Three flavors of shows…Wait…Why?

What Ice Cream? This is errr...fat free yogurt with fruit, no there wouldn't be 3 scoops in here!

What Ice Cream? This is errr…fat free yogurt with fruit! No there wouldn’t be 3 flavors – scoops in here!

Oh my goodness gypsies it has been a whirlwind trade show and customer event year. The trending element this year seems to be, “we are having our own event” and we are making it as big a deal as possible.

Flavor #1. Trust me, from a business standpoint I completely understand wanting to have targeted audiences and bring in high-level partners and customers. It makes all the sense in the world to drive the right decision-makers into your “encampment”.  This can get extremely costly and bust the budget in one day! Planning as early as you can, doing the odds and ends with your internal teams, and having a great rapport with your venue can help with costs.

Flavor #2 -The industry vertical shows and events, which may be mid-range in numbers; will attract the worker-bees, design teams,  and those planning teams who will develop products over the coming years.  Here is where you can find out how the current industry/markets  are moving and help shape the industry as a whole.  A critical part to the marketing plan and an industry centric venue to garner the right people who are in the development and deployment roles. It is a fight to that leadership role, and everyone can add LEADER to their signage, but the proof is in the pudding. Who wants to see you, and are they willing to come to a show to see your products/services or your CEO? Costs are generally mid-range and keep in mind leads can be varied from C-level executives all the way through to the engineering implementation staff.  This in no way means from high-to-low; but it gives a large range of levels who participates, so you may be engaging with a wide variety of cross-functional teams who can be the ultimate influencers if they are the ones who will be working with your product/service.

Flavor #3 -The elaborate “we are the world” shows, are those that are inclusive of a full-industry, have great visibility, and are the glitz and bling of your show year. Those feather-in-our cap, type of events that prove to the world, my booth is bigger than yours; my speakers are more fun and louder than yours; and yes, our promo item, well what can I say … (car vs tee shirt)! These events accomplish different things for different groups that memorable interaction with a big player who really did give you their real business card. Mid-level companies can shine too by having that key product launch or partnership announcement.  Start-ups in a small booth under the stairs in the dark,  it is all about networking and meeting the mid-level groups and the big guys too. Getting the picture of where you can go as a new company by gathering industry knowledge (the scoop) PUN!. You can always reference, “ we were by ….mongo humongous booth with King Kong! Yes, I am so glad we had a place to get away from that crazy display and chat.” 😉 Wink! Get them out of there they won’t remember you!

So with all of these versions of tradeshows and events, what is a gypsy to do with a less than full coffer! Those gold coins are not worth what they used to be; and the trading is not as fruitful, as costs have gone up for organizers in significant amounts and they are also in the rungs of cost overwhelm. There are still some things to be had with the barter, but I am afraid it is up to cost-cutting and assuring you send the right people at the right level to each event and invite the customers/press/partners you want to see.

For those individual company events, make sure your attendees are the high-level staff plus-one. The plus-one talks tech at a high-level and can determine if the department can buy or sell with this company. Your high-level staff can play in the sand box and talk corporate initiatives that will establish hierarchy and leadership in the industry through visionary discussions and strategic positioning. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to have one individual who can cover both roles, but if possible send both to cover as much of the targeted network at the event as possible. Save money managing travel costs, if they can fly in and fly out with a minimal stay; or for over night stays incorporate customer visits to extend ROI of the trip. Also, take note if your individual company is planning an event to get feedback on how the attended event was; and include what they liked/didn’t like about the venue. Call ahead and ask for a package noting you will have attendees at …..event, and you are going to get feedback from them for a possible hosted event you may be having.  This might even garner your C-Level staff a little VIP treatment or a discount if there is an overnight stay (A+ for tradeshowgypsy!).

The middle-ground tradeshow or event is the kind of work-horse event; in that your field engineers, sales, marketing, and business development teams should be prepared to participate at every level they can get into if they are in attendance. Speaking (keynote if you can), panelist, sales pitch promotions, show floor demos, time with any press/analysts for product marketing. Get them engaged as much as possible and try to watch the dollars in how many people go. Cut costs on any of the services and shipping with early-bird submissions or ask for multi-show discounts where applicable.  Put your best technical foot forward and make your statements clear enough for a 5th grader to know what you do, so people walking the aisles STOP; and do not bypass because your messaging is unclear or there is too much to read in a quick glance.  Make sure your team is not waiting for people to come into the booth to get them; or they portray that demeanor of importance by standing with their cell phone behind the main counter, and are perceived as unapproachable.

