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My Love / Hate Relationship With Trade Shows

Ask people about trade shows and you’ll provoke a strong reaction:  they either love them or hate them.  Me?  It’s complicated.  I love trade shows … most of the time.  Here are 6 reasons I love trade shows, and 3 reasons I hate them:

1.  I love to talk with customers at trade shows
At a trade show you have the opportunity to talk face-to-face to more customers in one day than you could in a month or more in the field.  And while talking to hordes of customers is great from a sales standpoint, it’s just as valuable for a marketer like me.  You get to listen to so many clients talk about their needs, challenges, pains, and goals.  If they love your company and products, they tell you, and tell you why.  If they don’t love your company they’ll tell what you need to improve.  It’s like a monster focus group, except you are simultaneously generating valuable sales leads.

2.  I love learning at trade shows
Today’s constant change requires constant learning.  And while I gain lots of new ideas and insights via the web, people I follow on Twitter, magazines and books, I get a more potent infusion of knowledge attending sessions at trade shows.  There is something about getting away from the office and its distractions that make these training sessions that much more impactful.  I simply absorb more when attending a live presentation.  You also learn what is the current state of the industry, as your body is an antennae receiving hundreds of transmissions a day answering the question, “How’s business?”

3.  I love the marketing challenge
Trade show marketing is the epitome of integrated marketing.  You bring together exhibit design, booth staffing, and promotions to create a memorable event that vividly engages your clients and prospects.  Guess what?  So do all your competitors.  So the thrill is devising and executing a theme that stands out and gets attention, yet is clear and concise enough to be quickly understood.  It’s a buzz when your booth is the buzz of the show floor.

4.  I love to see our worldwide network
At our main industry show I get to connect with our far-flung team members who have also traveled to the show.  I love to see friends from London to Los Angeles, Toronto to Texas, Memphis to Montreal, Canada to Costa Rica, and Frankfurt to Florida.  I enjoy hearing how they’ve experimented with new marketing ideas.  They are intelligent, passionate, caring, and just the people you want on your team and at your dinner table.  The only downside: during show hours I am focused on taking leads for them and can’t chat so much then. 

5.  I love to talk to competitors at trade shows
In your normal day-to-day routine you never see your competitors.  But at a trade show there are so many you are surrounded.  That’s a good thing: They are not your enemy, they are your community.  Your competitors share common goals, challenges, and interests.  They can also be funny with a capital FUN.  And networking with your competitors gives you deeper industry insights than you’ll get from talking only with your fellow employees. 

6.  I love the travel

Miami seen from Key Biscane, the day after a trade show.

When I fly to a trade show I always get a window seat because the view still astonishes me (such as Lake Mead on the way into Las Vegas).  And when I get there?  I try to tack a vacation day onto each trip, especially when good friends live there.  Memorable days include biking on Angel Island in San Francisco, strolling the beach at Key Biscayne in Miami, touring the art museum in Philadelphia (no, Traci, I did NOT run up the steps), and rollerblading the Lake Michigan waterfront in Chicago.  Each location has its own delicious flavor, and as a worldwide destination there is the blend of languages I also love to hear. 

That’s a lot to love, but it’s unfortunately not the whole story.  There are things I hate about trade shows:

1.  I hate time away from my family
While I am having fun at trade shows, that’s tinged with missing my family.  I miss the giggles, the growth, and the closeness.  Whether it’s getting the kids off to school in the morning or homework patrol in the evening, I hate leaving my wife to carry a heavier load while I am gone.  This year I will spend the 4th of July in Shanghai instead of with them, and other years I’ve missed soccer games, school performances, and spent my own birthday over a thousand miles away from the ones I love.  And while milestone days are harder, every day away can suck.

2.  I hate the weight gain
Okay, this doesn’t happen at every show because I’ve learned to watch out for it.  But 8 years ago on a trip to Europe, where even bread and cheese is a culinary delight, I was astounded to find I was the Biggest Winner, putting on 11 pounds in 2 just weeks.  People often tell me I have a hollow leg and can eat whatever I want.  Not anymore, and especially at the tempting tables at trade show meals.  (So sorry, no more seafood buffet at the Rio in Las Vegas.)  Vigilence doesn’t taste as good, but it makes for less stress after the show.

3.  I hate the growing pile back at the office
Sure, we’re more connected now with smart phones and wireless internet in our laptops, but when you truly engage with the entire trade show experience (booth staffing, show floor walking, networking, classes), there’s little time to keep up with the regular workload.  And when you get back to the office after the show with that stack of leads, the pile on the desk competes with the quick follow up necessary to bring that trade show mojo to fruition.  (Which is why you must have an excellent follow-up plan in place.)

With twice as many reasons to love trade shows as to hate them, I’ll be doing trade shows for years to come.  What do you love about trade shows?  Hate about them?  Share your passions and pains in the comments box below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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About the Author

Mike Thimmesch was Skyline Exhibits' Director of Customer Engagement, for over 25 years. He is now retired and spends his time freelancing, traveling, and enjoying time with his family.

4 responses to “My Love / Hate Relationship With Trade Shows

  1. Now how did you know I was going to read this? But of course I read them all because I either learn something or laugh or both.

    I don’t think people realize how great it is for your psyche to attach an extra day for a mini vacation. One more day won’t hurt a thing! I always hated that I could not retire clothes for the season. It might be snowing here in Philly but had to dig out the warm weather clothes for the trade show.

    Can’t believe you didn’t call me when you were here in Philly! Let’s not make a habit of that.

    1. Traci,

      I didn’t really know, but I sure hoped you’d read it!

      When there isn’t enough time for a long vacation, then take that mini-vacation! That picture from Key Biscayne was taken early in the morning of my late morning flight home. I had all of 2 hours, but even that little time really did clear my head.

      I definitely would have called you in Philly had it been a more recent show — that trip was back when TS2 was there several years ago. I’ll be sure to look you up the next time I’m there.

  2. Great article; just 1 re: “the hands of an eager, pre-assigned team member, who already has the follow-up letter and fulfillment packets ready,” etc. – Any hints if you as the trade show attendee are also this same person? I now have a pile of business cards- some with notes & some without, and a bunch of scanned leads. Other than the obvious, handle the most urgent requests first, any hints on how to organize your follow-thru? (And handle the rest of your normal workload plus that which had piled up while you were gone.) Feel free to point me to any articles already out there. Thanks

    1. Viv,

      If you have no one at your company to help, then get some temporary help to enter the data into your customer relationship management database. Call a temp service and get them going on it right away. It’s worth the investment, because those leads will get cold pretty quickly. You may even want to hire a temp at the trade show, who can enter the leads into a computer as you get them, so that you are really ready to go once the show ends.

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