Trade Show TalesBlog


November 17th, 2014 COMMENTS



Who said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”? Multiple people, according to the knowitalls at Google. Well, we disagree.

Attend EXHIBITORLIVE  FREE compliments of Classic Exhibits Inc. by entering code:


While there, visit us at Booth #1645 where there’s always lots to see and good folks too. We may even throw in a bright red promotional pen. After all, what’s a trade show without some kitschy giveaways?

Go to


–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


Creating a Game Plan for Victory: Word on the Street — November 10th thru November 14th

November 15th, 2014 COMMENTS
Kevin Carty, VP Classic Exhibits

Kevin Carty, VP Classic Exhibits

I Love College Football

It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s often unpredictable. Whatever you think of the current debate about college athletics, I still believe that the college game has far less of the “show and glow” arrogance of pro athletes.

To me, the time and effort that goes into creating a winning game plan is amazing. Some teams have a clear defensive mindset, others are more offensive. Which approach creates the highest victory percentage is debatable.

But one thing is sure. No matter how great your defensive game plan, you still have to score at least a field goal to win, assuming you keep the other team scoreless. Yes, I know you can get a safety and win with only 2 points. But that’s rare.

Managing a business is no different. Recently Mel and I were asked, “Are you on the Offense or on the Defense as a business?” I said, “Defense,” and Mel said, Offense.” Honestly, we were both right, but it depended on our individual focuses over the past several months. There are many companies clearly on offense in some areas of their business, but reacting in others.

That’s not to belittle defense. Sometimes you find yourself with a good game plan, one that allows you to score when needed, one that is solid enough to defend the pass from the competition. That’s balance.

Game PlanHowever, the question sticks with me. Can you really be successful long-term as a growing business, if you are not on the offensive most of the time? Simply said, does it not stand to reason that we would all rather be playing a game with a comfortable lead as opposed to playing so safe that winning always depends on a 50-yard field goal as time runs out?

Talking is Easy

Talking about your plan is easy. Executing it is hard. Whether it’s group resistance to change, cash flow issues, technology implementation, communication snafus, or just feeling too darn busy to execute plans today that will not bear fruit for 3-6 months.

This is where your team comes into play. If your team is on board and each player has a clear idea of their role, and they do their part executing their roles, then you should be able to move the ball down the field. But as a manager, or as a management team, I would challenge you to ask these questions,

  • Are we playing offense?
  • Do we have a plan?
  • Does each player understand their role within the game plan?
  • Is there accountability to the team? And feedback?

For our business, this is something we are working very hard at right now. And it’s challenging. Good challenging . . . the kind that helps a team grow and move a business to a new level.

How about your business? Are you offensive or defensive minded? What challenges do you face when creating a long-term game plan for success?

I would love to hear your comments and feedback.

Be well and have a great weekend with your families.




Dumb Stuff People Do at Trade Shows

November 12th, 2014 COMMENTS

It’s Maddening


Now, I’m not calling anyone “dumb,” so lower your kitchen knives and baseball bats. What I am saying is that people do really dumb stuff at trade shows. Consistently dumb stuff. Anyone who participates in trade shows could write a book on what they’ve seen over the years. Pre-show marketing and post-show leads could cover several hundred pages.

So, let’s ignore those and concentrate on the easy, quick fixes, the ones you can change now. The ones you can implement before your next show in a month.

Senior Management:  Bring them . . . but not all of them. Bring the President and the CEO, assuming they are personable and knowledgeable. Don’t bring them if they love to hear themselves talk. Don’t bring the CFO, the COO, or anyone who couldn’t charm a goldfish into a fishbowl. Clients want to talk to senior management. And their presence demonstrates that your company is serious about the show.

This rule obviously doesn’t apply if you do 80 shows a year. Pick the 3 or 4 most crucial and have the “chiefs” there. Tip:  It’s much easier to get a trade show marketing budget approved if senior management participates.

early_lowCome Late. Leave Early: Most shows allow you to enter the show hall several hours early. This gives you time to organize the booth and make any last minute changes. More importantly, it’s the ideal time to walk the show, see industry trends, and get a better sense of what your competitors are showing. If possible, bring a colleague. That way you can compare notes.

It’s also a great time to talk to the other early birds. There are fewer distractions, and you’re more likely to have a casual, informative conversation. Staying late has similar advantages. Not surprisingly, tired exhibitors can be very revealing at the end of the day.

That said . . . adhere to the formal and informal rules of the trade show floor. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want a competitor to do in your booth.

Ignore the Competition: Many companies are arrogant about their competitors. They see themselves as “the leaders,” so what could they possibly learn? The answer is — a lot. Even knowing that you are still the leader is valuable when targeting new markets and developing your marketing strategy.

