In my past life, okay, professional capacity, one of my regular tasks was coordinating participation of the organization at various industry trade events. By my count, I must have managed more than 50 events, ranging from one-day events that drew few thousand to three-day extravaganzas that brought in up to 50,000 participants, exhibitors, media representatives and other affiliates.
Trade show coordination traditionally is more of a marketing function; but the organization I worked for required that the public relations department, that was me, handle several show. Each show provided a singular challenge: Make sure display, literature and give away stuff arrives safely and on time, and make sure all vendor contracts are completed — before the show starts. Oh yes: And deliver a measurable return on the investment.
Note to anyone who gets this responsibility: Follow the maxim from the 1990’s TV show, “The X Files.” That is, “trust no one.” Make sure you get confirmation from the exhibit company, trade unions, shipping company, caterer, and every other outside vendor. Otherwise, you’ll be scrambling and embarrassed at show time.
I thoroughly enjoyed these trade junkets for several reasons:
1. I got to communicate face-to-face with publics and prospects to communicate the value behind the organization’s education and membership.
2. I got to go to some great destinations — New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Los Angeles — and attend some great parties and receptions.
3. I gained a sense of fulfillment and completion after coordinating another show that went off without a hitch.
I miss attending trade shows. I miss the hours and days before “show time,” when the convention hall is a flurry of activity. When you wonder just how are they going to get that display set up with less than an hour to go? But it always worked out. A small, temporary marketplace emerged from the chaos.
Earlier today, I attended some educational and networking events that were put on by the Association Forum of Chicago, the local organization that supports the vibrant association community in metropolitan Chicago. The Holiday Showcase — a trade show featuring 800 exhibitors, mostly hotels, resorts and convention centers — is another major component.
Prior to the official opening of the Showcase, I strolled the aisles, watching the exhibitors carefully arrange their give away pens, note pads, candy and other promotional stuff. (Small bottles of hand sanitizer are very popular these days.) They made final adjustments to their displays, resplendent with striking graphics designed to entice decision makers into visiting, even for a minute or two. Within the 100 square feet or so of booth space, they created an extension of their brand.
Some exhibitors clearly were veterans. They’ve done this before, perhaps a few dozen times this year. This was probably their last show of the year. I envied them.
I arrived home in time to take in a webinar on maximizing an online newsroom using social media resources. It was fascinating and helped reinforce insight I already have. Online, one can deliver a message to literally hundreds of millions.
But it’s not as fulfilling as the interaction that takes place at an industry event, where communication is made face-to-face, eye-to-eye in a marketplace that was set up for a short time. To my knowledge, there’s no way to get free hand sanitizer online.