Trade shows: how not to do them

Back a week or so ago, I was at IBC – the International Broadcast Convention – in Amsterdam. If you’re interested – and some 60,000 people over five days were – in the technology it takes to deliver programs to your phone, your TV, your tablet or whatever – it was unmissable.

But: my interest wasn’t only in all the bright shiny objects – and boy, were there a lot of them. Being something of a trade show veteran – I’ve been to countless numbers, and done booth duty on almost as many – it was observing what was going on on the booths that fascinated me.

So: what did I see?

I saw rather too many booth staff standing at the edge of the booth, arms crossed. If anything says “Don’t even think of coming on this booth” more loudly, I’m not sure what it is. The body language just says “don’t approach me”.

I was actually at the show to talk to a number of exhibitors. Time after time, there was no-one manning (or womanning…) the reception desk (yes, it was a big booth kind of show with reception desks and upstairs on-booth -coffee areas and so on). It was frustrating.

Equally frustrating was that I would very often have made an appointment to see someone at a certain time – only to be told “Oh, he’s gone off the booth somewhere” or “I think he’s running late”.

No chance

So: I would wander onto the booth itself and try to look like I was looking for help. No chance. There were plenty of booth staff there – but they were all deep in conversation with each other. That was no less frustrating.

I’d finally get someone’s attention, and explain what I was looking for/wanted to see. That turned out to be just an excuse for the company representative to launch into a pre-canned speech/pre-set demonstration – in which I was merely an observer/listener.

Perhaps they sensed that I was what a colleague used to call a “boy scout or lighthouse keeper” – someone who would wander onto the booth, occupy huge amounts of your time – but patently not be in a position to buy something from you in a million years. Which, in my case, was true – but I was wearing a press badge. As they used to say in the old days of printed media: “never make an enemy of someone who buys ink by the barrel.”

On many occasions, I’d made the appointment through the company’s PR agency. There are few things more annoying than a PR person who chooses to talk over the executive: obviously, they feel they know the company’s story better than one of its senior managers. Don’t get me wrong: there are some great PR people who know their job – but not all of them.

I’m sure, though, that at AUSA, DSEI, CANSEC or wherever, your company doesn’t make any of these mistakes.



Ian McMurray's picture

Ian McMurray

Ian McMurray started his 40-year career in the technology industry back when 4K wasn’t the latest TV resolution — it was as much memory as you needed to write a complete, integrated accounting system for a computer. He started life as a mainframe salesman but eventually succumbed to the lure of marketing, and has since held a variety of European and worldwide marketing management positions, as well as occasional forays into sales training and development. He’s now the PR guy for Abaco Systems, and is based in Towcester, England.

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