And, unless your company prohibits it, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Friendliness is not a crime. You may be surprised at what you’ll discover, and a friendly competitor has been known to send business your direction if the client doesn’t fit their model. Tip:  Beware of the red herring. Sometimes competitors can be sneaky smart about their sales, trends, and products.

Ignore Customers

Ignore Your Customers: It happens. It’s human nature. We feel like we don’t have to spend as much time with existing customers since we know them. However, your customers come to trade shows to learn about new products, services, and companies. They also come to mingle with colleagues, meet new people, and share challenges. They want to feel valued.

If good customer says, “I was at the show, but –

a) You were so busy no one was available,

b) I was there but just never made it to your booth, or

3) Spoke to Bob (or Jane or Homer) and they said there’s nothing new happening”

Then, you have a problem. A correctable problem but a problem.

Ignore the Social Events: As much as we want to pretend otherwise, trade shows are business in a semi-social setting. The planned social events, such as an evening gala, new attendees meet-and-greet, award ceremonies, and receptions are still business functions. Make it worthwhile. It’s your chance to meet new people, chat with industry colleagues, bond with existing customers, and find new customers.

Can it be hard, especially if you are a wallflower? Yes . . . but . . . wallflowers have an advantage. They are great listeners, and in any large room, the ratio of talkers to listeners is about 95:1. Ask the right question (or often any question) and the rest of the night is on auto-pilot. Tip:  For anyone under 30, Social Media ≠ Social Events.

Sheldon_lowRely on Memory: Unless you’re Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, your memory is flawed, hopelessly flawed. On Day 1, you will have little doubt that you can recall every single conversation. By Day 3, an important client will remind you that you spoke for 30 minutes about a critical new project on Day 1.

Whatever works for you, use it — paper, tablet, business cards with notes, digital recorder, etc. Yes, it’s better if everyone in the booth uses a similar system, but it’s even better if everyone takes notes that can be reconstructed at the end of the day or the end of the show. Tip:  Don’t let “Joe” leave the booth at the end of the day without emptying his pockets. Otherwise, those notes and business cards will be trash can casualties or unreadable smudges by next week.

Please share your “quick fixes.” View it as volunteer community service for the less fortunate who see neither the forest nor the trees when it comes to trade shows. Don’t make me stand on the corner ringing a bell for the clueless. They can be saved!


–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


What You Don’t See at a Trade Show

November 7th, 2014 12 COMMENTS


It’s Human Nature

We ignore the familiar. After a while, the pile of messy papers doesn’t exist, and the big coffee stain is invisible. Then, someone comments on it, and we can’t not look at it. Until it disappears — again.

Trade show exhibits are no different and maybe even worse. Do you remember your first show with a brand new display? Everything was packed neatly. You took your time to install the graphics perfectly with clean hands. You wiped down every surface and vacuumed the carpet, not once but three times. The brochures were neatly arranged. The promotional products organized. If you had a drink, you hid it from view, either behind the display or tucked away in a counter.

Three days later . . . you’re standing in your booth drinking a latte from a 30 oz cup with a half-eaten crumb cake on the counter. The brochures are dog-eared, the monitor screens are smudged, and the carpet looks like it smells. Now multiple that by fifteen shows and you begin to see what others see.

To be fair, if you are reading this post, you are not that person. You care on Day 1, Day 3, and Show #7.  However, what you see when you walk the show hall probably makes you cringe. So let’s take a stroll and visit a few of our neighbors on the show floor.

Wash MeBooth #1172. Are those fabric graphics or dirty hand towels from the men’s room?
Booth #980. Wow! You really can create an entire backwall graphic with an HP Deskjet printer.
Booth #1067. Who knew they made carpet in a 3.2 oz grade?
Booth #1388. Excuse me. What’s the score of Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers game?

Booth #712. They must sell used coffee cups and candy wrappers.
Booth#213. Is that pop up display waving at me?
Booth #405. Two possibilities. They crushed a truck, disassembled it, and built an island booth from the scrap metal. Or, the exhibit should have been recycled in 2002.
Booth #1677. Do you think they would share their curry chicken with us?

Booth #214. Pardon me. Over here. Now above my waist. A little higher. Perfect.
Booth #2105. Cool ink pens, stress balls, chip clips, and green calculators. What was the name of that company again?
Booth #113. There must have been a family emergency on Day 3 at 2 pm. Tragic.
Booth #884. Options to consider for the next show: No electricity. No carpet. No display. One big vinyl graphic with grommets. Five folding chairs. Five staffers in a 10 ft. booth. Seated in a circle. Jeans, t-shirts, 8 smartphones, and a bag of Cheetos.

shamwowguyBooth #1862. Hmmm . . . Keeping all your cases and crates in the booth would save time on the dismantle.
Booth #307. NOW I UNDERSTAND why the printer wanted a HIGH RESOLUTION image!
Booth #1436. Isn’t a hanging sign supposed to be hanging?
Booth #853. Four 42″ monitors. I understand the effect can be very impressive . . . when on.

