quick trip up for a day of skiing.
If this were a normal year, we’d likely be neck-deep in tradeshow exhibit projects at TradeshowGuy Exhibits. In the past, we often focused on exhibitors at Natural Products Expo West, which has in the past taken place in the first half of March. This years’ show, eight long months ago, was canceled a couple of days before the opening bell. Lots of exhibitors had their exhibits already set up and hundreds more were either in various stages of being set up or were sitting in unopened crates in their booth space. I spent a day and a half at the show coordinating return shipping for a number of clients then took a mini-vacation to Joshua Tree National Park and visited a few friends and relatives to fill out the scheduled week in southern California.
The 2021 NPEW has been moved to the end of May, although they’re still planning to hold the show live and in-person. Which makes sense, if for nothing else, it’s difficult to do a food sampling show on a virtual platform.
But of course, the possibility of a live food-sampling show six months from now presents its own issues and challenges, not the least of which is: will exhibitors and attendees be willing to commit to the show with enough time to actually pull it off? Given the reaction to a dozen or so NPEW exhibitors I’ve communicated with over the past week, it’ll be a tough call. Some are willing. Others are putting off all shows until 2022. Others are in a wait-and-see mode.
Which means that here at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, like so many other exhibit designers and producers, we’re just trying to make it through the winter.
Even without an active exhibit business, we have some income from other sources, which means we’re one of the lucky few. I know it’s bad for so many people.
I wish you well in 2021. Meanwhile, I’ll be waxing my skis soon, walking the dog in the wind and rain at times, waiting for sunny days.
This past week I’ve reached out to a couple of dozen former clients and prospects that have all exhibited for years at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. The show is usually in early March. You may recall that it was canceled on March 2nd this year, just a couple of days before it was supposed to open, just as the pandemic caused hundreds of exhibitors to pull out.
I happened to be sitting on a plane on the tarmac in Portland heading for the show that day when I saw the email from show organizers saying they were pulling the plug.
So what about next year? The show had originally been scheduled for early March again, but a few weeks ago it was pushed back to late May – a two and a half month delay, after a year in which it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Will it happen? Obviously, organizers hope so. But who the heck really knows?
To get a sense of what exhibitors were thinking, I reached out to a couple dozen of them. The answers were varied, as you might imagine.
One said they’d signed up, but with the caveat that they could pull out and get their deposit back within a certain time frame. Another handful said they’re still in the wait-and-see mode, as final decisions are needed until sometime in January. I did hear from a pair of long-time exhibitors who said they would definitely NOT be there. In fact, one said they had decided to participate in NO shows through 2021.
Fits and starts. That’s what the tradeshow industry seems to be right now, working in fits and starts. And I suspect that will hold for all of 2021.
In March and April of this year, when tradeshow organizers realized the gravity of the pandemic and how it would be affecting upcoming shows, many of them “postponed” the shows. I say “postponed” in quotes because many believed that whatever issues the COVID-19 pandemic caused; things would be back to normal in a few months.
For example, I happened to be on an airplane waiting to take off from Portland on the morning of March 2, when the email came in: Natural Products Expo West was off, postponed TFN. In the next few weeks, an effort was made to reschedule the show for early summer. Then the pandemic got worse. The show was canceled for good.
The organizers tried to focus on Natural Products Expo East in September. Nope, that fell by the wayside as well. As did CES, NAB, and many other shows. Some shows went virtual, others hoped for the best for a live show sometime next year.
In random conversations and email exchanges, and in seeing some survey results, the tradeshow and event industry has a wide range of opinions on when things might get back to “normal,” yes, in quotes, because we don’t know what normal will look like again, or when. Some companies are working remotely, hoping to get back to the office by the beginning of 2021. Others are putting it off until the third or fourth quarter of 2021.
In early September, Exhibitor Magazine revealed some data based on surveys of tradeshow world suppliers and exhibitors. For example, 2/3 of those surveyed said it was unlikely, probably wouldn’t, or definitely wouldn’t return to shows rescheduled for 2020.
