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Impressions and sound bites

I have just come off a two-week road trip where I visited four cities and attended six trade shows, one of them being the EXHIBITOR Show. I don’t think I have ever walked that many shows and talked with so many clients and prospects and industry friends in such a condensed period of time. It kind of left me in a whirlwind of impressions and sound bites.

To me, there is nothing more important than being face-to-face with our clients on the show floor. We talk about being in the face-to-face marketing business, and we preach to our clients about the importance of this aspect of their marketing programs, but do we really follow our own lead?

Whether it’s being there for the full installation or just being there to make sure everything is going well for them, the importance of your presence at your clients’ events is huge when it comes to showing them what they mean to you and to building strong relationships.

Having dinner the night before the show with one of my clients and their sales team – about 20 people – my client (the marketing director) stood up to walk everyone through their strategies and objectives for the show. When she was finished, she looked at me and asked if I could do 10 minutes on booth staff behavior and lead qualification. Had I not been at this show, I would have missed this impromptu opportunity to share expertise with their sales and marketing staff. Being there helped solidify my relationship with them as their tradeshow marketing expert.

At another show, I was there to make sure our set-up was flawless. There had been several issues at two previous shows and the owner of this company had taken me and our account executive to task in a meeting last winter. At that time, I committed to him that I would be personally involved in his next shows. The fact that I actually showed up at his first show after this meeting was not lost on him. We performed flawlessly, and he saw that our commitment was genuine. We ended our conversation talking about the growth of their tradeshow program and his desire to increase their exhibit size. Would that conversation have ever happened if we had not been there?

I think we in this industry have a tendency to not value the expertise that we have. Because we are used to giving away design and giving away our intellectual capital, the value of that expertise seems to be diminished. A good friend of mine from outside our industry made a comment to me several months ago about this. He said: “Jim, you could walk into any corporate board room in America and be the smartest guy in there on the topic of face-to-face marketing. You need to place more value on what you know.”

He’s right. And this is not about me. This is about us. Every one of us that has spent our careers in this industry has developed a level of expertise unmatched by those outside our business. We need to place more value on that expertise, and frankly, we need to stop giving it away. As we come out of this recession and companies start getting back into face-to-face marketing in a big way, we need to make sure they value what we know and pay us for it.

I was sitting on a park bench at a show having this conversation with a friend who owns an exhibit house in the Southeast. Walking away from that conversation, I realized how fortunate I am to have such good friends in this industry. Being at the EXHIBITOR Show a few days later just exponentially reinforces that feeling. Whether it’s spending time with a retired owner on his ‘farewell tour’, a few drinks with a competitor who is becoming a friend, a dinner with the guy that took me to my very first show 30 years ago or catching up with a sales executive I worked with 10 years ago, seeing old friends is a highlight of this show.

But it’s not all about old friends. Just this year, contacts made at EXHIBITOR2012 and the EDPA conference have led to supporting clients at shows in Canada and the UK with new partners. It’s as much about new friends as old. And it’s all about just being there.

See you on the show floor…

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 30 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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