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While you were busy spamming the official conference hashtag . . .

Twitter yet again serves as handy tool – this time to tradeshow management.

If an exhibitor breaks the rules and gives away illegal items without the approval of show management – just check out your official conference hashtag Twitter feed. You’re likely to find innocent attendees tweeting about what they just won.

Whoops! Didn’t see that one coming, eh?

Caught. Red-handed. tsk tsk . . .

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Call for feedback! Brief Survey for Professionals Tasked with Social Media

social media survey

If you have a moment (just a moment – I promise!), I am calling for professionals tasked with managing social media for your organization and/or organization’s event to complete a brief survey (just six questions!). I’m hoping to gather some industry standards to learn more about the dedicated time needed to manage primarily Twitter-driven social media initiatives.

I will post the final results here in about a week. Thank you in advance for your valuable input!

You can complete the survey here: http://twtsurvey.com/3ejwg5

Next Steps – Even More Targeted, Relevant Social Media Research – Care to offer some advice?

Year-round, I send out a monthly newsletter to our regular exhibitors. Articles typically cover upcoming deadlines, important dates, registration statistics, advertising opportunities, sponsorship opportunities, etc. Now that my organization has made the decision to move forward with social media initiatives for our 2010 annual meeting, I’ve realized that the exhibitor newsletter opens up a perfect opportunity to explore *exactly* what our exhibitors are doing, or not doing, or are interested in doing, with regards to social media – and their perspective on social media initiatives led by show management.

We are approaching social media with a carefully considered and thoughtful short-term strategy, which will provide us with the metrics to then determine our long-term strategy. One important consideration as we move forward is finding new and creative ways to leverage social media to increase the value of exhibiting and sponsorship in and around our annual meeting. This could range from new sponsor benefits to new metrics to provide in return for sponsorship and/or increased exhibit hall traffic.

The natural first step seems to be surveying our exhibitors to see where they are currently with social media and how they would like to see both their organization and show management using social media.

Please keep in mind that this is concerning a medical meeting, and thus subject to regulatory and compliance considerations, i.e., activities should not be too “carnivally” or “fun” in nature and should reflect a professional tone.

The goals of the survey would include:

Would the exhibitors benefit and appreciate social media initiatives led by show management geared at:

  • Attendees in an attempt to boost exhibit hall traffic; and if so, we would encourage them to provide suggestions to optimize this use of social media
  • Exhibitors to open up the collaborative “town hall” discussion year-round, and to exhibitors of all sizes and types

Obvious survey items would include requesting exhibitors to share their organization’s current social media involvement, the level of involvement for their personal use of social media, their opinion of various prospective social media initiatives (e.g. exhibit hall ‘scavenger hunt’, announcing product theater presentations, exhibit hall hours reminders, etc.) to increase exhibit hall traffic, positive/negative social media experiences at similar meetings, etc.

My question for you all –

Based on the goals of the survey – what unique and helpful questions would you include in the survey (taking into consideration the current regulatory landscape)?

South Carolina CVB’s Promotional Strategies in Lenox Mall – Can They Translate to Tradeshows?

It’s a beautiful Saturday here in Atlanta, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I spent a portion of it in the mall instead of outside enjoying it . . . I digress.

As I walked down the main aisle of Lenox Square Mall here in Atlanta, I noticed a person about 15 feet above me in a harness with a parachute. Ahead of me, I saw a speedboat with a driver, and realized it was actually a set of pretty realistic looking mannequins parasailing down the main stretch of the mall, promoting South Carolina as a vacation destination.

Well, kudos, marketing team. You definitely got my attention, and impressed me with your creative strategy.

The South Carolina CVB didn’t stop here though. I later went up an escalator and the first thing I saw was a huge cut-out of little kid in goggles, mid-cannon ball and grinning like a maniac. The placement couldn’t be better. You could not miss it! And I already knew it was for South Carolina at this point because of the theme.

Then, you really got my attention.

Again, on the main aisle, there was a huge screen set up, where shoppers could “bounce” a virtual beach ball against it, complete with a young and attractive person to greet you, show you how to play (and possibly slyly slide in an elevator pitch).

There was also the traditional gimmicky but attractive blonde manning a spin wheel and giving out prizes.

The interactive beach ball wall and spin wheel both seems to attract plenty of interest. I had to navigate my way around the crowd.

I didn’t walk the whole mall, so I may have missed some other creative marketing techniques from this group. It also should be mentioned that the target audience was definitely present. Lenox Mall is located in an upscale part of town, and frequented by plenty of people and families with enough disposable income to go on a vacation, even in difficult economic times.

The fact is – cheesy or not, high tech or not, their marketing folks did a great job in my opinion. The placement and theme got shoppers’ attention and garnered engagement and participation, all while being very memorable.