Get the team the materials and information they need to support the show and make sure they are out in the aisles and the corners of the booth to bring people in, “Hello” and a welcoming presence gets them into your booth. Help promote your presence at the show through as many mediums as you generally use for a product launch. You are pitching your external presence in a venue that can accommodate many customers/partners/press and analysts. Get people you want to see there with a special invitation from your company, get as many as you can to RSVP (Bribe with gift)…wait…did I type that? I mean offer them a nice promotional item or a conference pass for coming to see your presentation.

Show organizers have many ways to target attendees, but often they are not as fulfilling as companies would like just because organizers are not out in the trenches selling and in the daily interaction with industry and market directions. They have an industry broad knowledge and interest, not a Tradeshowgypsy specific customer network. Keep your eyes open for ways you can use other department money, such as training or certifications and ask for a multi-attendee discount.

Flavor #3 – The FLASHY show! Now these are a blast generally, and I mean that from the sense that everything is going off at once and they are a lot of work! They can be fun too, but generally as a tradeshowgypsy you are more concerned with that hanging sign, the new and improved lighting system that is flashing in all the wrong places, and carpet padding that will hold-up the staff during the entire show. Your VIPs are running amuck as keynoters and high-level press are there and your immediate bosses are on edge and expecting you to provide them with all the comforts of the office in this little fake city that was set up in 3 days! I am here to tell you, BREATH!  No matter you have what it takes, you are a tradeshowgypsy with magic on your side. You have done all the work to get the people you want to see into your booth because you have sent secret by invitation only cards to those key purchasers prior to the show for their (Pitch and Promo) – and everyone else gets the tee-shirt (cool design of course)! Plus your execs are happy because you secured them a private meeting space that allows them to relax in conversation and have catering that is not show floor pizza and internet access (which in a comparative in cost for the entire show, paid for the external meeting room plus individual meal room service catering or restaurant meal!) How much did you spend on that?

These events generally  have some great workshops or certifications; allowing you to take advantage of the HR training budgets and have extra staff on hand covered under a different coin coffer!

Now that we are ¾ of the way through the show season, just know there are more popping up in December than ever before, don’t be surprised with new invitations as they will go to your C-Level staff who will want to attend! We tradeshowgypsies are a creative, tough, and a tenacious lot; and we will not give up or go over budget! We have our ways!

If you are lost in the quagmire of costs or overtaken with managing the sheer numbers of events/shows – there are a number of resources to help.  Check out social media sights, LinkedIn has some good ones, Exhibit – Display companies, groups in various networks. Talk to your fellow gypsies, and of course ask me. If I don’t know, I will ask my network and find an answer! Where there is a will gypsies, there is certainly a way!

Safe travels and remember to pack for variable weather and set your clocks as some are getting ready to Fall Back!


Budgeteers?…wait Who?

Budgeteers – Defend your Show Budgets!

Here we go, time to set up budgets for 2012! Yippee! Well, maybe that is a bit over-the-top in enthusiasm. Personally, this gypsy is not an accounting enthusiast, and budgets were like a bad dentist appointment for me. However, the best thing about budgets is really going through the shows that were done during the year and really seeing how much work was done and what accomplishments were made during the year. Also, the discovery of new shows on the horizon and working with teams to figure out the road map for the next year and possible new market segments to discover!

Try to always keep everyone working toward the same goal as they are each dependent upon each other to get a successful product development and release, actual sales, and ultimately customer retention. Often teams will disagree on costs as their budgets are also in question, marketing is often cut FIRST and looked upon as fluff, and certainly shows are a huge target.

Make your case!!!
Visibility and branding, having online presence is fantastic, but if you neglect the face-to-face business and the actual visibility of the product by media, analysts, investors, buyers, partners, and competitors (aka stakeholders); the product/service can be considered vapor ware or only talk, (just ask your competitors, they will be happy to tell everyone you are not at a show because your product/service does not actually exist).  Buyers remember what they see or touch; what they read can often be only the first step.

Online shopping is great if you have a commodity product that is already been “viewed” and “tested” by others. Where does it start? By someone seeing and testing it somewhere, often at a show!  Whether it is at a CES electronics show, a Chicago car show, or a LA hair show – people “human beings mostly” want to get their sensorial experience with a product or service before they buy it or recommend the product for purchase by their company. If you have products that are pieces or parts of other things such as a computer module for a plane, car, tank, cell phone, pace-maker – still engineers; mechanics; heart surgeons want to see what the product is and what make it something they would design with or use!

How to work a budget for shows is dependent upon your business model– some budgets include travel and staff numbers; others are purely show costs and logistics.  In either case take a look at your costs from the previous year for each show, this includes shipping which is a large part of the costs. The shipping also has a glitch, should the shows be back-to-back, on short turn-around, and across the country or international. Take a look at the schedule and figure out where you can do double duty on the graphics or schedule bi-yearly or quarterly updates rather than show by show. Campaigns can add their own nuances with video and marketing collateral; keep the graphics general and build around it with “accessories”.

