Diane Benson, CTSM Diamond

Shaking my head. There are some things I just don’t understand. During a worldwide health pandemic that has slammed the brakes on the live events and exhibitions industry, why would anyone in this profession, when offered the opportunity to step up, instead take a step back and say, “no thanks, Marketing folks, you guys have fun in the virtual space.” This happened to a marketing manager friend of mine just recently, and I was shocked and a bit dismayed when I heard about it.

When a show that her company had exhibited at for many years announced that it was pivoting to virtual, her exhibit manager stepped away and, in my friend’s words, left marketing to “…scramble, assemble contracts, and build the digital booth.” She went on to ask for my insights and asked a thought-provoking question, “Do you see exhibition teams evolving to include in their skill set these virtual tools…Or does another industry take over?”

Why? Why would anyone in event or exhibit marketing step aside from this opportunity? Could it be because they do not feel that all their knowledge and skills will be utilized, or that they don’t know the virtual world well enough? My answer would be to stay in the game and make yourself as valuable as possible to that marketing team! Trade shows (yes, even virtual ones) are an important part of the integrated marketing mix; and they require high-level objectives, specific goals and tactics, proper project management throughout, precision execution, and measurement of ROI and ROO as well as careful evaluation of what worked and what could be done better at the end. Just because there are no crates to go on a truck and no electrical orders to complete doesn’t mean you’re not needed. And if you don’t understand different virtual platforms, what’s available and how the interfaces work, learn. Online opportunities abound.

Speaking of learning (and here’s where I get up on my virtual soapbox), now, during this stay-safe-at-home time, and while many people have been furloughed or laid off, NOW is the perfect time to learn new skills. There are many companies out there who are proud of their virtual exhibits, as well as show organizers who are proud of their virtual shows, and these proud people would love to give you a tour of what they’ve done. Full-service exhibit houses and creative agencies with strong digital marketing teams would love to walk you through their success stories; just ask. EXHIBITOR offers eTrak online sessions in a multitude of topics, and HCEA offers some great online sessions in the healthcare exhibiting space. Search also, or search specifically, for virtual online courses…I suspect we will see more of these in the coming months as exhibitors get better at it and as their agencies partner with them and want to show off their successes. Never. Stop. Learning.

Bottom line, I urge you…do not give your marketing teams or your CMO any reason to perceive you as an order taker or a box mover. As exhibit professionals, no matter what your title may be, we have fought long and hard to become strategic partners with our internal marketing teams; and we need to stay there. Don’t opt out because many shows are going virtual. Face-to-face will come back, and I believe hybrid shows will be the future. Learn as much as you can about virtual now and keep your seat at the table. Evolve. Be in the room where it happens!