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Essential Insights for Exhibit Managers for 2022


Anecdotes, approximations and horse sense to drive our future choices


We are now fully embroiled in the Q4 Corporate Budgeting and Marketing Calendar development process. That process caused me to summarize some of the challenges that many of my customers are facing these days and the corresponding results from actual practices in 2021. The sense of frustration, and complexity was evident. As I listened carefully, I have found a few tips that may help the average exhibit manager make decisions moving forward in 2022 in what could be a challenging but improving environment. I hope the below content is helpful or at least gets you thinking.

Here are some detailed thoughts and suggestions that may help you work through some of these challenging areas:

Strained or Tentative Decision Making – Are we in or are we out?
This is a very big problem. If management is not resolute in decisions about moving forward and try to jump in late (which many organizations are guilty of), you cannot really be successful.  One strategy you might try is to update or create an element of your 2022 Marketing Calendar with all of your traditional or new events on it. In viewing this, many times management will react. Buy/Sell/Hold. This is an ideal opportunity to explain the problems and challenges created by waiting. Waiting will cost a lot more, and the results can be poor. Why do that?

The vast majority of show shipments have moved to the Show Direct Shipping Address.  Decision Making delays and order delays are the most likely cause of this shift. This has caused major delays and problems with customers receiving the goods they shipped to the show hall, as the contractors don’t have adequate labor to deliver all of the parcels in real time. Tip: Ship your goods to the Advance Warehouse Address for more reliable delivery to your space before the set up opens.

Disagreement – How do I handle stakeholders who don’t agree?
This problem is related to the strained decision-making process. In some large organizations, some departments or divisions don’t agree at all. I have seen this first hand and seen how Marketing or Sales has gone ahead with an event and then HR steps in late and severely restricts travel or other labor participation. This is a really tough situation to find yourself in. The good news is, it seems to be ebbing as the real risks of the pandemic seem to be gradually diminishing. However, early and frank conversations to find the attitudinal direction of your stakeholders is essential if you don’t want to waste all of your time. Reach out to the key groups early and listen carefully to feedback. No feedback is not a “Yes, Go Ahead”. Spend the time to check and double check if needed to get a consensus. Sometimes the consensus is a full stop.  At least you know, and preserve budget dollars for a brighter day.

Goals – Can’t I just tweet and forget all of this confusion? What are your Face-to-Face Marketing Goals?
Everything in Marketing should be goal oriented and measurable. Take some time to refocus on your goals. Why in the world are we going out to meet prospects for a week in Las Vegas??? Get back to basics and remember why you are doing what you are doing. If you can tweet your way to the sales department's goal of 10-15% sales improvement next year, then you should do just that. If you cannot, you have to consider a broader strategy that includes many parts of the Marketing Mix. I think mixtures make the best everything. From Cocktails, to Concrete, Financial Portfolios, Recipes, Diversity Initiatives, you name it. Mix away.

Leads & Sales – How are our futures sales likely to be impacted by our future plans?
Perhaps your business is one that has benefited greatly from unforeseen and heightened market demand. As the pandemic has sharply pulled demand forward for many products, you should be thinking about what happens next. Where do your sales leads come from? How long will it take you to reload a post-pandemic sales pipeline? Should I just wait until sales dip and react thereafter? This is an individual corporate management decision. Ask, what do you think our competitors are doing?

Time Frames – Event Dates & Locations have all changed.  How do I deal with that?
So many industries had decades long events held in the same place at the same time of year.  The Big Enormo Show in Palm Springs every March perfectly situated for some quality golf and spa visits along with our sales meeting. This is really a communication issue. Make sure your team knows that you are now going to Indianapolis in July. You may have to make some extra efforts to come up with fun activities or suggestions to entice your crew and your customers.  There are great things to see, great food., great music and great people everywhere. You may have to serve it up a bit and help folks refocus on the objectives and then the personal benefits.  Maybe back to Palm Springs in ‘23?

