xhibit and event professionals are working long hours, traveling nonstop, and doing much more with much less. On top of all that, a sizeable chunk of these marketing road warriors represent departments of one. So it should come as no surprise that many exhibit managers have acquired a rather bad case of alone-in-the-world angst.
I feel their pain. But at the same time, I see too many marketers getting overwhelmed by isolation and overlooking external resources that can help them increase efficiencies, maximize effectiveness, and provide a sounding board for ideas and an available ear for occasional commiseration. Namely, marketers are underutilizing their vendors.
The vendors and suppliers you work
with represent a collective boatload of invaluable experience. Furthermore, they have a vested interest in the success of your program. After all, if your program fails, your budget gets cut, and you start axing shows from your annual calendar, you have less of a need for their services.
Over the past year, we've seen several vendors - exhibit houses in particular - who have extended the scope of their role beyond mere design and fabrication. These firms are helping to train their clients' staffers, brainstorm integrated-marketing campaigns, develop comprehensive measurement programs, and more. They're working with exhibitors who can't afford new builds to discuss custom-rental agreements, refurb
options, etc. They're demonstrating how new custom exhibits can save their clients enough money that they'll effectively pay for themselves after only a few uses. And they're arming clients with the tools and information they need to defend their spend in these tough economic times.
Those smart suppliers are realizing that as they extend their roles, they engrain themselves into their clients' programs - essentially morphing from external vendors to trusted advisors with some skin in the game and a coveted seat at the table.
But the aforementioned examples are still the exception to the rule. If you're not communicating your unique challenges, objectives, and parameters to your vendors and asking them to bring something to the table, you're underutilizing them. If you only call your exhibit house when you need a new banner stand, you're not making use of that vendor's creative expertise, nor the spectrum of services they may be able to provide.
Stop thinking of your account executives as the exhibit-marketing equivalent of drive-through attendants at which you bark orders. Involve them early and often. Explain your needs and your pain points. And ask them what they can do to help. If they can't - or won't - step up to the plate, it might be time to look elsewhere and explore new suppliers who are willing to think outside the booth-building box and take on more of an involved role in your program.
If you do set out in search of new vendors, first change the way you think about those vendors. Don't think of them as "suppliers," but rather as partners and stakeholders. And when you contact them for information about the services they provide, try this test: Let them know you're looking for a new booth, a new staffing firm, a new whatever. If they immediately jump into their menu of available services, put them back in the "supplier" category. If, instead, they respond with something along the lines of, "Tell me a about your program," short list them as companies that are likely to become the kind of trusted advisors I'm talking about.
No man is an island, and no exhibit manager is truly on his or her own. So start involving your external partners in your planning process, and you're likely to uncover a team of invaluable industry experts you never knew you had at your disposal.e