How Experienced CEOs Stay Ahead of Post-Event Spin

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

You may think that trade show was a success. Your CEO may not.

It’s the Monday morning after your BIG industry trade show. Vegas, was it? Chicago? Or San Francisco? No matter…

It’s 8:00 am. Your briefcase bulges with stuff acquired at your event. Collateral, business cards, receipts, some event notes in your folder… All representative of the hard work put in by you, your marketing team, sales, and your colleagues who attended the event.

Somewhere there’s a spreadsheet with information from scanned badges from attendees who dropped by your exhibit. More proof of return on the trade show effort.

Then there’s the expense report with your name on it. Gotta get that one in. Plus there are a few invoices to be paid after the show. Have to stay on top of those.

As your cup of coffee steams on your desk, you think about the six-figures spent on that show. Sponsorship, booth, exhibit and event signage, collateral, travel, etc. the itemized list grows long, very quickly. But no reason for concern. Review the event spreadsheet, pop the data in the ‘system’ for follow-up, jot down a few notes, assign the sales and marketing pursuit tasks, and you’re on track.

Then the phone rings. The CEO wants a word about last week.

When it comes to event and trade show reviews, there are two types of CEOs. The first kind accepts the post-event spin (or bullsh*t) from sales and marketing. The second kind of CEO knows better. The second kind of CEO has a finely-tuned radar to see post-event spin coming from a mile away and has the experience to stay one step ahead of the diversionary tactics which try to justify event participation and expenditures.

Come to think of it, there are three types of CEOs. The third type is somebody who thinks they fit in the second category, but don’t. The third type will ask a few mundane questions while believing they are getting to the bottom of event and trade show analyzation. But they’re not. They’re a lot like the first type of CEO, just not as aloof. The third type of CEO sometimes plays an active role in event planning and execution, so efforts to drill into post-trade show analysis may be compromised. This is the ‘good enough’ trade show CEO. On-site presentation without prep? As long as it’s good enough. Stream live video from the booth with no prep? Eh, as long as it’s good enough. Nobody’s watching, anyway… Booth staff unprepared, ineffective on-site branding, poor conference logistics… whatever. Show’s over.

But today, your CEO falls into the second category and sees it all coming a mile away.

Here’s how you know. You’ll be asked: How was the event? …and when you say:

1. “Great! We strengthened relationships with X customers, Y partners, and Z analysts.”

You’ll be stopped dead in your tracks. The opening phrase “we strengthened relationships…” is non-starter. Astute CEOs couldn’t care less about strengthening relationships with anybody at a trade show. That’s not why you went to the show. Sure, it may be a by-product of attendance, and there’s nothing wrong with building professional relationships to help the business, but that post-event answer isn’t what the CEO wants to hear. If you lead with this answer, experienced CEOs know the show didn’t produce real results. And if relationships really were strengthened, save it for the end of your post-event report.

2. “We scanned over 200 people who visited our booth!”

Again, that’s a bad way to start your answer. So what if 200, or 300 or 1000 attendees visited your booth? Who were they? If 100 visited your booth and you scanned their badges, I’d wager that only 10 out of the 100 may be worth pursuing. Especially in B2B scenarios. 10 may be worth pursuing, but it may be that only two or three out of the 10 may have the budget, authority, and need to buy what you’re selling. Maybe. Nothing against the other 98% of the list, but in all likelihood they are lower level employees, vendors, analysts, academics, job seekers, and partners who offer no return on the show investment.

3. “I saw Mr. or Mrs. Celebrity, Politician, or Big Time Business Tycoon Give a Talk”

Great. But unless Mr. or Mrs. Big is buying what we’re selling, referring new business opportunities to us, or demonstrating how we can grow the company, talk about something else.

4. “There was some fantastic entertainment!”

Even worse.

5. “We didn’t get much the way of new leads, but we had to be there.”

Really? Why? What would happen if your company didn’t sponsor or exhibit? Would the world think that you’re out of business? What if your company just sent a few people to attend and work the event, and saved five or six-figures?