Had there not been so many people in the way, and if I wasn’t in such a rush, I would have definitely stopped to get a brochure, out of curiosity and especially since my husband I have recently started brainstorming about potential affordable vacation destinations.

We all clearly know the current economic environment has really taken a toll on the travel industry. The South Carolina CVB clearly understands that consumers are thinking twice these days – and this probably wont change for many even after the economy recovers. They have successfully used interactive, engaging technology and well-thought out strategy with this campaign.

As a tradeshow professional – I find stumbling upon this type of creative marketing to be fantastic inspiration for brainstorming.

Maybe South Carolina’s strategy and creativity can help show organizers and exhibitors to think outside of the box and brainstorm new and/or improved strategies to generate traffic in the exhibit hall. I’m sure there are some neat things that could be placed throughout a convention center with the goal of driving traffic to the exhibit hall.

Professionally, my experience lies with medical meetings; this means that specific guidelines, compliance issues and nuances must be carefully considered when brainstorming. Due to the attendee demographic, scientific content and increased regulation, our options are limited – e.g., nothing too carnival-y or silly.

So, tradeshow  and events folks:

What creative promotional strategies have you seen in ordinary places that could translate to, or fuel inspiration to successfully generate interest and interactions at your tradeshow/conventions?

rookie picks a tradeshow veteran’s brain . . .

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Exhibitor Advisory Councils (EACs). (I know, I know, I’m a nerd) If you’re not on the tradeshow side of events, an EAC is a usually set up by show management and comprised of representatives from a group of companies that regularly exhibit at the tradeshow. The goal of an EAC is to give exhibitors a forum to communicate their concerns and feedback/suggestions for improvement to show management.

Sounds great, right? Show management can better understand their exhibitors’ needs and the exhibitors feel like they have a voice.

What could go wrong?

  1. Communications are not productive, rather they become gripe sessions and nothing ever changes.
  2. Lack of active participation from show management, EAC members, or both.
  3. EAC makes recommendations that show management just cannot accommodate.
  4. Non-EAC members feel out of the loop since they are not involved.
  5. Choosing the right combination of exhibitors to truly represent a united voice for your show’s exhibitors.

Being a rookie who has experience mostly in a very specialized area of expositions, I decided to pick the brain of my friend Traci Browne, over at The Tradeshow Institute. Traci is a veteran with experience in all types of tradeshows. Here is what she has to say.

the interview

Rookie: Are EACs effective? Or are they just a feel-good move by the show organizer that doesn’t produce any real changes?

Let’s assume for our sake the motive is pure behind the EAC.  We’ll assume the show organizer does want to improve their show/event.  The council is not just a way to get feedback from exhibitors but a chance to create a meaningful dialog.  The key here is dialog, something a survey cannot provide.  If your motives are pure and your goal is to improve relationships, this will be evident.  If you are just putting on a show, you’re exhibitors will know this soon enough.

Rookie: Do EACs have to produce real change to be successful? Or are they just a way to improve communications between exhibitors and show management?

You’re not going to improve communications if you are not willing to implement changes to accommodate legitimate suggestions.  You could actually hurt your relationships with exhibitors and sponsors.  Often times show management gets so caught up with the status quo implementing the same event year in and year out.  Maybe you do have an open mind and think your exhibitors would welcome the latest and greatest technology.  By creating a dialog you might just find out the changes they are looking for are not that dramatic.  Remember, your biggest responsibility is to your attendees and that’s what you are good at—that’s who you know.  Exhibitors know how to sell their products and services to your attendees.  They can let you know what is most effective for them.  I bring this up because you never want to compromise your mission for your attendees just to sell more booth space or sponsorships.

Rookie: How do you measure the success of an EAC?

Before you can think about measuring their success you need to have a goal(s) and quantifiable objectives in place.  This is going to help you structure your discussions and stay on track.  The goals you choose are going to be different for everyone.  It depends on your current relationship with your exhibitors and how open your communication lines are already.  Your goal/objective could be to increase exhibitors renewing by 25 percent.  Another goal might be to improve exhibitor/sponsor relationships with an objective of scoring a 90 percent or above on post show exhibit surveys.  How about converting a percentage of exhibitors to sponsors at the next show?  If things are particularly bad for you your goal could simply be improving your current relationships and the objective could be coming away with three solid ideas to implement that exhibitors have requested.  Now measuring success is easy.

Rookie: Define what you think the best structure is for the members of the EAC (i.e. how many bigger exhibitor members versus new exhibitors versus non-profits, etc.)

The best EACs I’ve seen have an even mix of long time exhibitors, newbies, large and small; and if applicable representatives from non-profits.  When you focus only on your big spenders who have been there the longest you run the risk of creating an event that smaller organizations can’t afford.  Also, larger exhibitors will not have as much riding on your event that small exhibitors might have.  Your event could make or break a new emerging company.  A company that could go from a table top to a 1600 square foot plus island booth in five years.   Your non-profits are going to help to keep you honest to the needs of your attendees.

Rookie: What is the best way to make non-member exhibitors feel like they have a voice and representation with the EAC?

Having smaller exhibitors on your council will definitely help with this.  But you will have some exhibitors not included who feel excluded.  To combat this, ensure all voices will be heard.  Making everyone aware of why you have created the EAC and what you hope to accomplish can do this.  Everyone can be included through the use of surveys prior to your meetings that go out to all exhibitors.  Make sure you have a plan in place to communicate to everyone what was discussed at meetings and what outcomes you hope to implement/achieve.

You may also want to include an open forum during the show that is open to everyone.  By during the show I mean a few hours after the exhibit hall has closed the final day.  Give everyone a chance to get teardown underway.  Do not hold this meeting when your smaller exhibitors should be entertaining their clients or working in their booth.  Remember, the smaller exhibitors did not bring along their marketing entourage with them.  Which brings us to your next question.

Rookie: If you implement a “town hall” meeting during your tradeshow, what measures can you take to ensure that it is productive and collaborative – and more importantly prevent it from becoming a gripe session?

This is a great question.  I have been at these types of meetings where things have gotten ugly.  This is often because the show organizer has been so out of touch with their exhibitors and had not listened to their complaints and addressed them until they built up to a frenzy. A good moderator is key to things not getting out of hand.  If you don’t have one on your staff, or if you think things could get particularly nasty, you might want to hire a professional.  They will not be speaking for you, just keeping things under control and on track.

You need to have a plan for this meeting.  Going in there thinking you’ll just wing it will only get you into trouble.  Having exhibitors complete a survey will help you prepare for what the mood of the room will be.  If you are authentic in your motives this will show and help to keep things under control.  By authentic I mean you honestly want their feedback to improve.

Don’t get on the defensive.  Listen, listen and listen some more.  If your exhibitors tell you GSC charges are out of control don’t start making excuses about how unions have your hands tied, cost comparisons and all you are providing for them.  If someone decides they are no longer going to pay $4.00 for a cup of coffee you’re not going to convince them it’s worth it because it comes from the most rare bean on earth.  They’re just going to go across the street and buy a cup at the diner because it does exactly what they want it to do without all the excuses.

If the whole room is yelling at you, boy do I hope you brought in a moderator.  I also hope you realize that these are all probably legitimate complaints that one way or another need to be addressed.  If you have just a couple disgruntled exhibitors that are disrupting the meeting ask if they would take their issues off line with a staff member after the meeting or immediately, whichever they prefer.  Often they just want to know someone is going to listen to them.

Rookie: Outside of show management and exhibitors, what invited guests would you recommend attend an EAC meeting? Vendors? CVB folks? Labor?

Some people might argue with me here but I would definitely keep vendors, labor and the GSC out of this discussion.  This is between you and your exhibitors.  And it should be about more than just this one venue.  Besides, the GSC and venue basically work for you.  If you decided to work a deal with the GSC where charges get passed on to the exhibitor, it’s ultimately your problem.  You cannot use them as an excuse.  You chose the venue you have to take the responsibility.

Rookie: What if the EAC asks for things that you just cannot offer?

It’s not what if…I assure you they will.  Compromise is the word of the day here.  Every single exhibitor will think the prices are too high or want guarantees on new business signed at the event.  What you want to do is focus on what you can do.  Have them help you create a list of add-ons.  You can’t re-negotiate union rates but you can come up with some really creative enhancements that will make your exhibitors feel they are getting more bang for their buck.  This is also going to help you focus on the positive.

Nothing has to be decided on the spot.  This is information-gathering time.  The real work begins after the meetings. Using the information you have from these meetings your staff can brainstorm on ways to add value.  Real value is what your exhibitors think is valuable.

this rookie’s highlights

On the value of an EAC . . .

The key here is dialog, something a survey cannot provide.

On aligning the objectives of exhibitors and attendees . . .

Remember, your biggest responsibility is to your attendees and that’s what you are good at—that’s who you know.  Exhibitors know how to sell their products and services to your attendees.  They can let you know what is most effective for them. I bring this up because you never want to compromise your mission for your attendees just to sell more booth space or more sponsorships. (This is a good reminder – it’s really about the attendee’s experience.)

On determining the structure of your EAC membership . . .

When you focus only on your big spenders who have been there the longest you run the risk of creating an event that smaller organizations can’t afford.  Also, larger exhibitors will not have as much riding on your event that small exhibitors might have. Your event could make or break a new emerging company. Your non-profits are going to help to keep you honest to the needs of your attendees. (Wow, this is a very good point. Smaller exhibitors, while they don’t pay as much for booth space, are still an important and valuable part of your show, both to the bottom line and to attendees)

On inviting vendors to an EAC meeting . . .

