I use to think that television was a tough medium to execute–assuming you went to the trouble to do it well. But of all the media I’ve worked with over the last four decades, I think the most problematic has to be trade shows. You can’t get extensions on the dates. After you figure out what you think are all the costs including shipping; somebody hits you in the face with extra drayage because of weight.  Drayage? You love the spot you got at the show but the booth sucks. You have a great booth but you’re stuck in the back corner of the hall near the emergency fire exit. And you should have listened better at the exhibit house when they were explaining how to put together this light weight, easy to assemble, god damn portable unit.

Let’s just start with the unspoken truth that nobody goes to an exhibit house because they want to buy a new trade show exhibit.  They go because they want more business, they want to keep the business they have, they want to solve a problem. If you work in a B2B company having to compete for business, it’s unlikely that you’ve been able to keep up with what’s new in trade shows as a medium with all the new technologies and changes. Oh, and if you think trade shows are not a medium just like print, direct mail, or the Internet, you’re just a gazelle walking through the tall grass in lion country.  There is so much new in trade show technology and trends, that it could take up half your time to stay current and competitive.

Trade shows if done well, are an amazing opportunity. For those several days, that booth is going to be your corporate headquarters where your best people are going to be exposed to your best customers and your best prospects.  The chances for making payroll don’t get any better. You can’t waste the opportunity.

If you’re a really good client side trade show manager–great! You’re all set. But if you think you might need some help or even advice, don’t go out and tell three exhibit houses to give you estimates on something that doesn’t exist.  Get a cousin in the business.  Ask around and find an exhibit house that can truly be considered full service. Don’t ask a tradeshow company that only does or specializes in just portables or just custom and doesn’t have it’s own design group.  They all say they can do everything, but when you walk around with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And stop thinking of a trade show exhibit as just an appliance you buy at Sears, always looking for a better price, a better deal. The constant urge to get the price as low as possible is going to have you showing up with a knife at a gunfight.

Finding an exhibit house is a lot like hiring an ad agency.  Meet with a few and see how they respond to your questions. Talk to an account/project manager about what your objectives are and importantly, your budget.  Yes–tradeshows and exhibits are expensive, but a good house can save you a ton of money from what you might have spent without the advice.  Some will just show you solutions that are cheaper, but ignore the objectives.  Some will show you amazing glitz and technology and completely ignore your objectives and budget, and simply waste your time.

The smarter you get the easier it gets.