Mr. Loadlink launches a stinging attack on trade show exhibitors that pack up early, questions Twitter’s motives for dumbing down the social media platform, and more.
Do you know what noise I hate more than someone scraping his or her fingernails down a chalkboard?
It’s the sound of an exhibitor at a conference or exhibition tearing down their stand before the event has finished. The chalkboard trick merely sets my teeth on edge and has me clasping my hands over my ears. The clamour of a premature expo breakdown, meanwhile, does all that, in addition to sending my pulse racing, blood pressure soaring, and turning my face bright red with rage. I look like a beetroot at a farmers’ market.
Anyone who attends, organises or displays wares at events will know what I’m talking about. Whether the show finishes at 3, 4 or 5 o’clock, there is always someone who starts ripping their stand apart ahead of time. It’s like dominoes; once one exhibitor has started pulling posters off walls or boxing up their products, someone else follows and pretty soon everyone’s either joined in or at least had their focus interrupted.
Some are shameless and turn their backs on attendees to pull graphics off aluminium displays and sweep the giveaways off the counter. Others are subtler; they side step to a corner and slowly begin arranging things for easy access. The trouble is they’re not half as surreptitious as they think they are. Once the attention has been diverted from the aisles and the delegation, the game is over. There’s no selling a widget at that point.
The worst noise of all is popup banners whistling back into their cases. They make a terrible whooshing sound as the canvas recoils before thwacking into their final position with a big crash. Some exhibitors have the care to grip the top of the banner as it descends, which reduces the noise pollution, while others let it whizz down on its own, picking up such speed as it goes that the base is jolted on the carpet.
The strange thing is, the hubbub of expo setup is altogether different. It doesn’t irk me in the slightest. In fact, the unfurling of stand displays is almost satisfying. It’s exhilarating to see a hotel lobby or exhibition hall come to life as an industry’s suppliers prepare to engage the marketplace’s buying decision makers. I think it’s the anticipation of it all. Even the beeping of a lift truck delivering a pallet of shackles to a nearby stand is rhythmical. The tightening of screws and the uncurling of a literature stand all add to the anticipation.
It’s remarkable, therefore, that people can’t hold onto this sense of purpose for the duration of an event. Working an exhibit is tough but it’s so important to stick them out until the end. Take the recent World Crane and Transport Summit, for example, which was expertly hosted by the KHL media company in Amsterdam. We were among an assortment of exhibitors keen to engage a high level audience of crane thought leaders and influencers.
The event concluded, say, mid-afternoon on a Wednesday and, despite an already early scheduled finish, several fellow exhibitors were keen to pinch an extra half-hour. The same people who’d paid such attention to detail during setup to make sure everything looked perfect, and photographed their exhibits to send proof back to the office, were now prepared to dismantle them as delegates continued to roam the charming Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky with coffee in hand, equally thirsty for information about their product range.
David Mullard, our business development manager, and I felt like the band on the Titanic, defiantly playing as the ship plummeted to the icy depths. Little did we mind as the boss of one of the world’s largest specialised hauling, heavy lifting and hoisting companies danced to our merry tune. As the exhibition area fell to ruins around us, we were building one of our strongest connections of the event. And it wasn’t even teatime.
I accept that there are occasions when people need to get to airports to catch international flights, or family members are playing important sports matches or appearing in school events. But in the main, those guilty of the sins outlined above are failing to honour protocol and show respect for their fellow professionals, just to get to the airport early or check their emails. Unless it’s really important, no travel itinerary should be booked if it means the team on the stand have to leave before the final attendee has been dragged from the floor. If the last plane home leaves at 5pm but you might need to stay at the show until 4:30pm, arrange a networking dinner and travel the next day.
Once again, the summit proved the value of short exhibition sessions, punctuated by periods of world-class content and seminars. I’ve blogged before about the happy marriage between a tabletop expo and conference, and the benefits were again there for all to see—particularly for those of us who toughed it out until the end. It’s worth singling out Hendrik Sarens, owner and director at crane and engineered transport giant Sarens, for praise; he delivered an engaging keynote about his life in the industry that resonated with all who listened.
