Things I Wish Somebody Would Have Told Me About Exhibiting

November 25, 2017

Candy Adams

Candy Adams, aka “The Booth Mom®,” is a hands-on trade show exhibit project manager and trainer. She helps exhibitors maximize the return on their exhibit investment using the best strategic, tactical and training practices. 

No. 3: Relationships can make – or break – your exhibit.

Exhibiting at my first trade show, I learned that relationships on the show floor can make – or break – you. It gave a whole new meaning to the saying, “no man is an island” when Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) dropped by my exhibit.

From damaged inbound freight to forced freight on the outbound (plus a bunch of disasters in-between), just about everything that could have gone wrong did. It took a real team effort to bail me out – a poor, industry rookie – and gave me a whole new appreciation for the term “team player” that I often see in trade show exhibit manager’s job descriptions.

Looking back at guiding exhibiting companies through more than 475 trade shows, I’ve found that there are four relationships that are critical to your exhibit’s success: with your internal show team, external partners/vendors, your exhibit staff and your customers/prospects.

Internal Show Team: Being an exhibit manager requires great flexibility within your organization – in dealing with everyone from the “C-level” executives (Chief Something-or-Other Officer) to the guy running your freight dock and every level in between. Every member on your internal team, often known as “stakeholders,” needs and wants information from you about their stake in the show. Knowing who you’re dealing with, their show agenda and expectations will help with both the strategic and tactical implementation of the show. Ongoing communication with this group is key!

External Partner/Vendor Team: While you’re communicating with your internal team, don’t forget to keep your show partners and vendors in the loop, too. This list may include the show manager, your exhibit house, specialized shipping agent/carrier, show electricians, Internet provider, installation and dismantle labor provider, audio-visual provider, live marketing and talent agencies, etc.

I’ll let you in on a “Booth Mom” secret. One of my tasks as I pre-plan every exhibit is to know both the contact name and cell phone number of each and every onsite vendor. I also ask them to stop by the booth, even if I don’t have a problem – just to give them a small package of homemade cookies. It’s an AMAZING relationship builder! And it’s not technically a bribe (especially since they eat the evidence!).

People who are new to the trade show business often don’t believe that we’re part of a small industry. There’s a good chance that the person you make a first impression on today will cross your path again if you stay in “show biz” long enough. Many of the players have spent their entire career in one – or maybe even many – aspects of exhibition or exhibit management. You’ll probably run into a lot of the same folks, year after year – whether they’re driving your exhibit properties to the show on a huge truck, working on the convention center docks or sitting behind the contractors’ service desks at a show. But you haven’t experienced the power of relationships – both negative and positive – until you’ve aggravated a Teamster (who, by the way, has a memory like an elephant) or delivered a box of chocolates to an overworked rep. working at the general service contractor’s service desk (who didn’t get a lunch break).

Exhibit staff: Too often, we forget that just because trade shows exhibits are a major part of our job responsibilities, exhibiting isn’t what our in-booth exhibit staff do on a day-to-day basis. We’ve taken them away from their family/friends/pets/home/office and plopped them in a job that they may not be that comfortable doing. Remember, they still have to juggle their regular job after hours on a laptop with questionable Wi-Fi service while they’re traveling to and from the show and working long days at the exhibit. Don’t forget to toot your staff’s horn and give credit where and when credit is due for their contributions to your exhibiting success.

My nickname, “The Booth Mom,” came from one of the members of my exhibit staff, because he could tell I was truly concerned about their comfort while away from home. I really do care if they’ve got their elevator speech down pat. I want them to know how to run the demos in the booth and scan a badge. I want to know they’re safe and comfortable in their hotel. If they’re hungry or thirsty in the booth or if their feet hurt and they just need a pair of Dr. Scholl’s foam pads for their shoes, I’m there to provide snacks, water and foot aids, not to mention Tylenol and ChapStick! The saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar is a good one to remember when dealing with your exhibit staff onsite. Don’t be a “Booth Nazi!”

Customers and prospects: I believe that the bottom line for our existence as exhibit managers is to build positive relationships with the visitors to our exhibit – our target audience – however we can. What are you doing to make your exhibit stand out to your target market from the other exhibitors at the show? Did you do pre-show promotion to convey a clear but compelling solution to your audience’s problems? Have you and your sales department contacted your 10 most important local customers and 20 hottest prospects before the show, offering them VIP passes to the show floor or a gift for stopping by your exhibit? What are you doing to let the show visitors you’ll come in contact with know they’re special?

Remember the Golden Rule: “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” Make the relationships that will make your exhibit successful!

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