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An Interview with Barry Siskind – The Trade & Consumer Show Specialist

04/04/11 by Brandon

We’re excited to welcome Barry Siskind as our newest guest in our interview series ‘The Trade Show Experts’.  Barry’s name is probably familiar to many of you, as he has published numerous books including ‘Powerful Exhibit Marketing’, CDs, DVDs, and hosted countless workshops training clients on how to generate profitable leads at their trade shows, consumer shows, and face-to-face marketing events.

Photo of Barry Siskind, trade show specialistHow did you get started in the trade show business?

I got my start in the business 30 years ago. I was in the retail display business and participated in 10-15 trade shows per year. I have a background in sales training, and I started to notice that lots of money was being spent on the displays but very little was spent on the human element ─ an equally important piece.  At that time there were over two million North American companies who participated in trade shows annually and less that a handful of consultants available to help them. I saw this was a place where I could add value based on my experience and training. So it was a natural place to start my new business once I sold my retail display business.

Can you tell us about the type of clients that you work with? Sizes?  Product/Service offerings?

Our clients really are all over the board, but I can group them into 3 large categories:  Corporate clients – large manufacturing companies, etc.  Governments – they do an awful lot of exhibits,  Show Managers – They hire us to come and help with their exhibits.  Our clients literally span every industry, from pharmaceuticals to packaging, and are all over the globe, so I spend a tremendous amount of time on airplanes.

What are the trade show services that you offer to your clients?

The most recognizable thing that we do is train the frontline people on how to get more out of their show participation.  We also do a lot of the up-front work for clients – we sit down and consult, helping clients organize better, develop strategic plans better, select the right vendors, etc. We think of ourselves as true consultants – helping with every aspect of trade shows with both consulting to training.  We are one of the few companies tightly focused on exhibit marketing.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen exhibitors make?

The biggest mistakes are in the front and back end of planning for a trade show.  On the front-end, exhibitors tend to be not well focused.  They often go to shows attempting to achieve too much ─ too many objectives or simply objectives that are vague at best.  This lack of focus dilutes all of their show plans.

On the back-end, the issue is usually with follow-up.  What do you do after the show?  A lot of people go to the show thinking they are going to write business, or talk to everyone at the show, or some other unrealistic expectation.  Then, when they get back, they don’t have concrete leads to work from.  They may have a stack of business cards or names out of a drawbox – but these aren’t the good, solid leads, they are anything but.

If new exhibitors can fix the beginning and the end, they will have a huge leg-up on the competition.

Another mistake I see inexperienced exhibitors make, time and time again, is that they’ll go to the wrong shows.  Maybe they will only go to the biggest shows or most well-known shows.  But, there is tremendous opportunity at the small regional shows that are often overlooked.

There is so much money invested in exhibiting, and without having a solid plan of action, the best they can hope for are lackluster results.

What are some tips for how these mistakes can be avoided?

Approach front and back end planning more strategically.  New exhibitors spend lots of time on logistics; shipping the booth, plane tickets, filling forms, etc., and don’t spend enough time dealing with the strategic parts of the show. Ask yourself:  What do you want to accomplish?  How will you know if you are successful?  What are the right metrics to track your performance and goals for the show?

For a lot of companies, exhibiting is expensive and comes right off of the bottom line.  It is vital to track what’s important to know if the investment has been worthwhile, and if not, how to improve it for next time.

On selecting the right show:  There are just 3 things to think about.  1. Audience  2. Audience, and 3. Audience.  It all boils down to choosing the right audience.  Do you have the right number of qualified people coming to the show?  That has nothing to do with the quantity of people coming to the show.  Some people get very excited about a show with 100,000 people attending.  I’d rather have a b2b exhibitor come back with 10 solid leads rather than a stack of business cards with a rubber band around them and no idea if these people are interested or not.

What are your thoughts on Trade show booth entertainment?  Have you worked with clients who have used entertainers and performers?  Should every exhibitor consider this as a tactic?

Booth entertainment is one of many many tools that are at an exhibitor’s disposal.  Before we talk about entertainment, we should ask ─ what is the purpose of these tools?  Giveaways, signs and graphics, entertainment are all tools. The purpose is to attract attention.  Nothing in the physical display will actually get a lead or tell a story or reinforce a brand─ they just get attention.

A trade show visitor has a very short attention span – they are burnt out. Entertainment is great because what it does is help grab people’s attention as they are walking by the booth.  It gets them in and if the entertainer is doing their job well, they will connect what they are doing (e.g a magic trick) to some unique feature of the product or service which means that there needs to be synergy between the entertainer and the company/product/service.  After the entertainment is done, they will pull interested people back into the booth.

Entertainers are great and will especially help in a busy show and help cut through the noise and clutter at a show. An entertainer can really help an exhibitor stand out – it is just hard to miss them.

Are you noticing any trends in trade shows that our very smart readers could take advantage of by planning ahead?

There are many changes occurring, and I could spend a lot of time on this.  One big one is that people who attend shows are changing – there is a real shift in demographics.  What we are seeing now is that the baby boomers (45-63) are slowly shrinking, aging, delegating or retiring. The next group, Gen-X’s, are becoming more prevalent and attending shows.  Exhibitors need to know that the way to approach Gen-Xs is different than the way to approach baby boomers.  Gen-Xs are comfortable online; by the time they get to a tradeshow they already know about the exhibitors at the show, have read reviews, and asked online (via twitter, Facebook, etc) if anyone knows about them.  You can no longer treat the crowd as if they were just Baby Boomers.  You must adapt with newer presentation styles, slick designs, social media savvy, etc.

I am also seeing new technologies available in terms of hardware.  I rarely see displays with hard walls or heavy/bulk frames and structures.  People are switching to lighter, more flexible booths. By flexible I mean light and easy to move, but also flexible in terms of what they can do – often by creating interesting shapes, cool uses of lights and technology, and other eye-catching features.

I see a lot of companies moving away from talking about products and service and using the shows more as a tool to engage clients to discuss issues, problems, solutions that are beneficial to both instead of just a sales pitch.

I’m seeing a real trend towards accountability.  A huge demand right now, and for past 4 or 5 years, is to ensure the trade show budget provides a real return on investment or return on objective.  Part of the reason is that there are so many opportunities, that going to the same show year after year out of habit does not make sense.

I’m seeing that exhibitors (and show managers) are integrating social media as a means to connect with communities.  Large organizations are spending a lot of time on social media strategies.  What we can say, who we can say it to, what we can’t say. They used to put this effort into just media strategies, but now they are taking social media serious enough to have social media strategies.  Everyone has finally accepted that Social Media is not just a fad.

There is a real trend towards internationalization.  Whether a company does a show domestically or is looking at international markets will determine everything about their exhibiting plan.  Additionally, even if they only exhibit locally, you will very likely have international exhibit attendees visiting their booth. Because of this, there needs to be more understanding about cultures.  There are huge challenges here.

Finally, a big trend – people are taking trade shows seriously.  It isn’t just a place to go because you’ve got nothing else to do, nor is it a place to go just because others are going there.  You now don’t just go because that is what you have always done.  Trade shows are serious tools that are helpful and important.

Final thoughts for our readers?

Trade shows do work.  Exhibit marketing works.  The exhibit won’t do the work itself.  You really need training and a strategic approach trade show participation.  Reaching out and finding the resources that can help you do your job better is not foolish – this is serious business.  To go to a show without taking advantage of all of that information and knowledge would be a travesty.