The Speedy Expo, which took place a week earlier, was uplifting too, where, Zoe Silk, inside sales and hire, made her SP trade show debut. I wonder how much we can improve the culture of exhibitors by better mentoring the next generation of stand professionals. We’re committed to a record number of events next year and, as live interaction continues to reap rewards, it’s likely that other companies will do similar. But how many are really giving this costly, time consuming, exhausting, risky activity the attention it needs?
I didn’t present Zoe with The Perfect Trade Show Host manual on the train to Liverpool but needless to say I gave her the benefit of my experience. I explained why we don’t have seats on the exhibit and why eating is prohibited. Zoe understood already about the importance of greeting people, exchanging information, distributing catalogues—and staying until the end!
It’s not rocket science, and even on her first event, Zoe was a great SP ambassador, yet I fear others taking their first steps into the exhibition environment don’t have the right tuition or grounding. It’s simply not ok to approach an attendee with a mouthful of sandwich or turn one’s back on the aisles to take a phone call.
If KHL deserved credit for their show, Speedy should get a gold star as well. The organisation, hospitality and extent to which it harnessed the power of modern technology—the event had its own app—were exceptional. It was good to meet Russell Down, Speedy’s chief executive, and discover a mutual Portsmouth connection, while colour-coded lanyards facilitated other networking opportunities with staff, suppliers and customers alike.
Biggest LiftEx ever?
Later this month, arguably the most important LiftEx in recent years takes place at The International Centre Telford on 29-30 November. The expo is the showpiece of organising trade association, LEEA, and co-locates with its all-important AGM, dinner dance, conference and more. It is always the subject of debate, in the main surrounding its size, location, frequency, demographic, format, etc. This time there is an even stronger undercurrent with a number of key issues likely to dominate the annual meeting and other exchanges.
With industry stalwart Geoff Holden, the association’s recently retired CEO, being a tough act to follow, it’s going to be fascinating to get an update on the recruitment process and hear about LEEA’s plans for the short and long-term future. With the AGM moved to the first morning and the dinner dance slated for that night, I anticipate that a new-look format will lead to better attendance of peripheral events, which is important if the association is to continue to be an exemplar for all those involved in the lifting industry worldwide.
Frankly, to retain that status, certain rumours and uncertainty need to be put to bed and the AGM presents a perfect opportunity, with the industry’s protagonists in one place, to set the record straight. I hope the hierarchy are prepared to confront these issues head-on so LEEA can move forwards without the burden of speculation. On the morning of 29 November, members, end users and industry stakeholders alike have a right to expect some long-awaited clarity.
I hope exhibitors do their bit by staffing exhibits in an equally exemplary fashion. Beyond the obvious, it’s crucial that we don’t put all our eggs in the day one basket. It’s a front-loaded event, as outlined above, but there might be a purchasing colossus walking the aisles at 3pm on Thursday afternoon, who is only going to call upon those still wearing their game faces. Think about it: would you interrupt someone in full breakdown mode and offer to buy his or her kit? Our combined exhibit with Modulift and Crosby will be among those ready to accept 11th-hour opportunities.
The #LiftEx17 hashtag is already making waves on social media, most notably on Twitter. But I don’t think the show, or the platform generally, will be enhanced by a decision to double the character limit to 280. Essentially, a Tweet can now be a paragraph, which even belies its very name. The brand is known for the iconic, tweeting bird, called Larry, capturing the platform’s supposed ethos to give users a small space to share a concise comment. The change has already paved the way for cut and paste fanatics to post great swathes of their website content. It might grow on me but it feels like the brevity, fun and skill in posting a Tweet has been lost. What do you think?
That’s all for this month but look out for announcements soon about two new SP recruits!
In his latest blog, Mr. Loadlink sets LiftEx 2017 a challenge and shares a slice of Halloween pumpkin pie.