6. “We had such a good time.”

Yes, a few in days in Vegas, SF, or Chicago can be enjoyable. The tweeted staff pictures of smiling attendees in front of the booth, at the parties, talking selfies in front of the show entrance all portray a positive image. Now where’s the image of the meetings on somebody’s calendar with qualified opportunities that can be sourced to spending money on this event?

7. “The leads will be in the system by next week.”

Good. But the week after is the start of the holiday season, Thanksgiving in the USA. Then six weeks where half of the target audience is OOO until January 8, 2018. And the next two months are gone. Unfortunately, the CEO, Board of Directors, investors and stakeholders have a thing about sales and revenue. Holidays or no holidays. Time is of the essence. A lazy follow-up approach is not what’s needed at this time of the year.

8. “They had record attendance!!!”

Wow! That show must’ve been the place to be! Except that you have little to show for it because you didn’t know how to stand out in the crowd. Funny how six-figures in event expenditures doesn’t get you very far in a crowd in excess of 100k. Throwing more money at your show wouldn’t make much of a difference. It doesn’t matter if 10 people showed, or 100k. If you didn’t have the creativity to make it happen on-site, what will you do different next time? Better yet, if ‘everybody’ was (allegedly) at that show, we could take advantage of the market.

(Because not everybody was at the show…)

9. “We already signed for next year.”

This answer is usually coupled with securing a spot on the show floor in the exhibit hall for next year, getting some sort of price break, or another ancillary promotional deal. Event producers are slick in the way on-site meetings are held to re-sign for next year’s event. Those pre-set/pre-determined meetings in the office in the back of the exhibit hall or in a makeshift hotel office/hospitality suite get a marketer in line, while in town. And if you miss that meeting, the follow-up booth visit from the sales rep is inevitable.

Unless there was an indisputable windfall of on-site business, it’s not a wise move to automatically re-sign for anything unless that demonstrable return can be reported from the last event. Experienced CEOs know this.

10. “Joe’s panel discussion was amazing!”

First off, panel discussions aren’t amazing. They’re usually boring. Second, what intel was gained from Joe’s panel discussion? What was learned from the other panelists? Third, did our team work the room? Did we speak to session attendees? Welcome them? Interact? Learn anything from them?

If the seat on the panel discussion was simply a way for the show producers to get a sponsoring company to increase their event budget, the astute CEO knows that panel discussion was a waste of time and money.

11. “We got all of this great stuff!”

Most of it’s junk, headed for landfills. Sure, a couple of things will stay on the desk, and a few toys will be given to kids at home. They enjoy it when mom and dad bring souvenirs home after business trips. But most of that stuff never gets read or used, and rarely sees the light of day.

12. “It’s not really a competitive atmosphere.”

I’ve heard this one before, and it still doesn’t sit right.

There are those who would have their CEO believe that they’re company is paying money — good, substantial money — to sponsor and exhibit at an industry trade show that’s in a non-competitive environment. That they are just glad to be there. Glad to see everybody.

Don’t buy it. You may be glad to see everybody at an event, but why would any company spend money simply to show up? Are the other sponsors and exhibitors going to add revenue to your annual report because you took it easy at the event? Will others pay your bills? Stay away from your prospects or customer base? Every trade show, event, conference, user group, and convention is a highly-competitive environment.

Astute, experienced CEOs want business results, business rationale, and sales-oriented answers as to why you sponsored, exhibited at, and spent money on that last trade show.

I’ve devised the CEO-CMO post-event stress test as a template for after show reporting. It’s not a pop quiz, and it’s not meant to be mean, or harsh, or unfair. It’s business. The sales and marketing business of trade shows. The questions need to be asked of marketing, and sales.

Regretfully, that tweeted picture of you and your smiling team standing in front of your cookie-cutter booth snacking on hors d’oeuvres won’t cut it back in the office on Monday morning.

Follow me on Twitter: @tonycompton, GettingPresence

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