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ECN is Seeking Your Stories from the Showfloor

by Doug Stevenson

Many of you may have read our recent piece on industry legend Fred Kitzing in our last issue. We had many positive responses to that article, which is a good thing, because it signals the start of a planned series we are calling “Trailblazers of Yesteryear.” Certainly there are many people who have contributed largely to an industry that we know and love … and sometimes don’t love so much. So, how did we get here? This series will set about to explain that.

It is mostly common knowledge among us that this is not an industry to which little kids aspire. Kids want to grow up to be astronauts or fireman or doctors or engineers or nurses or scientists or librarians or rodeo clowns. Unless you grew up in the tradeshow industry, you likely did not say once upon a time, “I want to work long hours, evenings, and weekends toiling under unrelenting deadlines in a studio or shop, or traveling to Timbuktu and back and standing on a hard concrete floor inhaling diesel fumes in the tradeshow industry.” For most of us, it is something we happened into by accident. For Fred Kitzing (pictured above), it was that call he received from the American Meat Board while he was happily toiling as an elevator operator. For me, it was an audition out of the Player’s Workshop of Second City. KITZING was auditioning live talent for the Housewares Show. For me, it was a discovery of the perfect blend of theater and marketing. Five years later I went to work there. In sum, everyone has their own story.

The tradeshow business has been a perfect destination for cast-offs and misfits, people with many talents and interests. It lures those on the path less traveled—resourceful entrepreneurs and creatives with versatile skill sets with an appetite for adventure, travel, and labors of love. It is perfect for problem solvers who like to take on big, messy challenges and deliver on deadline. It has also been a destination for rogues, raconteurs, and renaissance men; sharks and charlatans, con men and consultants, savants and simpletons. Foremost, it was, and still is, a haven laden with great opportunity for the resourceful, imaginative and ambitious, with an appetite for adventure and advancement. The familiar aphorism “It takes all kinds” is an apt descriptor of the tradeshow industry.

There are also all kind of stories to be told that are as varied as the people. Mostly it is a story of ingenuity, adaptability, innovation—along with some subterfuge, sleight of hand, and bait and switch … and pulling rabbits out of hats. As discussions over many years have shown, the industry is certainly incestuous. No one of us is more than two degrees of separation from everyone else in the industry. That makes it all often hilarious and sometimes hazardous. You have to watch your clients’ interests while you watch your clients … and your back. More than a few of the most amusing stories I’ve heard recently have been “off-the-record” because they contain names and circumstances not to be revisited, by the request of the survivors who want bodies to remain buried where they lie. But oh, what stories they are!

So we want to tell those stories and we think we have found a way. We will cast a wide net—there are many players who built this industry from many disciplines. Not only the fearless founders, but the iconoclastic designers, sales legends, pioneering project managers, visionary graphic designers, classically skilled craftsman, innovative fabricators, marketing mavens, prodigious promoters, consummate communicators, tireless I&D field personnel, etc.

In short, we will tell the story of how we all got here, how we sustained and transformed, out of diligence and dedication, or out of necessity. Times change and we have changed with them. The series will cover it all—all the stories, in all of their unique aspects, mostly because this industry features an amalgam of stories very unique in their individual ways, many individuals having taken their own unique path, albeit all glommed together by common goals.

Beyond the series that will be published in ECN, there will be a bound historical volume of it all featuring extended interviews, photos from center stage and behind the scenes, anecdotes, sidebars and related tales, also documented for posterity on video. This will be a group effort, and we ask you to join in. In fact, please let us know if you have a particularly proud or peculiar tale to tell. (We’re sure you do.)

And there will be promotional opportunities. Information on all of that and more to come. Stay tuned. And, until such time, keep on trailblazing!

Doug-StevensonDoug Stevenson MM, MSc began his career at the Leo Burnett advertising agency and was introduced to the exhibit industry at KITZING, Inc. With more than 20 years in the business, he is also a writer, consultant and trainer in the areas of creative process, innovation and team-building. He can be contacted with your stories at doug.goodideas@gmail.com.

This story originally appeared in the May/June issue of Exhibit City News, p. 72. For more pictures and original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/may-jun_ecn2018 

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