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Taking it outside

It was very early in the morning and I was driving my pickup north on an unnamed gravel road. To my left, as far as I could see across the flat plains of Nebraska, was corn … very dry corn. To my right was the same with the exception of the sun beginning to make its presence known by peeking over the top of the horizon. Another gorgeous sunny day at Husker Harvest Days was about to begin.

Actually, it had begun a couple hours earlier. Just as it had every day for that week in Nebraska and for the two weeks before that in central Iowa at the Farm Progress Show. My crew and I awoke at 4 a.m., met in the lobby of our hotel at 5 a.m. and made the 45-minute drive to the show grounds by sunrise. We then worked until sunset.
To say that these farm shows are a little unlike your typical tradeshow is a gross understatement. It’s a whole different world.

Besides the obvious differences – the outdoor exhibit spaces are massive and are covered in grass, wood chips or pea gravel, aisles are actually streets and the exhibit grounds cover close to 100 acres – there are lots of things that require serious consideration when doing a large outdoor event that come as second-nature at a tradeshow.

The best advice on these kinds of events is that if you need it, or think you may need it, bring it with you. That includes power in the form of huge diesel generators and portable air conditioning units, fork lifts, high lifts, a 24-foot box truck (which becomes a storage space during the show), a full complement of tools and equipment and, of course, your own men.

To do our client’s 140-foot by 200-foot plot required one 53-foot closed trailer, one 53-foot flatbed trailer and the 24-foot box truck loaded with scaffold to build six 25-foot towers and one 40-foot tower, a 50-foot by 120-foot tent, a 30-foot by 30-foot air-conditioned tent, flooring for the small tent and a main presentation stage, outdoor furniture, and odds and ends, like six large fans, six large coolers and all of the exhibitry to fill the inside of the tents.

And we were one of the smaller exhibitors.

One cool thing about the installation is that you set your own schedule. The grounds are available for many weeks prior to the start, so you can set your own timetable for installation. Bring as many people as you want at whatever time you want for as long as you want. And park right in front of your plot. Also, bring your own food and drink – these events take place in remote agricultural locations. A lunch run involves a drive to the nearest town.

Installation at an outdoor venue also involves dealing with weather. We’ve been fortunate this year to only have one day of rain at the Iowa show, but in Nebraska there was a constant wind, anywhere from 10 to 40 m.p.h. Working high on scaffold towers and in large tents is complicated by dealing with the wind. And high wind wreaks havoc on flags and banners, not to mention the constant cacophony of tent flaps snapping in and out while tent poles and beams creak and groan.

Another aspect that I like – these shows seem to have a much more laid-back and casual atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, exhibiting companies are still seriously after hot prospects and spend a great deal of time on qualifying and measuring success. Those aspects of this face-to-face venue are no different than in the most intense tradeshow environment. But it’s outdoors, and the agricultural community seems to enjoy the time to talk more. Think of it as a cross between a state fair and a tradeshow.

After having worked in so many big city convention centers over the years, it was a nice change of pace to do these shows. Staying in small Midwest agricultural communities really gives a different perspective on our culture. Driving 45 minutes to and from the show grounds, through miles and miles of corn and soybean fields provides an appreciation for the work that our nations farmers do on a daily basis.

While I have probably physically worked longer and harder in the last month than in a very long time, it is the kind of work that invigorates. Being a part of these two big outdoor farm shows has been a very cool experience.

I have also seen more beautiful sunrises and sunsets than I have in many years.

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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