It’s Halloween morning at the time of writing here in the UK. This evening, children (and some adults) across the land will be dressing up in all manner of costumes to call upon friends, family and neighbours to yell, “Trick or treat?” as they answer their front doors.
It’s innocent fun, yet not everyone participates. Some decorate their houses with carved pumpkins, cobwebs and creepy-crawlies, and equip themselves with treats to give out to their spooky guests. Others, meanwhile, turn off the lights and barricade themselves into a back room, waiting for the frightening frivolities to end.
It’s much the same with social media, particularly in the lifting equipment industry, as proved by the ongoing trade show season. There are companies, like Straightpoint (SP), that embrace social platforms, especially when it comes to networking before, during and after trade events at related hashtags. On the other hand, there are those who hardly keep a website up to date and rely on more traditional methods to engage their target audiences.
Interestingly, when hashtags came knocking for Twitter, it was widely reported that it said, “Trick”, in response. Former Google employee Chris Messina posted on 23 August 2007:
‘how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?’
Twitter apparently slammed the door shut. Thus, despite millions of hashtags now being used every hour across Twitter and other social media, I don’t think the lifting industry, indeed any niche sector, should hold its head in shame. It can be scary stuff. I just suggest they might be missing a trick. To me, hashtags are a ripe, juicy, succulent, forever giving treat. Kind of like pumpkins, only tastier.
One dictionary definition of the word ‘hash’ resonates with me: ‘come to agreement on something after lengthy and vigorous discussion.’ Add ‘tag’ on the end and a picture starts to emerge of what hashtags are; they’re effectively content labels. People make statements about a topic, product area, trade show or sports team, for example, and include a hashtag, which becomes clickable and part of a library of Tweets or posts alongside others who’ve done the same.
SP has participated in a number of shows over the past couple of months, all provoking varying levels of social media uptake.
Last week, we were at the latest Associated Wire Rope Fabricators (AWRF) meeting and charmingly named PIE (or Product Information Exhibition), which was a case in point. I didn’t attend the event in person this time but actually that meant I was even better placed to assess the social media participation. The good, bad and monstrously ugly were there for all to see. Some joined us in posting quality content to the #AWRFpie17 hashtag, others less so and the majority of participants chose to abstain.
I have a huge amount of respect for AWRF and their 18-monthly product fair is outstanding. That said, I’d like to have seen them do a bit more to promote the #AWRFpie17 hashtag in the months leading up to the event so people could start using it. Greater prominence would also have meant folks would have been less inclined to make up their own tags—#AWRF and #AWRFpie2017 were just two I saw—because the official one would have been more deeply engrained.
Many of our fellow exhibitors could have also done more to post quality content before, during and after the show. Imagine if every vendor had posted even one Tweet or one post to every social media platform they operate with an educational message related to the event or their equipment. Put oneself in the position of an attendee and consider how valuable that #AWRFpie17 hashtag would have become. They could have found out about all the product suppliers relevant to their work and probably discovered a solution or thought leader or two they didn’t know existed.
I counted about 50 relevant Tweets at #AWRFpie17 but, as an industry, that’s not really much to shout (or Tweet) about. SP and like-minded businesses that are well versed in harnessing the power of hashtags largely posted that content. Witches’ hats off to all of them. The comments that really stood out from afar were the ones that went deeper than merely sharing a photo of an exhibit or reference to a product. The selfies were great and I thought Tweets that promoted other related hashtags added tremendous value. We included #loadcell and #belowthehook in posts, for example, allowing the curious to explore a deeper drill into our marketplace.
AWRF and the organisers of next month’s (November) LiftEx trade show, the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), have much in common. However, I’m backing the latter to generate more content at its event hashtag, #LiftEx17. The marketing team have done a good job of promoting the tag; it’s been prominent on the website and literature for months. Many, ourselves included, are already posting content across a variety of social platforms.
The LEEA community can take it as a challenge if they want, but I think #LiftEx17 posts will quadruple those at #AWRFpie17, even during the two days of the Telford show alone.
