March 22, 2011

Tradeshow move-in sticker shock

Over the years, I've helped manage our national tradeshow, and I've traveled to many other tradeshows across the country, many of them including heavy equipment. One thing they've all had in common: a sense among exhibitors that the rates charged by companies that help move folks in and out of the show border on excessive and aren't based in any type of reality. I'd like to address this disconnect briefly, as I feel there is room on both sides to clarify this relationship, and I think it is the duty of the association managing the show to work with exhibitors and service companies to bridge this gap.

I think this stems partially from perspective. Exhibitors see only a small portion of what actually transpires before, during, and after a show. Understandably, they are focused on their booths and their budgets, while show management and their exhibit services partner must focus on all exhibitors. The challenges on a tradeshow floor include a great deal of diversity in terms of the type of equipment and products displayed and how those items arrive onsite, not to mention how they are moved onto the floor safely and efficiently.

Second, I think the disconnect comes from poor communication. It seems most exhibitors feel that they should only be charged for the exact amount of time it takes and for one specific piece of equipment (e.g., a forklift). Meanwhile, most exhibitor service companies, or show management for that matter, don't do a good job of making sure that exhibitors understand that there is a great deal of cost and overhead built into this pricing, more than just one worker and one forklift for 20 minutes. On the other side, high fees from service companies and unclear and confusing invoicing and service kits need to be improved, as well.

It comes down to this: without an exhibitor service company managing this entire process, tradeshows would be complete chaos for move-in and move-out, people would likely get hurt, and it would move much slower. There is value to the organization and management of a show, but that value is hard to communicate on a hectic tradeshow floor, and especially hard when the bill comes to the booth at the end of the show. It's hard to prevent sticker shock.

For the exhibit services company, moving items on the tradeshow floor is their revenue center. It's what keeps them in business and generates profit for their companies, pays their employees, and puts food on the table. They face substantial risk and cost, including initial site inspections, hours of planning site logistics, warehousing costs and storage, signage and shipping costs, admin costs, labor costs, and more.

Aside from those hard costs, there is also a personal cost and emotional one as well. Over the years I have personally seen our main exhibit services contacts manage through union strikes, inadequate labor and staffing, extreme requests, angry customers, smashed booths, broken-down trucks on loading docks, and countless other extremes. Also, many of these folks who help manage the process are on the road a great deal, as much as any hard-traveling outside salesman in some cases.

I'd love to hear perspectives from other associations who manage tradeshows. How do you handle these challenges?

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September 3, 2010

Who's responsible for innovation at a tradeshow? 3 (times two) views

At Annual in LA, I had the chance to attend the "industry power session"--a rapidfire discussion about the future of tradeshows facilitated by John Parke and building in part on the results of several focus groups of meeting planners and CEOs held before the conference.

The session was structured around a series of questions. The reactions and comments to each were fascinating to me (I've got a good dozen pages of notes to think about), but one question that particularly stood out was "Who is responsible for bringing innovation to a tradeshow?"

In the discussion that followed, a number of interesting points came up (all of the following are paraphrased):

- Innovative tradeshows need to recruit exhibitors who are on the cutting edge of their industries. Prospective exhibitors look at the list of companies that will be at a show and decide whether to attend based on whether they see other "like" companies.

- How can I expect exhibitors to bring innovation to a tradeshow when my exhibitors won't even read the materials I send them? (from a meeting planner)

- The ultimate responsibility for innovation lies with the ownership of a show, because they are the leaders of the event.

- Meeting planners must be the catalysts for innovation--they need to attend other shows, see what's going on in the industry, educate exhibitors, and sell new ideas to their CEOs. They need to ensure that their own shows are two years ahead of where attendees are.

- Associations would see more innovative ideas from exhibitors if they saw them as more than salespeople looking to do business. Associations need to educate their exhibitors on the needs of members/their market first.