Company travel restrictions will still be in place at most companies into 2021. Lots of data there, and I’ll give you one more interesting tidbit: the later in the year the question was asked, the further companies pushed their plans back. In early September, most companies were looking at the second or third quarter of 2021 before they thought they’d be back on the tradeshow floor. View the full presentation here; it’s worth a look.
I mentioned on my podcast this week that the live music and entertainment industry is also severely impacted. Musicians, tech workers, roadies, support staff and more have been mostly idled. Think of entertainers on cruise ships, or in Cirque du Soleil (which has filed for bankruptcy), along with concert tours, jazz festivals, country fairs, art fairs, and more.
I believe we all know how bad it is and have a feeling it’ll continue for much longer than we ever thought it would, when the pandemic first came around.
Over the past few months, I have been thinking that once we get back to, let’s say 75 or 85% or “normal,” companies would start busting loose with big budgets and there would be lots of new projects and work for exhibit companies and related logistical support companies.
Now I’m not so sure. My gut feeling is that because this is going to keep going until deep into 2021, companies will be very hesitant to spend money and will be more than willing to just do modest changes on their current exhibit properties instead of investing in something new. I have nothing to base that on and hope I’m wrong.
And finally, when it comes to Virtual shows or tradeshow exhibits, my sense is that it has to really make sense for the company for them to invest in something like that: they need it only if they can use it a dozen or more times in the next year or so, and they strongly believe it will get them more good leads at a better cost-per-lead than traditional exhibiting. The jury is still out on that.
What happens when your business needs a quick pivot to survive? Not all companies have been able to do that successfully. On this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning, I chat with Entire Productions’ CEO Natasha Miller about how they made the switch to virtual events in a big way.
Hiring an exhibit house is a big task. It’s a commitment to a business relationship that, ideally, you’d like to keep in place for years. But everything must come to an end, and there may come a time when it makes sense to consider changing exhibit houses. Here’s my quick video that looks at ten situations that may warrant that consideration:
The use of virtual tradeshow exhibits may not be exploding, although my sense is that it is increasing. Some big tradeshows have gone completely virtual for the next year or so, maybe longer, depending on the depth and breadth of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Which leaves exhibitors in a bit of a quandary: what to do about virtual exhibits. Should you invest in one? Should you just wait out the pandemic and hope you can get back to live tradeshows in the next six to twelve months?
And if you are seriously considering a virtual exhibit, it’s important to consider all of the various things you can do in the exhibit. I’ve seen a few virtual exhibits lately, and there is a wide variety in the approach. Some exhibitors have chosen the simple, let’s-keep-the-cost-down approach. Others have tried to throw everything in but the kitchen sink.
As an aside, one exhibit maker I spoke with recently said that a recent client of theirs did a virtual exhibit and found that at the virtual tradeshow, they experienced a 700% increase in leads for a fraction of the cost of appearing at a live show. My eyes opened at that stat, and while it’s impressive, it’s likely not going to be a common experience for every virtual exhibitor. But it does demonstrate that there is a lot of potential in virtual tradeshows if you plan ane execute well.
Having said that, there are a number of ways to get engagement at virtual tradeshows. The first is crucial: make sure that potential visitors know about your virtual tradeshow exhibit so that they are prepared, put it on their calendar, and have expectations.
The second is to build the expectations and prepare for them by putting specific things in your virtual tradeshow booth that visitors want. Things they’ll respond to, interact with, and share with others.
From that starting point, the question remains: what should be in your virtual exhibit? There are many answers, and your company’s specific needs should help frame the answer. Here are a lot of the things, perhaps not all, that could go into your exhibit. Keep in mind that each piece will add to your overall cost, much like a 3D real world exhibit, and that each piece of content, such as videos or white papers or PDF reports, all will take time and money to create. Before finalizing your plan, create a budget based on all of the pieces you think are necessary to make your virtual tradeshow booth a success.
Here are a number of things you can and should consider:
A place to collect visitor’s contact information
Download Center (PDFs, coupons, sales sheets, special reports, etc.)
Live stream video
Schedule a meeting
Learn about your company
Learn about new products
Give people the ability to share things on social media
Steer people to your social media outlets
Leave an audio or video message
No doubt if you put your mind to it, you can come up with more. What am I missing?