Brandt On Leadership -- Deciphering Trade-Show Talk

March 17, 2006
The promo materials have more fluff than the pillows at the 'luxury accommodations.'

It has come to my attention that an entire generation of younger managers has emerged without ever learning the basics of TradeShowSpeak, a unique language favored by industry associations and exhibition companies that sponsor these gargantuan festivals of commerce and excess. As a public service to those attending their first trade shows this season (as well as for those who've already attended too many), I offer a Berlitz phrasebook of common trade show terms:

Exclusive Audience: Brochure: Independent research shows that the American Widget Show attracts buyers who don't attend any other trade show. Translation: Attendees can't afford to attend any other show-or to buy anything.

Qualified Leads: Brochure: The American Widget Show annually provides exhibitors with more qualified leads than any other source. Translation: "Qualified," in this sense of the word, means "not dead."

Luxury Accommodations: Brochure: Four-star show hotels are conveniently located nearby, with shuttles provided on the half hour. Translation: You've never heard of our show hotels because they're inconveniently located two counties away. Don't worry, though, because we've borrowed some used Greyhound buses without air-conditioning to schlep you back and forth every 90 minutes, if the driver remembers. Bring a copy of War and Peace and make sure to use the Show restrooms before you climb aboard.

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See Brandt On Leadership: John Brandt's new blog about bad bosses, fictional employees, corporate misbehavior and the importance of never being 5 minutes late to work when you can get away with an entire hour.
Integrated Marketing Promotion: Brochure: This year the American Widget Show will use an integrated marketing approach that combines print advertising, direct mail, e-mail and PR to attract the right buyers-and to get your message in front of them. Translation: Your booth charges are going up again to pay for all the damn marketing. And no, we don't have any more clue than you do on what, if anything, might drag more prospects through the door.

Free On-Line Show Extensions: Brochure: The American Widget Show offers you the opportunity to extend your marketing dollars online through our exclusive Virtual Trade Show and attendee e-mail program. Translation: Get a head start on being ignored at our show by being ignored online at our lame Widgets Gone Wild Web site, too. Plus, we'll help you spam everybody foolish enough to give us a real e-mail address.

Opening Cocktail Reception: Brochure: This gala event allows buyers and sellers to mix freely in a convivial, opening night atmosphere. Translation: Desperate attempt by show's promoters to create buzz and the appearance of relevance by liquoring up exhibitors before disappointment sets in. Reception is invariably attended solely by vendors looking for off-the-expense-account booze, except for three customers (rookies without budgets) who fell for invitation describing event as "exclusive." After being swarmed by business card-waving sales reps, all three will be lucky to leave with clothing intact.

Multi-Track Educational Conference (with complimentary registration): Brochure: Executive-level conference will bring together leading executives from both buyers and sellers for three days of Widget Industry brainstorming and problem-solving. Translation: Bald-faced grab for what's left in exhibitor wallets by offering Session (Bronze), Track (Silver), or Conference (Gold) sponsorships. "Complimentary registration," in this sense of the phrase, means "Nobody showed up last year, and this year ain't looking much better." Note: You may want to rethink your speaking appearance at Track 22E-South.

I'm pretty certain your audience will.

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Also see Brandt On Leadership: John R. Brandt's new blog about bad bosses, fictional employees, corporate misbehavior and the importance of never being 5 minutes late to work when you can get away with an entire hour.

Readers' Comments:

There was nothing lower than "not informative". Not that there aren't bad trade shows out there, but John you do a real disservice to a valuable marketing tool -- IF it's used properly. There is a way to build trade show visitors -- value. Most exhibitors don't know how to add value. We do.

St. Joseph, Mich

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