- It's not an association's responsibility to educate exhibitors about their members--it's the exhibitor's responsibility to be engaged with their customer base and know the market they;'re trying to sell too. But associations shouldn't look at exhibitors as ATMs, either. We all need to break free from the direct sales mindset.

Watching this conversation pingpong around the room, there was clearly a passionate interest in the future of tradeshows and events, and consensus that innovation was critical to that future--but significantly less consensus over who needs to take the lead.

I don't know that there is a right answer--each industry and show is different. But I think the ultimate answer is "somebody needs to--and if you're asking the question, it might as well be you." Whether you're an exhibitor or planner or CEO, why not step forward and find others who share your interest in innovation to collaborate with?

What do you think? Is there a particular person or group with ultimate responsibility for innovation in a tradeshow? Would you have advice for someone who wants to help a particular tradeshow find its innovative mojo?

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July 1, 2010

Quick Clicks: Straight Up

Welcome to the latest edition of Quick Clicks--just in time for the holiday long weekend (for those of you who are in the States). Here's some great reading before you head out to your holiday celebration of choice:

- Welcome to new association blogger Dave Martin! Dave just recently launched the Dirty Martini blog, with the great tagline "Association Marketing Straight Up."

- Amith Nagarajan has written three posts on the Aptify CEO blog following up on his Leadership Inspiration post here on Acronym. He's written on encouraging debate at all costs, making decisions with imperfect information, and challenging your opinion continuously.

- The Connect blog shares 56 takeaways from ASAE's Membership and Marketing Conference and Association Media & Publishing's Annual Meeting.

- At face2face, Sue Pelletier considers a couple of perspectives on the question of whether or not association tradeshows are on their way out.

- At the SignatureI blog, Marsha Rhea considers what the next 50 years might hold for associations.

- The Nonprofit University blog shares a fascinating parable about Goldilocks and the three executive directors.

- Vinay Kumar wonders if we're asking the right questions as we try to improve our organizational performance. On a somewhat related note, Chris Bailey has some suggestions on how you can listen like an anthropologist to hear what isn't being said during important conversations.

- At the Insights From a Future Association Executive blog, Bruce Hammond has started an interesting discussion about the future of magazines.

- Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project blog shares some lessons learned from arranging a virtual career fair.

- Joe Sapp at the Moving Through the Association World blog (welcome back, Joe!) responds to Brian Birch's recent Acronym posts on building a new website with some advice of his own.

- Rebecca Rolfes suggests a new way for associations to think about growth.

- The AssociationRat blog wonders if the business world has anything equivalent to a walk-off in baseball.


September 14, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

After traveling and visiting with some of our key prospects and current sponsors/customers, I will now share 2 things. 1) Recap where my travels have positioned us to-date 2) Predictions about the future that I’d like you to argue with me about.

Sales Recap

Here is where my travels and follow up phone calls have placed us:

1) Within 2 weeks, I expect to have secured a little less than 50% of our sponsorship revenue goal, and our next fiscal year hasn’t even begun yet. This allows us to move into a new year with confidence, and gives me more time to focus on the second 50%, which is always harder to sell.

2) We have already sold more booth space this year than at the same time last year, and have secured the majority of the major booths on the floor.

3) We have commitments from most major advertisers and are planning an increase in magazine advertising commitments for 2010 because of our value-added packaging (discounts on advertising/sponsor/exhibiting if they commit to all three early).

The Future

Here are some thoughts as we move into a new economy:

1) Corporations are much better at spending their money wisely than any other entity on the planet. The days where large sponsorships will be dropped with no ROI analysis may be over.

The traditional viewpoint from associations, that large corporations are cash cows, will continue to lose ground and become obsolete.

2) Kiss that Gold/Silver/Bronze model goodbye. Just like any other customers, companies want choices and options, and they want to be able to customize.