I’d encourage everyone who’s exhibiting or attending to join the online network. This blog isn’t about which platform is more relevant or effective so whether it’s a fun post for Facebook, a photo for Instagram, a thought-provoking Tweet, or business-themed comment on LinkedIn, share content and include #LiftEx17. While it takes time and an element of know-how to get mileage out of social media, it’s essentially free and worth the effort.
Yes, the lifting sector is traditional and mechanical but hashtags are a place for niche geeks like us to hang out. Twitter wasn’t wrong to point that out to Messina but it did initially misread the opportunity. We’re proud of the content we’ve posted to #AWRFpie17, #LiftEx17, #loadcell, #belowthehook, #oilandgas, and many more.
“See you at Stand B5 for a selfie!”
First, we’ll be posting to social media from this week’s Speedy Expo and KHL’s World Crane and Transport Summit, which takes place 7-8 November in Amsterdam.
The Pumpkin Plan
I’m an avid reader of business-themed literature and it’s a fitting time of year to have recently finished The Pumpkin Plan, by Mike Michalowicz. The book explores the theory that as entrepreneurs, there is nothing harder than getting rid of ideas, businesses, or customers that don’t work. It calls on the theory that pumpkin farmers are obsessed with nurturing their healthy, fat, prize-winning assets, rather than wasting time and effort feeding and watering a bed of small vegetables that aren’t going to ever be bigger than one’s hand—and will leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
(I’ve also just read They Ask You Answer, by Marcus Sheridan, about a revolutionary approach to inbound sales, content marketing and today’s digital consumer. It served as great inspiration too but a Halloween reference was less forthcoming [the best I had was that it was spookily good] hence the lead on The Pumpkin Plan.)
As is the case with any business text I read, I made frequent references to my own firm and effectively challenged the author to apply his theories and sciences to a manufacturer of load cells. It led me to thinking about our Melbourne, Australia-based dealer Hoisting Equipment Specialist (Vic) Pty Ltd (HES). If Dean Nelson’s company were a pumpkin, there’d be comparisons with James and the Giant Peach. It’d win prizes in the county fair and would feature on the front cover of the local newspaper.
As we challenge our existing dealer network (there are many prize pumpkins among them) and look to introduce new partners in certain markets, it’s tempting to look at the shape, size and type of success stories like HES. However, what has become increasingly apparent, and was further stressed by Michalowicz and Sheridan, is the DNA profile we need to seek is based more on a business’s people and less on its characteristics.
Home away from home
HES hasn’t soared into our top 10 global distributors in just 11 months because of bricks, mortar, the marketplace and nutrients in the soil; it’s on the way to status among our Big 5 because of Dean and his team. The office couldn’t be further from SP’s Havant headquarters, but walking into HES feels like being at home; there is a positive vibe, people enjoy coming to work, they use hashtags(!), and the company’s sales team and leaders bang the drum with passion. They’re an SP clone; we’re like two pumpkins in a patch.
That’s not to say every partner has to be identical to us—that would be too Stepford Wives—but there are hallmarks to look for. Rigmarine, Van Gool and others share these commonalities. When the phone rings and it’s Mike Duncan (Rigmarine) or Pieter van Duijn (Van Gool), we don’t look around to see who draws the short straw, we all rush to the handset to exchange pleasantries and hear the latest positivity. We follow the fortunes of our key partners’ sports teams and ask how their kids got on in their latest college matches.
With all that in mind, we recently updated our call for distributors on the SP website – goo.gl/YqEvfY – as we look to make some strategic appointments early in 2018. It’s arguable that, as the profile we’re looking for isn’t so easily researched, this quest is harder than it once was. There’s some truth in that but once we get such partners on board, the rewards and longevity make it worthwhile. And we’re getting good at reading the signals. While it’s important to observe formalities at the outset, when a new partner starts to include friendly emojis in messages, we get a better feeling than if all correspondence ends with a formal email signature.
Thank you for reading 🙂
Happy Halloween 😉