Now is also the time to touch base with your shipper and I&D company. Find out what the costs are going to do in the upcoming year. The rates will vary on the location but having that information will also give you a more accurate budget. Make sure to include some extra $$ for equipment rental; such as extra electrical for XYZ product demo, equipment replacement, should your crate be smashed or lost.

Shows to some are a big-ticket item that is unbearable to comprehend. This gypsy loves shows and can also be a bit baffled about having to rent a certain type of lighting (dependent upon the convention center rules) – at the hefty rate of $35/each per day! Use your gypsy smarts, go to the nearest home improvement/electronics store and buy them for much less. Now is also the time to do an equipment review and figure out what needs replacing or updating, get those costs in the budget. New wheels for that wagon, horse replacement, and of course a new paint job! This was a rough year!

Include your team! Talk to sales to validate shows, and make sure that you get the people who are not going to tell you that shows are a waste of their time and their feet hurt; if that is what you hear, make sure they are not on your show staff for the next year! Get the sales staff that knows how to work shows and include the engineers/speakers and get their feedback on past/new shows. Speaking slots are often tied to show exhibits and rightly so, you need to have the space on the show floor to back up your speaker and support their efforts so be selective on your speaking opportunities, make them worth everyone’s efforts.

Save dollars by planning early. Add $$ for those shows that come up out of the blue, at least 3 per year – also be ready should your company be an acquiring entity.  Keep your team engaged because there are always those program/product managers that are in the know about product releases that can get into the mix on the show schedule.

Make sure the budget is ready for the red pen, at least twice. Do not get disheartened, for some reason that is the mode of operation and the game to get the budget done. I will not ever understand that process but there seems to be no way around it, as the reviews go through several hands, several times! Give yourself some padding – not absolutes on the numbers! Shows have no absolutes, remember? – “You are the willow you will bend not break” and that includes the bank!

Good luck gypsies – dig through that wagon and find your sword – you are now the Budgeteer defending your Show Budgets! 🙂

Can you say CHAA CHING? …wait Why?


The magic wand does not set up the booth or manage the budget! I know this is a long post – but the adventure has some great pointers and can HELP you keep from being kicked out of the Clan! (aka your company)!

Building a booth can be quite interesting and intense when it is a large booth with 20-30 crates worth of structure. With a mass of architectural drawings and labor that is spinning them around trying to figure out what direction they should go; a show manager can be extremely overwhelmed and the price of building your booth can more than triple in estimated costs! Having your exhibit house/booth vendor/I&D team on-site at least the first time to train the manager on the booth build, is extremely important. (Taking notes/pictures/video of the booth being built is critical.)  Even smaller intricate booths can be a challenge as discussed in earlier post!

With that said, I arrived at my hotel a couple of days early to take in the sites of the city and enjoy the great extended weekend show rate.  I was attending a large mil/defense show and ran into a friend that had been “promoted” and was managing his first show. He was so excited about how great it was going to be. Once again wrong chair and wrong time; or right chair at right time; it truly is all a mystery how show gypsies are selected. He said he had not been to the show floor yet, but was excited because they had a 50 X 100 space with equipment. He was enthusiastic about the whole thing and asked me if I had time to go check it out. I didn’t have an exhibitor badge so we worked our magic and got one for me…there are ways!

When we arrived at the booth, there it was, a huge truck with the tires way taller than I am, not difficult I am 5’ 3”; but for a tire, that is a BIG vehicle. Unaware of what I was looking at other than a big truck; I noticed the color in his face drain when I asked, “Where is the booth freight?”  All the crates were stacked behind the vehicle with no access to the front half of the space where the booth was to be built.

With reassurance and deep breaths I escorted him on a trip to the service desk. Requesting fork-lift help he got the entire 28 crates moved after 2 ½ hours of everyone waiting, (Cha…Ching!) As they began to build the booth I asked him how many labor staff he had hired, he had no idea he just knew they had a cool booth and it really didn’t matter, right? (CHAAAAACCCCHING!) I also asked him where his exhibit vendor was, he said they didn’t need them, the booth crates had the plans and it was up to labor to figure it out!  I almost couldn’t watch as I knew no one had trained him in his new role as show manager and he was really going to catch it when he got back to his group with the bill. Trying to tread lightly I asked him if he knew his budget and was that a part of his responsibility? He said, oh yeah, I am on a strict budget this is a major part of this position!