Space Considerations – do we need more exhibit space or less?
I have recently seen a movement from customer to downsize to very small exhibit spaces and then try to perform as they did in a space 400% larger. Bottom line here is you need adequate space to perform the essential functions of your exhibiting plan to achieve your goals. So, needing 10 product demonstrations per hour in a small space is probably not going to work.  The rule of thumb is that a human needs about 25-50’ of personal space to feel comfortable (and stay). Consult a professional if you need help calculating your optimal space. I don’t believe in buying more space than you need. You need the floorplan that is ‘just right’ (citation: Goldilocks).

Budgets – How will we adjust our budgets for 2022 to achieve our goals?
It will cost more to do the very same things you did in 2019 in 2022. The question is how much more do you need to budget? You can again contact a professional for a more specific bead on this for your particular situation, but the budgeting calculations we are doing for customers are falling between 25-45% increases for 2022. What happens next is usually some adjustments that will cut some of the events that had questionable performance to get the budget to work. However, I have seen more of the flip side of that coin that has many aggressive customers actually adding to space and event count. This will vary greatly company to company. 

Reliability – will my outsource vendors perform?
Trust is not given it is earned. You have to use your intuition to try to vet your vendor base to try to manage the risk of having more services outsourced than you may have had in the past.   Two of our fastest growing business segments are Exhibit Asset Management/Storage where we store and fulfill exhibit properties to venue destinations as well as Exhibit Installation & Dismantle Service to set up and tear down the exhibit and related items. Both of these are probably due to a lack of staff and/or time by our customers who formerly did most of this themselves. The exhibit was in the storage room and then went to the event 2 days before and stayed 1 day after it was over. A sign of the times for sure. So for whatever you need to outsource, I suggest you ask that vendor about their service delivery process. “How do you get my branded hand sanitizer give away from my order to the show floor? Let’s go over the steps”. The explanation of the steps sheds a lot of light on the experience level of the firm and how well versed they are on successful delivery. The red flags are present if you know where to look.

People Power – How can I get all this work done short staffed?
A really challenging problem. Many firms are short on technical staff or staff in general. You can brainstorm some ways of maximizing your compromised staffing levels by using outsource vendors and professional greeters. You create a simple system of folks who can qualify your prospect guests to serve up better quality conversations for your technical staff, so they have better and more profitable conversations. For off floor issues, try to ask for volunteers. There are other items that can be outsourced or crowdsourced fairly easily like creating mailing lists, or ordering parts of the process out to subcontractors. This is a challenge for some, but with some planning you can overcome.

Communication – How come everyone doesn’t understand what is happening (in my world)?
I have been quite surprised how many folks are in the dark about many of the above issues. We get inquiries every day that cannot be executed in the time frame allotted. We did it routinely in the 20teens in less time, but no longer can perform at that speed, there is so much sand in the gears. You need to be vocal and set expectations internally and externally about the challenges of longer lead times for everything and elevated costs. We also suggest planning substitutes for everything you think is essential. You never know when it will come in handy.

Risk Tolerance – How do you manage risk internally while trying to manage an unmanageable process?
I spoke to a customer who asked me how we are going to ‘create a smooth, stress-free delivery’ for him at his upcoming event. I waited until he finished, paused and said simply, I cannot. The best we can do is use all of our expertise and knowledge to mitigate and manage the many uncertainties that he and his staff are likely to face. If everything he hired us for goes 100% smoothly and according to plan, there is still a strong chance that a flight might be cancelled, a hotel won’t be ready for check in, or something else may go wrong. Try as we might, we cannot control everything. Just ask the customer whose Saturday delivery graphics were not delivered by a common carrier until Monday afternoon. Making sure you set the proper expectations with your stakeholders is an essential skill for the exhibit manager. Glossing over the risks could come back to haunt you. Proper planning is also required to be successful here.

If you have not noticed, Time is a major element of all of the above issues. Start your prudent planning process early and you won’t go wrong. Best of Luck to us all in 2022!