3) Partnerships for education. Many companies now have the same basic goal as associations; educate customers ... these corps want to do so in a way that makes them look good; how do we leverage and partner with them in education, without tainting it? How do we make sure that there are opportunities for all partners to participate without exclusion? How do we leverage their resources and knowledge to deliver better quality education?

4) Trade shows are still a strong business model, but I think companies will be smarter about which ones they attend moving forward, and may reduce some of these lavish booths we’ve seen in the last ten years.

5) Packaging is the key. We need to position our sales efforts to create value year-round for them. We should be a one-stop-shop for getting a product or service message out via email, web, print, and in-person. We should increase their sales or at the very least increase their opportunity to sell.

6) Sponsors need respect. I get really frustrated when a company supports a program (makes it possible even), and members barely even register that they exist. How do we educate our members and help them appreciate sponsors, and not ignore them or see them as just a way to get a free dinner?

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January 27, 2007


Do you dream of an annual event that sells out the following year before staging the current year’s program? Impossible? Not if that conference is TED.

Hatched by Ricky Saul Wurman in 1984, the architect who morphed into the first information architect, TED was an event that embodied the merger of technology, entertainment, design into a high tech, high touch experience—an idea we now take for granted.

And now, that unique cultural experience and gold standard of meetings, TED, is morphing into a membership organization. Rather than charge a $4,000 registration fee, participants will pay 50% more for a year-round experience. Owned by the 501( c)(3) Sapling Foundation, Donor Members paying $100,000 will qualify for an extraordinary collection of privileges. The membership options are tiered by the level of access to the people who are attached to TED.

Over the years, this extraordinary event expanded to include: “…scientists, philosophers, musicians, religious leaders, environmentalists and many others. Those who have spoken at TED include Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Billy Graham, Herbie Hancock, Murray Gell-Mann, Larry Ellison. Yet often the real stars have been the unexpected: Li Lu, a key organizer of the Tiananmen Square student protest, Aimee Mullins, a Paralympics competitor who tried out a new pair of artificial legs on-stage, or Nathan Myrrhvold speaking not about Microsoft platforms, but about dinosaur sex.”

So, is your organization an association with an annual event or are you really an event with a year-round membership?


November 17, 2006

An open forum

In recent entry on the Face2Face blog, Sue Pelletier links to several new websites that provide opportunities for any individual to post information, comments, or feedback about conferences and meetings—much like Amazon’s customer review system. Confabb is a good example if you’d like to check one out.

I would guess that most associations do some kind of attendee survey either during or after their major meetings. But it’s not likely that most associations will post those attendee comments for the world to see (except for the really good ones, which might make an appearance in future marketing materials).

What effect would it have if your association used Confabb or a similar system to solicit open feedback about a recent or upcoming meeting? Would it improve the experience for attendees? Would it allow you to proactively fix problems in an upcoming (or ongoing) event? Would it let you have real dialogue with attendees who had negative experiences, instead of just hearing about their concerns after the fact?


July 6, 2006

Trade shows an important part of business-to-business marketing mix

According to a recent Harris Interactive study commissioned by American Business Media (ABM), trade shows still play an important role in the business-to-business marketing mix - even in an increasingly digital world - driving executives to seek additional information:

  • On the web (77%)
  • By talking to a sales person (73%)
  • By calling a 1-800 number (40%)

The report finds that trade shows remain a great places to make a sale, with seven in 10 (70%) executives purchasing or recommending the purchase of a product or service directly as a result of advertising/promoting at a trade show. Respondents praised trade shows for interaction with representatives and industry peers.

Executives are committed to attending trade shows regularly: senior level executives report attending close to three trade shows per year, while mid-level executives report attending close to two per year, with an average of 7.4 days spent at trade shows and conventions in the past 12 months. And attendees are not running through to fill up goodie bags either - 61.2% name trade shows as the most engaging/involving resource for senior executives.

The complete survey and an explanatory PowerPoint presentation are available for download on the American Business Media Web site here.

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