Booth #103. Say again. What? Sorry, I can’t hear you over the music and the Shamwow dude pitching your products.
Booth #1473. Answer:  Sunglasses, wrinkled clothes, large coffee, breath mints, forehead cradled in palm. Question:  How to spot a hangover on the show floor?
Booth #614. I’ve seen more padding in a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Booth #2007. So it leans a little to the left? And a lot to the right? What’s the big deal?

Booth #777. Can you make the magician disappear? I’d like to learn more about your company.
Booth #666. Remember the old saying, “The devil is in the details”? Obviously not.
Booth #747. Is that a display or the Inflatable Escape Ramp they stole from their flight?
Booth #4077. The only thing missing from this mess is blood, funny doctors, and Klinger.

Finally . . .

Booth: #970. “Did you literally mean ‘Line of Sight’? I thought that was just a suggestion.”

It’s easy to be the casual critic of others. But addressing our own marketing shortcomings takes courage, self-awareness, and most of all, caring. How often do we walk the trade show floor and say to ourselves, “They clearly don’t care or their booth wouldn’t look like that.” Or, “How can they let their exhibit staff act that way?” Someone has to care. It might as well be you.

Share your comments. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about trade show marketing and perhaps some less than kind (but constructive) comments as you walk the imaginary show floor.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


The Mobius Strip Approach to Trade Show Marketing

November 4th, 2014 2 COMMENTS
No Beginning and No Ending

No Beginning and No Ending

Your Comfortable Routine

Most of us are creatures of habit. Why change if it’s working? I’ve learned over the years that trade show marketing tends to follow the same, well-traveled road for most companies. Same shows. Similar booths. Little change to the exhibit staffing. Common frustrations year after year.

Recently, I chatted with a West Coast seafood broker who exhibits at two shows a year. They do no pre-show marketing. Post-show marketing consists of a few phone calls and emails. Their graphics changed two years ago, but not much.  Before the show this year, he asked me for advice. I offered tips about his graphics, about contacting his client database, and about including several customer service employees to the booth staff. Basic stuff. He contemplated changing a header graphic. Then ran out of time and did nothing different, except tell a mutual acquaintance that he “upped his trade show marketing program this time.”

I call this the Mobius Strip Approach to Trade Show Marketing. If you played with a mobius strip as a child, you know it’s the illusion of progress because you start and end at the same point. Not surprisingly, it’s the Mobius exhibitors who grumble the most about their meager ROI, while telling everyone about the costly changes they made. I’ve lost my diplomacy with those folks. They are idiots. For everyone else, you can change. I have faith. Here’s my advice to a brighter trade show future by taking a few baby steps.

Baby Steps

Photo_41. The Line:  You’ll never know if you’ve crossed the line . . . unless you cross the line once in a while. It could be a bold display structure, a new marketing campaign, or a social media message. I’ve found that whenever I cross the line, my team will guide me back to it, but just barely. That way we always make progress.

2. The Expert: Ask for advice. Too many sales and marketing professionals think they understand trade show marketing. They don’t. That’s not to say they don’t understand marketing. They do. They just don’t realize that not all marketing is the same. These are the same people who would consult with half a dozen banner ad experts before placing their first online ad, but would go it alone with a $300,000 trade show spend.

3. The People:  Two types of staffers should be in your booth:  Decision-makers and anyone who was a superstar at their first fast food, retail, or call center job. Anyone else won’t give you their best and will probably derailed those who want the show to be successful. If you had a time-elapse camera during the show, you would see them show up late, not approach attendees, and take a one-hour lunch during a four-hour show.

4. The Show: Get to know the show organizers. They want you to succeed because they want the show to succeed. They may have pre-show marketing tips, advice for connecting at the show, post-show analytics, or even some general suggestions about what works and what doesn’t work. They know the best spots on the show floor, which sometimes may not seem like winners, but work because they’re next to the lounge or a busy show floor intersection.

5. The Exhibitors:  Get to the show early and walk the floor. Better yet, walk with someone and compare notes. Talk to other exhibitors. The ones who arrive early are serious about trade show marketing. They are cleaning, organizing, and (like you) looking for opportunities to learn about their industry and trade shows.

6. The Labor: It never ceases to surprise me when exhibitors don’t ask the labor crew for advice. Labor spends their days wrestling with the decisions that exhibitors make. They, more than anyone else, know how to get from point A to point Z by skipping half the alphabet in the show hall. They still have rules to follow, but they know which ones can be bent a little. If nothing else, ask them to share with you what the really good exhibitors do. In addition, they can tell you the exhibit builders that shine and the ones that make their lives miserable. They’ll even share with you trends they’re seeing. They assemble displays every day and hear from the successful and not-so successful exhibitors.

Please share your thoughts about trade show marketing in the comments.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or