This is between you and your exhibitors.  And it should be about more than just this one venue.  Besides, the GSC and venue basically work for you. If you decided to work a deal with the GSC where charges get passed on to the exhibitor, it’s ultimately your problem. You cannot use them as an excuse.  You chose the venue you have to take the responsibility. (I definitely agree that the issues discussed at an EAC meeting are between show management and the exhibitors, and it’s not acceptable to hide behind the vendors when exhibitors complain about rates. However, I think it may be helpful, for example, to have GSC representation at an EAC meeting in a city where union labor laws truly are out everyone’s control. I also think the meeting may serve as a subtle reminder to your vendors that exhibitors are key stakeholders as well.)

On how to help non-EAC exhibitors feel they have representation through the EAC . . .

Make sure you have a plan in place to communicate to everyone what was discussed at meetings and what outcomes you hope to implement/achieve. (I do a monthly exhibitor newsletter, and this is the perfect avenue for this! Are there any other good ways to communicate notes/follow-up surveys from EAC meetings?)

Do not hold this meeting when your smaller exhibitors should be entertaining their clients or working in their booth.  Remember, the smaller exhibitors did not bring along their marketing entourage with them. (This didn’t occur to me, another excellent point.)

on keeping the peace . . .

A good moderator is the key to not letting things get out of hand.  If you don’t have one on your staff, or if you think things could get particularly nasty, you might want to hire a professional.  They will not be speaking for you, just keeping things under control and on track. (A moderator is a great suggestion. Would you recommend a committee member or a completely unrelated party for this role?)

angry!!

mob = bad.

in closing

I hope you found Traci’s insight as valuable as I did. Do you had a good/bad/other experiences with an EAC that you’d like to share? Advice? Ideas? I’d love to see any feedback you may have in the comments!

And a big thank you to Traci Browne over at The Tradeshow Institute for taking the time to share her valuable insights with a rookie!

spotlights

best reads this week

random | fascinating

The Girl Who Conned The Ivy League

tradeshows | sponsorships

Sponsorships are not just banners and logos

event camp 2010 | #eventprofs | professional development |(a spotlight for obvious reasons)

Event Camp 2010: This is Our Story

tech | google |(as I’ve mentioned before, I have yet to see Wave meet up to the hype, but this post shows some promise)

On how Google Wave surprisingly changed my life

social media

7 Social Media Roles You Haven’t Considered

events

I am an Event Manager….

random |(why didn’t I think of that??)

Too Good To Be True? The Transparent Toaster

marketing | genius | (hey – it may be crass, but it WORKED. I was embarrassed to post this but I just had to)

Axe Cleans Your Balls

and now . . . irrelevant but worthwhile*:

*hat tip to Steve Woodruff for this one!

13 Telltale Signs You’re an Event or Tradeshow Professional . . .

13. Words like signage, drayage, priority points, rendering, lead retrieval, BEO and door drop are a regular part of your lexicon

12. The thought of light traffic is a very bad thing

11. Your buddies in the communications department now hate you for the unavoidable flurry of last minute, seemingly insignificant (note: seemingly) edits you request for text on signs and in conference publications

10. Your head nearly explodes when you spot an error on-site on said signs or in the conference publications you proofread so many times your eyes watered incessantly and you learned what ocular migraines are

9. You determine your route through the exhibit hall floor based on the booths with the most expensive carpet (think ultra-padded and so soft you almost have to grip it with your toes to keep from losing your balance)

8. On the last day of the exhibition you summon  your best auditory and stalking skills and track down exhibitors attempting early dismantle

7. You utilize your newly-realized stalking skills to trail a suspected suitcaser, ninja-style, all the way from the exhibit hall to the other end of the convention center to catch him in the act

6. You are familiar with the term booth babe, but can’t help but smirk when you realize it’s not just limited to women

male booth babe

booth babe of the male species

5. You have perfected the stink-eye to the point where the exhibitor who continues to subtly turn up the volume of their microphone (despite repeated and strongly-worded warnings) stops dead in his tracks and obediently complies for the rest of the show

4. If you are lucky enough to win the temp staff lottery, you will use any means possible to keep your co-workers from stealing your star employee

3. You know how to spell and pronounce tschotske . . . and wonder what medical conference exhibit halls looked like before the PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals

2. You witness firsthand that the stories you’ve read about what happens to exhibitors who are crazy enough to break union rules are not tall tales at all

1. Despite reasons 2 – 15, when the show closes and your work is done, you are at the hotel bar with your general services contractor, celebrating and joking about the did-that-really-just-happen-moments over a glass of wine (or two . . .)

Then you start it all over again!

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