Trade Show Chronicles – Assembling the puzzle (chapter 12)
This article belongs to the “Trade Show Chronicles” series. It tells the story of Andrew, young sales executive newly employed by a Hong Kong company that will attend his first trade show in a few months time. From understanding what exhibitions are all about to organizing the booth, recruiting promoters and following-up on leads, Andrew will live a complete adventure unique to the world of exhibitions.
Time flies and there is only one week left before the beginning of the show. I have spent the past two weeks reviewing my budget and expenses, making sure everything was accounted for. I overspent by about 15% – according to Karen, it is unexpectedly reasonable.
I am meeting with Charles this afternoon, in a coffee shop nearby my house. Over the phone, he said he was proud of me and wanted to meetup to discuss fine-tuning. I am pretty confident things will go smooth this time.
– “Hi Andrew!” Charles is already sitting in a comfortable chair in the back of the shop and waves energetically in my direction. His large smile seems to indicate he is thrilled to see me.
– “Hello Charles! Am I late? Have you been waiting for long?”
– “Nonsense! I was enjoying a delicious cup of macchiato: I did not know they made such great coffee around here!”
– “Yes, it’s a very nice place and the environment is quite relaxing. But… since it is quite pricey I seldom come here…”
– “No worries, today is on ME.” claims Charles, obviously excited about it.
– “No Charles, I should be the one to…”
Charles ignores me and goes on following his idea:
– “So, tell me more about your journey! It seems you’ve evolved quite a bit since the first time you called me! When was it? About 6 months ago?”
– “That’s about right…”
– “And when is the event starting?”
– “Next week actually.”
– “Wow, you must be fairly excited about it!” Honestly, right now, Charles is the one who looks all excited. It seems he can’t contain himself, admiring the creature he has created.
– “I don’t know… maybe. I just hope things will go as planned”.
– “Sure it won’t! Things NEVER go as planned.”. That’s reassuring, thank you Charles. “Have you heard of Murphy?”
– “Murphy…? You mean another school mate?”
– “No, Murphy as in ‘Murphy’s law’! ‘Everything that can go wrong will go wrong’. That’s a rule, nothing ever goes as planned. That’s why you need to always have a plan B! What is yours?”
– “I’ve got a passport to disappear in Mexico is things don’t go to plan…”
– “HAHAHA! Glad to hear that! Not sure a mustache would fit you though…” Charles is getting quite loud and enthusiastic. People turn around, staring at him but he doesn’t seem to notice… or care.
– “Ok, Andrew, time to be a little serious” in the blink of an eye, Charles’ attitude completely changed. He is now very focused and ready to talk business. “Tell me, what have you done for the past few days?”
– “I have been working on my expenses sheet.” Suddenly regaining confidence, I puff out my chest and claim “I am only 15% over budget, this is the best score our company ever had!”.
Charles stares at me, studying me carefully. My smile slowly fades away – he is apparently not as proud as I am and there must be something wrong with what I said.
– “15% over, you consider it a good score? Let me ask you something: when did you start managing your expenses?”
– “A couple of weeks ago…”
– “That is late. WAY too late.” says Andrew, shaking his head slowly looking at me in despair. “Look, what is done is done, but here is what you should have done: from day 1, have a checklist ready. This list should contain everything – booth rental, TVs, samples, carpets, lighting, hotels, logistics, etc. Then, you should allocate your budget based on how you wish to spend it. Last, as you organize the event, you should update this sheet with actual expenses. That’s the way to go to not overspend.”
– “Yes… I have seen that myfairtool, the tool we use to help us organize the event provides such feature… I just did not think it would matter so much until recently.” Charles and I are about the same age and we’ve studied together. Yet, it feels like he is now my teacher and I must report to him. How did that happen?
I must have been lost in my thoughts since Charles had to bring me back to earth:
– “Andrew! Are you still with me?”
– “Yes, yes, sorry, I was thinking about this budgeting thing…”
– “Well, that is now behind you, let’s focus on what you can still improve. Let’s talk about your tool box. Have you prepared one yet?”
– “Tool…box… I am not sure to know what you mean.”
– “I have prepared this article for you” Charles reaches out to his inside pocket an extracts an A4 printed sheet that he passes me. “It contains tips about what a proper trade show toolbox should contain. Please do NOT go to the exhibition without it, that would be a huge mistake!”
I look at the article: “What material should I prepare for my trade show*” – it looks like there are quite a few details I should organize urgently.
– “The most important items are listed here. Have you prepared some pen, paper, stapler…?”
– “No. We don’t need to. We will record all our leads digitally!” I claim with pride.
– “Yes, and that’s brilliant and all, but…” he expects me to finish his sentence. Shyly, I say:
– “Murphy’s law?”
– “Right! Exactly! What happens if you run out of battery, your tablet dies or internet is horrible? Plan B, always have a plan B.”
