Having been spent a lot of time as a conference blogger in the last year writing an overview of speaker sessions, I thought I would turn the tables and spend some time with the people that in essence pay for the conferences we attend – the advertisers and exhibitors.
I recently had the privilege to spend a Bussmans holiday in Las Vegas at Pubcon 2012 on the Majestic SEO stand to find out what it takes to be an exhibitor whilst still continuing to market and run an award winning business.
Not quite a fly on the wall documentary, but an insight into how much hard work the advertisers and exhibitors put in to making the Expo Hall just as interesting to visit and how it is so much more than free mouse mats and flyers.
Pre Conference Preparation
For the ‘Booth Babe’ (AKA me!)
There wasn’t really that much prep for me as all I had to do was get to Vegas, and turn up to the show.
As an SEO, I use Majestic so already know the interface, but I don’t use all of the tools all of the time, and much as I can talk about SEO until the cows come home, talking about it in a way that is specific to a tool that everyone uses with their own personal data in their own way is something you cant prepare for.
Majestic have a policy of asking clients that use the product to be a ‘Majestic Ambassador‘, so if you’re at a conference, you know that you are being ‘sold’ to by genuine product users not just shiny salesmen. I was ‘guest ambassador’ for the week.
For the Standholder (AKA Dixon Jones/Majestic SEO)
Many brands may have a team of people behind them to take care of the conference side of things, but Dixon took care of everything.
Flyer printing, transportation, whilst still organising client meetings, speech preparation, marketing and publicity on the day.
Joined by Mel Carson to help take care of business, there was still clearly an overwhelming amount of tasks on the list.
Dixon may have been surprised to win Search Personality of the Year 2012 but having seen first hand his amazing ability to almost ‘single handedly’ build a brand based on that personality and do this every other month it comes a no surprise to me at all. The man is relentless!
Here are just a few of the things that need thinking about. If you already go to conferences, you may know this stuff, but the majority of us turn up after the hard work has been done and may not appreciate the amount of effort that goes in to providing those free T-shirts!
- Promo Items – making sure you have a stand to take with you! Should you carry flyers or get them printed on the day? (we nipped up to Staples the day before!)
- Stand Space & Location – if you have a regular pitch this may not be an issue, but bringing too much or conversely bringing too little can affect how you are perceived and how many people you can talk to at once. Quite often, you don’t find out what your space looks like until you get there or how they are setting up the hall.
- Transportation – getting the stand to the country, storing it until you can take it to the show – not an easy task if you want to stay green and sane! (more on this further in the post)
- Don’t expect everything to go smoothly – things can go wrong – items go missing, there are hundreds of other exhibitors that also need attention, so be prepared
- Technology – remembering your ipad, plug sockets, peripherals etc – Expo halls charge a premium if you have to book on the day
- Internet connections – do you go with the organiser for additional cost, or do you take your own with the risk that you may not be able to get online?
Not to mention
- Organising people to help on the stand (and their transport)
- Preparing slides for your speaker slots, SMX for example have expo hall speaker slots for all advertisers as part of the Expo package
- Setting up meetings with current clients
- Schmoozing with new and potential clients
- Being visible at all times in all conference and post conference venues regardless of how tired or hungover you are!
- Having to be your own Max Clifford ‘the morning after’ and tracking down the elusive Karaoke video (no I don’t have a copy, but if I mention it enough times, it may appear!)
Setting up the Exhibition Stands
Sounds simple enough but bearing in mind that Expos are not responsible for your own promo transport, you’d be surprised how much of a military operation it is to transport 4 or 5 boxes of stands plus everything else.
Pubcon 2012 marked the unveiling of the biggest Majestic SEO stand to date, which meant that there were also going to be logistics issues getting the stand stored at the hotel, transported in a taxi big enough to fit 5 people and the equipment (a limo was hired in the end!)
I flew in from SMX New York, so I could not help with the transport from the UK so Dixon transported the whole lot on British Airways additional luggage allowance.
Once at the exhibition space, you either choose to wait for furniture ordered from the Expo, or source your own. Anything you don’t have, you only have one day to put together before the exhibition starts so it’s taxis to the nearest electrical good store and a whole heap of stress if your furniture does not arrive until later in the day. We had a visit to an electrical store in advance ‘just in case’.
It can also work out cheaper to buy it there than to rent from the expo hall, but that brings up the storage issue 0nce more.
Electricity points were interesting as you don’t know where they are going to be. We had to move the main sockets in order to be able to reach with a big screen, a computer point at the front of the stand, and the lighting for the main stands. Remembering additional power points and adapters is essential!
Things can also go wrong, and we had a number of issues with stands not quite clipping together correctly, some transportation units not doubling up as a brand table (trying to make a ‘skirt’ for said unit out of materials we could find and a stapler was very funny). We also had to use (ahem) a rival lanyard in the absence of something to tie things with.
I was not tall enough to pin the panels to the stand or attach the lighting so I shot video footage so that we could make a timelapse video which can also be found at the end of this post.
Major Takeaway: bring sellotape, staplers, glue, paper clips/string for every eventuality – and bring tall people!
The Brand Social Presence
‘Brand Social’ at a conference is different from blogger tweets. For example, brand guidelines need adhering to, and when you’re running a stand you’re actually quite busy, so time to tweet or gather photos is not an option.
The event started on a Tuesday but the Expo Hall was only open for Wednesday and Thursday so as far as Pubcon was concerned, you had 48 hours and you needed to make them count.
In order to try and capture snippets of action – I set up the Canon S100 compact on a permanent tripod for filming video, alongside my Canon 450D for photos. There were visitors to the stand constantly, you can’t leave the gear lying around so it was a case of capturing shots at opportune moments.
Dixon set up auto tweets using Social Oomph and Hootsuite but no matter how clever you are with appearing to be natural – remember to switch off the automation as you leave or you may get a rogue post telling everyone you are about to start in Room X a week later!
Pretty much all of the conferences I have been to have had a shaky internet connection. This is not good if you need to blog or tweet or worse if you need to run online based software demos to clients.
The internet connection at many events is stupidly expensive for a dedicated fast line, with some event organisers suggesting that you will not be able to connect using your own equipment in order to get you to sign up with a penalty of higher costs if you risk it and have to ask for connection on the day. As such, some event exhibitors choose to bring their own mifi.
The Dangers of Free Wifi
Free conference wifi is available at most conferences, but Dixon told us that was hacked just as he was due to give a presentation at last years conference. Someone used a port scanner on the network, so from now on, he always brings his own wireless hub/dongle. Which incidentally, even with international charges will not cost you thousands of dollars for 2 days!
We’ve all done it – feigned interest to get the free book, T-shirt, beer outside the stand so it was amusing to be on the other side with delegates pretending want to ask a question. However, I found that the majority of delegates that came up to the Majestic Stand knew what they wanted.
- To have a live demo
- To ask questions about how to use their existing account
- To ask questions after hearing Dixon talk about new features.
- To get the free trial
- To network
- In one case, a lovely Japanese man just wanted to have his picture taken by the Majestic SEO Logo
Not having a background in pure sales, I did not want to just pounce on people. I was surprised that actually, visitors do not want to be left alone, they want to be approached and they want you to start the ball rolling and invite them in.
I took a leaf out of the ‘seasoned’ Ambassadors book by just asking people if they used Majestic SEO and if they wanted a trial if they so much as made eye contact from across the room at 1000 paces!
Most people are there to gather information, some people are new and at the end of the day, they would avoid the expo hall altogether if they were not interested.
The importance of having knowledgeable SEO’s on the stand was clear as I answered more questions and listened to more expert answers than I have in some conference sessions or client meetings.
If nothing else when you attend a conference go and ask questions of stand holders. They are not just salesmen, they are often experts in the product and in the field.
At points, it did remind me of working behind a bar, some people want to talk, some people want to buy, you can serve more than one person at once, and some larger businesses want partnerships.
You soon get used to prioritising time spent on interested parties based on the opportunity they present for the business. There is no need to be rude, but you do need to know when to end a conversation with ‘tyre-kickers’.
The advantage of live demos and the big screen was that a demo can be presented to an entire group keeping many people interested and happy. It also draws a bigger crowd to the stand if they think they are missing out on something new or important.
There was no bar code reader available, but even if there was, it would have been difficult scanning people, assigning them to the correct slot, and talking to them while others wait in to speak to you, but it is surprising how many cards you can take and conversations you can have at once if you address everyone as a collective!
Be Seen, Be Sold
At this expo alone, Dixon was speaking at two sessions, joining a panel for an announcement and taking part in a panel discussion. That’s a lot of work in between also selling your product and schmoozing. Many potential customers came for a demo after hearing Dixon speak so clearly an important thing to put on the conference agenda.
Dixon was switched on from early morning, til early morning the next day, tweeting, blogging, organising, re-keying data from business cards. After that, there’s dinner with clients, setting up business meetings, being seen at after dark events.
Questions continue long after the expo hall has closed for the night and continues throughout evening meetups, so be prepared to be ‘always on’ and always out!
Clear up Karma
At the end of the show it’s time to pack everything up and head to the after show party. It is not possible to leave things to pick up the next day, as a stallholder you have to consider things like storage.
Dixon had been talking about the dilemma of finding storage to keep the stand in Vegas for next year, or take it back home. I had been talking with a storage company the day and wrote a note on a card to see if they could work something out. Dixon had long since put this away in a pot marked ‘Day 1’, so we had no way of finding out the number to enquire without going through all the paperwork back at the hotel.
As we entered the after show party, picked up our pretzel and beer, and moved to sit at a table. The delegates from the Nevada storage company www.storagewest.com were sat right there. Yes it was a conference after show so they may have been there anyway, but many US delegates go straight home and we were lucky to catch them as they were just about to leave. Dixon made a deal and they arranged storage of the equipment and yet another firm business friendship was born.
The end bit
It was definitely an experience and a lot of fun. I love helping people and talking shop and am used to being on my feet, so it wasn’t like work at all. Going to conferences as a delegate, a blogger, and now a guest Ambassador, has made me even more determined to stress the importance of networking with the SEO community, going to conferences and I will now hang out a lot more in the Expo Hall.
If your boss can’t afford the whole conference ticket, they can afford an expo hall ticket. Not only do you learn as much if not more than you do from day to day client work. Talking to people in this way, I actually learned to hone my own business skills a little regarding understanding and explaining SEO issues, and talking direct to business owners about their approach to major changes in the industry.
In the Expo Hall, you find business owners, ‘heads of’, and many other focused talented people at the heart of the business to connect with. You would not be able to just call or talk to the business owners in a normal week, so the Expo Hall is your chance to really get close to the people making the decisions and be heard.
Big thanks to Dixon Jones at Majestic SEO, for the opportunity and to Mel Carson, Chris Carter, Brian Bowers for excellent teamwork and showing me the ropes, and a special thanks to anyone that let me shove a camera in their face 🙂
If you want to catch the Majestic SEO team in action, you can see them at SES Chicago this week (12th – 15th November 2012) or you can re-live my experience with the short video I made of the 48 hours with Majestic at Pubcon 2012 – enjoy!