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We have talked in this column over the years about the RFP process in our industry. We have talked specifically about providing exhibit design at no charge as part of that process; about the intellectual capital that we freely give away in order to win a piece of business. If you’ve read my column for any length of time, you know where I stand on this.

Once in a while, however, you get to do one the way it really should be done. Once in a while all the stars align…

Earlier this summer one of our account executives was approached to ask us to participate in an RFP process for a large new build project. We were told that there would be two other competitors and that the marketing VP, CFO and CEO of this company would be conducting site visits and interviews over the course of two meetings. The first would be with the marketing and finance guys, and the second, if warranted, would include the CEO.

We always approach these meetings in the same fashion – from a purely marketing perspective. We want to learn as much as we can about their company, their marketing plan, how tradeshows fit that plan and what their objectives are for their program. We then present our capabilities to match their needs.

Our first meeting with this company went very well, and we were quickly informed that we would be meeting with the CEO the next week, also at our offices. We approached this meeting in much the same fashion; asking many of the same marketing and strategic questions of the CEO this time, to gain his perspective on the opportunity. And as before, we presented our capabilities to meet the needs he expressed.

Following this second meeting, we felt we were in a good position to begin the competitive design process. We were awaiting their call to schedule a design meeting.

When the call came we were surprised to learn that they had met as a team, and based on the information and strategic discussions from our first two meetings, had decided to end the competitive process, award the project to us and begin working solely with us on the development of the design.

Needless to say, we were surprised and delighted by their decision. When asked, they told us that we had impressed them with our strategic marketing approach, and felt we better understood their company and their marketing objectives, and that would lead to a better design.

I don’t share this to brag on our company (well…maybe a little bit…) but rather to illustrate exactly what I wish more companies would do. Rather than pit several companies in a very expensive and time-consuming competitive design process, why not make the selection of a tradeshow marketing partner based on the company’s ability to process and understand the client’s marketing strategy and objectives?

We call it ‘tradeshow marketing’ for a reason – we are supposed to be marketing experts in the tradeshow field. If we truly understand the marketing objectives for a client, a functional design should flow out of that understanding. Otherwise the client is just buying a pretty picture.

By the way, once we were informed that we were selected, the next three meetings were with other members of their sales and marketing staff to ask them many of the same questions, and learn even more about their corporate culture, their marketing and sales objectives and their past history with tradeshows.

Once those meetings were complete, we presented our findings and recommendations to their marketing executive and CEO. Only then did we start on creating several concepts for the exhibit design.

Now, if we could just convince the rest of the corporate marketing world to follow this process instead of the one we are so accustomed to, I’ll bet they’d get better design solutions, based on better marketing intelligence. But then, that would mean a whole lot of stars would have to re-align.

See you on the show floor.

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

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