Experts say that 39% of people who attend trade shows do so for fewer than eight hours. At Labelexpo, with its 500-plus exhibitors, one day makes it difficult or impossible to get a fuller sense of what’s available to you and your enterprise back home. A day and a half is better. Two days might be enough. Some attendees want more.
Those who do understand the value of Labelexpo and other printer/converter shows know how to work it, how to get the most out of their two or three days in Chicago, Brussels and beyond. But there are those who might benefit from a bit of education about how to get the most out of the experience, both to benefit the company now and down the road. There’s no substitute for learning.
Company owners and managers looking for recommendations about how to maximize the trade show experience might appreciate some tips, compiled from those who have been through the mill. They fall pretty clearly into three categories of activity: pre-show plans, show floor activity, and post-show homework.
• Checklist. Here’s where you come up with the questions you want answered. What are your immediate business goals? Long range goals? What more do you want to learn about equipment, materials and services? Which of your vendors do you want to meet with? What other vendors are of interest to you? What evening events are worth attending?
• Have a clear strategy. Know what you’re looking for – both needs and wants. Study the exhibitor list to decide whom you must see and others who might fulfill your company’s needs. Study the show floor map: Plan your walk-through to save time and energy.
• Make appointments. Vendors will reach out to you to set up meetings. You can do the same, establishing your own schedule of events. It’s been suggested that you book meetings early and late in the day, which leaves time for taking in the rest of the show before you get tired and footsore.
• Work the map. A show with multiple exhibit halls can be exhausting and possibly confusing. Labelexpo is successful in grouping some exhibitors by product or service, which makes it easier for an attendee to focus on a particular segment of the operation. Otherwise, a smart way to shop the floor is to spend time with the floor plan in advance to plot your visits in a way that minimizes your motion.
• Bring employees with you. That’s not always an option, workload and budgets being what they are. If you’re able to plan ahead, it’s probably worth bringing along a production supervisor if you’re shopping for equipment, or a prepress manager if it’s front-end products you want. This practice allows you to double or triple the work you can accomplish on the exhibition floor. Give them some time to see the show on their own, maybe with a list of exhibitors that you provide. Free time beyond that is a welcome bonus.
• Download the show app. It will lighten your load on the show floor by keeping track of your appointments and providing a map.
• Bring comfortable shoes. Two pairs would be better. Wear lightweight clothing.
• Pack an extra bag. You’ll collect a lot of literature and other handouts. Be selective with those.
• Business cards. Plenty of them.
On the show floor
• Appointments. Set time limits right off the bat. Your vendors might wish to keep you occupied. Prospective vendors might give you a big, long welcome. Be firm: Let them know that you’re busy. Prepare your questions, and answer theirs. Mention competitors, if that’s part of your strategy.
• Network with other vendors. You already know quite a bit about the materials and equipment suppliers at the show, having worked with them over the years, but an update wouldn’t hurt. Exhibitors who understand the marketing potential of a trade show will have something new to entice customers and show them they mean business. Other vendors, those who want your business, should be on your list of companies to watch and visit. They’ll be eager and will entice you, no doubt.
• Network with other converters. In my experience, about half of all label converters are wary of their competition to the point at which they will go out of their way to avoid publicity. They think – perhaps they’re right – that other printers will find out too much and run out to steal their business. But aren’t they trying to do that already? The other half welcome the exposure and consider it a positive marketing tool, and they’re still doing just fine. Friendly networking with your rivals is healthy. The marketplace is a game, too: not just a battlefield. Another point about interaction with other converters is that you have a product or process that they could make use of – doming equipment, for example. That’s part of commerce, and always welcome.
• Take notes. Write down what you learn during appointments, and also what you observe while strolling the aisles. If you do this as you go along, it will make your post-show work much easier.
Avoid crowded booths, unless you have an appointment or wish to view a scheduled product demonstration. These are popular among press manufacturers, and provide a quick overview of a new machine. But an exhibit with huge crowds can be uncomfortable and distracting, and are best left until the throng thins out.
• Take breaks. You owe it to yourself, so don’t feel guilty. Ten minutes of calm during a long-lasting, high energy day can reset your mood and your weary joints. Wise exhibitors know about your tired feet and knees, and they provide thick carpets; deep, comfortable chairs and couches; beverages and snacks, and their attention. Even small booths will sport easy chairs. Some vendors have conference rooms tucked into the recesses of their exhibits. The larger suppliers build café environments into their scenery, complete with wait staff, which quite often are crowded with customers and others exploring opportunities. Late in the afternoons you might hear a jazz combo.
• Drink water. It’s always a good idea.
• Keep a diary. Every day after the show, summarize your day’s work with a pen or on your laptop. If you’re planning to attend one or two evening parties, or having an elegant dinner with a supplier, it’s probably a good idea to chronicle your thoughts right after the show ends for the day. The quick notes you made on the floor will help. A highly successful converter I know records the events of his day every night, whether he’s at a show or at home. That’s discipline.
• Follow up. Alert exhibitors, whether you currently work with them or not, will call or email you after the show to thank you for your interest and to keep or get their brand into your active memory. You can be proactive and do the same. Yes, it might lead to an over-eager response, but on the positive side it could build a strong image of you in the mind of the supplier. In any event, it’s a courtesy.
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached at