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For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

Flying Blind: Over the Peak … Or Into the Side of the Mountain

Flying Blind: Over the Peak … Or Into the Side of the Mountain

By Ryan C. McKay

Have you ever watched professional golf?

I mean REALLY watched it? It’s amazing all the subtleties you can pick up when you really watch the pros competing at the top of the game! You’ll see silent prayers being muttered … little last-minute twists of the grip … adjustments in the feet that are so small that they wouldn’t register a single pop if they had been made on a sheet of bubble wrap.

You know what you DON’T see, however? You don’t see any of the pro’s line their ball up backward. You don’t see them spin around in a circle 20 times before taking a swing, and you certainly don’t see them blindfold themselves before they putt.

All too often though, I see people do this to themselves when they exhibit at trade shows, and let me assure you, the results can be just as disastrous (though, admittedly, nowhere near as amusing).

I’m sure that at some point you’ve had at least one armchair self-help guru tell you that you can’t hit a target you aren’t aiming for, right? That you have to SEE the victory if you have any chance of REACHING it? It’s one of those pieces of advice that people think is pretty deep when they are giving it and think is blatantly obvious when they are on the receiving end.

Strangely, though, as obvious as it might seem, it’s all too often ignored when the time comes to put the advice to practical use.

I can’t tell you how many people have told me that their trade shows haven’t been working for them. “All the money we spend, and pffft! Nothing …” Or maybe the ever-popular, “We never get enough out of them. I don’t even know why we go year after year.” I’ve heard them all … good grief, how I have heard them all.

I used to clam up when people told me that. I’d get shy, smile sheepishly, and offer a fumbling apology on behalf of all of the millions of us whose livelihoods are tied to the convention industry, as if I had been part of some great scheme to defraud them of time and money.

Things changed a few years ago. After a client had told me about a disappointing show, I asked him what goals he had set for the show.

“Just to get a decent amount of new business” he replied.

“Ah, always something to look for … what would you say would be decent?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Enough to make it worthwhile,” he answered.

“ What counts as worthwhile?”

“Well … (sniff) … it’s one of those things we’d have to look at in relation to how much we spent to be there” was the somewhat less confident answer.

“ Gotcha. So, for every dollar you spent, you had a number in mind of how many dollars you had to bring in for your Return On Investment.”

“Well, sort of.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how many dollars was that number?”

“Uh … you know, 10 could be good …” he offered, almost immediately giving me a look that almost begged me for acceptance of this obviously arbitrary figure.

Trade shows aren’t generally cheap. If you are looking for “cheap” with your marketing, head down to your local library and pound out some homemade fliers to pass out to folks on the street. Generally, you can probably print 100 black-and-white fliers for about $10. The return on investment with fliers is historically terrible, but, hey, if all that matters is cheap, they certainly fit the bill.

If, however, you are looking for EFFECTIVE, and for ROI, trade shows and events DO work … if you do them the right way. The marketing pro’s of the world know all about ROI. ROI, or Return On Investment, is the truest way to decide what “works” and what doesn’t. In its purest form, it shows you how many dollars are earned for every dollar spent, and the true beauty is in how absolute it is.

The problem with most unsuccessful trade show efforts … or any other marketing efforts really, is that we don’t set goals for what we are trying to accomplish with them. Wanting to “get a lot of new business” isn’t a goal. It’s a wish. Wanting to “make 50 new post show appointments” however, IS a goal. It’s specific, and it’s measurable.

Other examples of (trade show) GOALS:

“ I want to generate $_______ of new sales of my ________line of products as a direct result of doing this show”

“I’m going to officially launch my new branding campaign at this show”

“ I’m going to meet _________ from the _________ company at this show and set an appointment with her”

What makes goals a far better measuring stick than wishes is that you CAN measure the results of a specific goal. If you go to a bank and ask to withdraw $50, it’s pretty easy to count what they give you and see if it’s what you wanted. If you go to a bank and ask for “a whole buncha’ dollars,” chances are you aren’t going to be thrilled with how the transaction goes (and neither will the teller I imagine).

Specific goals set far enough in advance of your show will have a far better chance of coming true because they give you the chance to plan your efforts, budgets, and schedules to reach those stated goals. When everyone on your team knows what is expected of them and of their efforts, they can work as a well-oiled machine, which is impossible to do when you are flying blind.

So, before you spend another dollar on your marketing efforts, stop and ask yourself these questions: 1.) What are my specific goals for this effort?
2.) What ROI am I looking for in my marketing?
3.) How will I measure where I stand on my goals?
4.) What do I need to do BEFORE I start my campaign/show, to increase my chances of success?
5.) What is the time frame I am setting for my goals?

Ryan C. McKay is a senior account manager and director of operations with Ohio Displays Inc./ODI Works. He can be reached at (216) 961-5600 and His blog, “Ramblings From a Traveling Trade Show Professional,” can be read at

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