My instincts couldn’t take it and told me to ask if he would like some advice, as it was paining me to know what was going to happen (flogging or banishment!). He said, I am sure I have it covered, but sure if it will give you something to do, ha!ha!, it was after all, a big booth.

When I told him he had probably blown his budget already and there was more bad news to come, he looked completely ill. We rounded up his labor manager and asked him exactly how many staff were going to work at the booth full-time; and an approximate number of hours. I also told the labor manager that we were going to be helping give direction as there seemed to be a bit of confusion with the drawings; I asked to see the pictures of the set-up booth; he said none were sent. My buddy said, he saw it but didn’t remember everything…hum time to call the exhibit house. Voila, a local office could send someone over right away for a negotiated amount with pictures etc.  This effort alone saved money because labor was able to get the crates unpacked in the correct order and the booth pictures were clear and in sections; direction went much better saving time, over-time, money, and sanity!

While booth-build labor (show I&D) was on lunch break we sat down and went over all of his orders and made sure everything had been accounted for, and that the orders were received by the service company.  Once a few corrections and alterations were made, we determined he was way over budget because of several late receipts of freight at the show, incomplete orders, and extra labor charges already incurred. This did not even include end of show pack-up and outbound freight, and all the issues that can still eat up more $$$$$.

After lunch we were able to let 2 of the labor staff go and jump in with the little things ourselves (cleaning; putting literature racks together, small things (time-eaters)). I had him call a staff member to go out and buy a vacuum and cleaning supplies for the week. This is not ideal, as usually those things can be negotiated if you have a large of a booth.  The EXHIBIT house/I&D company setting-up know what the details are and do them. In this case we were scrimping!

Once the booth was built, there was another issue, the TRUCK was parked behind the booth, and due to the nature of the booth design it made it look as though someone had abandoned the truck outside the booth!  The correction took getting the show organizers, service-company, and an extremely careful operator to reposition the thing and meet all the safety/fire rules. Just keep adding in more UNION labor time! (OOOCCCH …CHA CHING!)

With the day at an end at midnight, I am afraid my guy looked like he had been hit with a baseball bat. He felt embarrassed that things had gone so wrong after what he thought was all done beforehand.  I consoled him and let him know that often we are a bit neglected as gypsies and that training is rarely an option and even still all the planning in the world cannot stop every issue.  You have to be like the willow, as the wind comes you bend or change directions you don’t break! I really did use that analogy. 😉

The next morning I met up with him at 7:00 am in the lobby and asked him if he thought he had a handle on it as this was the last day of building. He said, yes I am going to go through my notes and make sure it all happens, I CAN DO THIS!  I am the WILLOW!

I went about my day and did not set my foot back into the show hall until show day. I went to his booth and he was completely in charge, giving direction and making sure someone else in the booth got vacuum duty every morning of the show! I wanted to burst with pride in my new gypsy in charge!

We met for breakfast the last day of the show, I told him to get ready as everything we did to come in, he now had to do in reverse, and I gave him some pointers of the pitfalls that can happen during tear-down. While we were walking over to the show hall, he called his exhibit vendor and asked them to send the same person over for tear-down and to prepare for a long-night.  I asked him to call me and let me know how he did on his budget when it was all said and done, as there may be areas that could be renegotiated. I also instructed him not to sign off on the bill without questioning the “late” shipping on ALL the crates; and other charges that may have appeared he did not understand or order.  If the service agents at the desk did not have an answer, I advised, with a pen that can go through several copies, press hard; CIRCLE the costs in question and note – not in agreement – need to discuss and then sign. GET A COPY and keep it with you until you hit the office. Negotiate immediately while the show is fresh. Service-agents are dealing with so much it is incredible, and they are incredible in multi-tasking for hundreds of people in many cases! So asking questions is not out-of-line.

Let’s just say he was on the phone quite a bit, and was still over budget but not nearly as much as he would have been had he just let “things” happen. We are great friends and he has since moved out of the show gypsy area and is now a marketing manager, but has a strong appreciation for shows and all it takes to put them together.

Going to workshops etc., to learn about being an exhibitor or show manager is certainly a luxury so fight for it if you can! There is also the issue of organizational nuances that only your boss will point out that are done incorrectly if you do not know what to look for; so ask questions, as many as possible if you are in the chair and someone says, “you, you get shows”!

I hope this helps the gypsies out there with their show and meeting demands and gives an idea of the issues that can occur and trample your budget! There are fantastic exhibit/I&D companies that can manage all of this for organizations; but it has been my experience that with the economic pressures of late, companies feel this is something that can be managed internally or is unnecessary. Certainly gypsies can do anything! But not efficiently without training, as the costs can add up faster than a Vegas slot machine called FEED ME!

Ok, questions anyone? 🙂