– “Duly noted.” Deep inside, I disagree. I have prepared spare batteries, chargers, additional phones and 3G cards. Nothing will go wrong. I manage it. Yet… Charles doesn’t seem to be wrong very often and I can’t argue that having a plan B is a bad thing…
– “What about screw drivers?” I must have raised my eyebrows a little too much as Charles adds “Come on Andrew, don’t tell me you haven’t planned ANY toolbox!”
– “Screw drivers…? What for?”
– “Duh! For repairing! Say your samples break down or one of your banners isn’t properly hanging… having a couple of screw drivers is essential on a booth, don’t go without! Same with cutter, scissors, tape, and so on.”
– “Ok, I will…”
– “… same for cleaning products! A broom, some cleaning cloth, window spray… the basics! You need to keep your booth fresh throughout the entire event.”
– “Got it!”
– “What about business cards?” This time, I know I am up to his expectations:
– “Ready! 100 cards per person as well as 200 ‘standard’ cards for those visitors who don’t represent serious leads.”
– “Perfect! What about drinks?”
– “You mean… at the booth?”
– “Yes of course!”
– “Well… there is a cafeteria at the corner so…”
– “Andrew, do you have any idea how expensive it will be there? Didn’t you tell me you are already 15% over budget? Did you account for the on-spot expenses? Food, drinks, cabs… I bet you will end up 30% over your budget!”
– “Damn… I did not think about that…”
– “Look, these events are exhausting. You need your whole team properly hydrated and you don’t want them to purchase an expensive coffee every hour. Buy 1.5L of water per person per day and store it on your booth. You will both save money and improve your team’s efficiency.”
– “Sounds like a smart idea.”
Charles goes on and on about the trade show toolbox I need to prepare. There are so many things I did not think about. Suddenly, he changes topic:
– “What about the carpet?!”
– “What about it?”
– “Did you pick a thick or thin carpet?”
I did not expect that question. I’m not even sure to remember what I have picked, that was such a long time ago.
– “Thick… I think…”
– “Oh, Andrew…” Charles put his head in his hands, obviously discouraged. How could the thickness of the carpet be THAT important…? “Andrew, your booth carpet must always be thin. First, because it is much easier to clean, but mostly because you will stand on it for the whole duration of the show.”
– “And…? Wouldn’t thick carpet be more comfortable…?” I say, quite suspicious.
– “Comfortable in the short run, maybe. But you will be standing on a thick carpet for 3 entire days – trust me, your legs will beg for mercy!” He might be right, I did not think about that. “And have you picked your outfit yet?”
Changing topic again… quite difficult to follow his thinking.
– “My outfit…? Yes, I guess. My usual suit and I just bought a new pair of shoes to look perfect on that day.”
– “Forget about your new shoes! A trade show is the worst place on earth to try new shoes. Only use shoes you are comfortable with – especially if you are using thick carpets”.
Charles goes on and on about my shoes and the carpets. My brain disconnects for a while and I start thinking about all this work I still have to do and the very limited time I have.
– “Yes, sorry, I’m here. I was lost in my thoughts…”
– “I was asking if you’ve already prepared your follow-up emails”.
– “Yes, I have. Different templates for different types of leads.”
– “Perfect! Don’t forget to personalize them a little before sending it out!”
– “Sure will.”
– “Ok, so now let’s discuss your daily routine.”
– “My daily routine? You mean, on the booth? Talking to visitors, right?”
– “You are the project lead, the ‘booth manager’. You have more to do than just talk to visitors!” I should have expected this: there is always more to come. What is it this time? “You must be the first to arrive on the booth in the morning. Have you and your team go through a quick clean up, make sure there is no dust on your samples. Then, go through a morning pep talk.”
– “A pep talk? I’m not good at that. I will probably be the least experienced one on the booth, shouldn’t someone else…?”
– “No, it has to be you. You don’t build credibility with your age or outlook. Credibility comes from trust – look confident, know your topic, prepare everything well and people will listen to you. A morning pep talk is essential to motivate your troops and remind them of their daily objectives.”
– “I still think that…” he doesn’t let me finish.
– “After that, give hourly feedback to your team – number of leads collected, most active staff, goal completion percentage, etc. Keep them involved, motivated, excited! Half of the job is done if you can achieve that. And don’t forget to keep your boos in the loop – he will definitely want regular updates.”
I am now taking some notes. I should have done this from the first minute: I came for a relaxing coffee and end up taking a master class and I did not even take proper notes! How am I going to remember all this?
– “It means they will need to stay behind and work some extra hours, isn’t it?”
– “That’s trade shows, it’s always like that. Plan some additional budget to invite the team to a nice restaurant, have a drink or something. But do NOT allow them to get drunk or party overnight. You need them fresh and ready by the morning!”
– “Wow, that’s a lot to control… organizing an exhibition stall feels more and more like being a general in the army…!”
– “That’s the spirit” says Charles with a smile. He waves at the waitress who brings the bill. He pays for the drinks and we’re on our ways. Just before saying goodbye, he adds:
– “And don’t forget to set your email auto-reply next week.” I must look quite worried because he says “Come on Andrew, that’s going to be a lot of fun!”