I'm at the Exhibition & Convention Executives Forum today, an educational event that Sam Lippman, founder of Integrated Show Management & Marketing, produces every year and that Associations Now sponsors.
The keynote address was delivered by Greg Reid, the chief marketing officer of YRC Worldwide -- they're the huge transportation and logistics company that you likely know from the "Yellow" truck force on the highways. As the CMO of one of the largest transportation and logistics companies, he gave his insights on how tradeshows are part of the current mix in large corporations, and where it's going.
He gave some advice -- what he calls deviant leadership advice -- that I thought resonated, and while he tailored it to tradeshows, I think it has pretty broad applicability. He gave six points to the exhibition and conference executives:
1. Create change - There are three things that you can do about change: resist it (if you choose this course, good luck), embrace change (better, but not where you'll find success), create change. The deviant leader will drive change and thrives in change. It's about creating the change you want to see.
2. Let go - YBR used to shun less-than-truckload (LTL) deliveries, it simply wasn't profitable. Rather than leaving it at that, with pricing and process changes, they made the change happen, with LTL becoming a dominant delivery format. This meant letting go of current business models and their underlying assumptions.
3. Realize you're not in the exhibition business - when he meets with Walmart, he doesn't talk about transportation and logistics, he talks about the retail business. His goal is to understand the business his customer is in and what challenges they face. Same should be true when you approach potential exhibitors -- work to understand their business.
4. Get me there without the need to go there. Travel will always be a part of business, but there is just too much to do and too many places to go -- people can't cover all the ground that needs to be covered -- so be prepared to work with people and companies virtually.
5. Stop selling booth space -- this goes hand in hand with number 3. "When you meet with me, don't tell me the great booth space you have for me. Tell me who's coming and why I care about them and how I can reach them and what it will mean to my business. How will you improve my ROI? How can you help me calculate my ROI? The booth space -- that's why you're there, I need to know why I should be there. It will come up in conversation later, but don't lead with it." Note: quote is paraphrased.
6. Educate. Don't entertain. - we all know that it is important to create an experience for attendees, but the real nuts and bolts of meetings are what is most important. In the larger sense, whether you're talking about a board meeting or dinner or a magazine or a website, some pomp and circumstance, some razzle dazzle is nice, but under the flash is the real constructive meat of what you are trying to do, and that's what's really important. If I'm designing Associations Now and I put a beautiful illustration with a dud of an article, it's still a dud of an article.