That’s Show Business

As promised, 2014 took off with a bang. The PPAI Expo 2014, held in Las Vegas in January, experienced top attendance and exciting events from start to finish. In addition to participating in a strong Expo, I also had the privilege of representing PPAI at both the PSI Show in Düsseldorf, Germany, and the Promotional Products Professionals of Canada (PPPC) National Convention in Toronto, Canada—both also in January. These shows proved both similar and yet quite different from the Expo, Expo East and regional shows.

While I have been to Düsseldorf in the past for meetings and factory visits, I have never attended the PSI Show. The show floor itself was fascinating. Similar to many of Europe’s retail trade shows, both the products and their presentations were highly designed. Product displays appeared more in step with current retail trends than we experience at our industry shows in the states. The displays were inviting and inspiring, and there was a more deliberate use of space. Multiple products and booth clutter were replaced with dramatic displays and more conversation areas. By and large, exhibitors did not show the majority of their lines; instead they strategically featured the latest, best-selling and most attention-getting items. How smart!

As suppliers, we often find ourselves talking about and working toward ways to keep the trade show experience relevant to today’s distributors. With catalogs and websites, clearly all products and information are already accessible at the distributors’ fingertips so there’s no need to display it all. Instead, creating memorable trade-show displays and experiences seems like a better and more proven way to make our trade shows more relevant and effective for our clients.

Twenty-six years ago, I attended the PPPC convention as a new hire, fresh out of college. Assigned to cover the show as a last-minute replacement, it was my first promotional markets trade show. I had not been back to the show since, as our company has a Canadian division, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the exhibit space in Toronto also had some trace elements of European design. However, the majority of booths were clearly American designed, as many of the suppliers exhibiting were, of course, U.S. and North American companies. This show’s smaller footprint limits some of the grand displays of mega shows I’ve seen in Europe, but also facilitates some of the outcomes we would all like to take away after a national trade show. For example, the show floor was manageable for attendees. The large show hustle and rush to the finish line was replaced with a slower pace for attendees who are willing to engage in conversation. It was easy to identify the annual reunion get-togethers on the show floor, as well as the brand new meetings between suppliers and distributors. As both exhibitors and attendees, we all know that relationship building is one of the premium benefits of our trade-show investment, but we often do not capitalize on these opportunities as much as we should.

Both shows also hosted unique and interesting events and sessions, in addition to the trade show.  The PSI Show kicked off with a formal news conference. While attendees included some VIPs and guests, the number of media that covered the news conference and show was impressive. We should all remember to place a priority on inviting and entertaining media and dignitaries at our national and regional events. At Expo, we have a media room and invite media as well as local and regional elected officials. By doing so, we are helping to increase our exposure as a significant advertising medium. We need to remember to do the same at all of the events we produce as an industry.

For the past couple of years, PPPC has co-located a portion of its pre-show education with the Art of Selling™, a full-day event prior to the show. This first-class corporate sales training event was once again a standing-room-only event and featured eight speakers, including bestselling author Daniel Pink, with unique and powerful topics. Microsoft and Dell, among others, were the chief underwriters of this ticketed event. PPPC’s support and involvement at the event, as well as its draw of a significant pool of small-business executives to downtown Toronto, was great exposure for our industry and advertising medium. While we would likely not have the luxury of a similar event being held in Las Vegas alongside Expo, our regional associations could certainly identify and explore similar high-profile, speaker bureau-type events in our metropolitan cities at which to consider co-locating events.

PPPC also produces an awards dinner. We were honored to be there to watch longtime PPAI member and volunteer Steve Levschuk, MAS, president of London, Ontario-based distributor Talbot Marketing, as he was presented with his well deserved PPPC Hall of Fame Award.

Day Three of the trade show itself was designated as Client Day. While PPAI has had its challenges in bringing the same concept to Expo, the Canadians have definitely moved the needle forward with this benefit for both suppliers and distributors. Not unlike our regional end-user shows, this hosted event features distributor meeting rooms and reception areas. Distributors in attendance brought more than 1,400 clients to the final day of the show. It was obvious that participating distributor members were taking full advantage of the opportunity to make Client Day their own.

Our meetings with other association leaders at both shows proved interesting and productive.  Many of the smaller associations are remarkably similar to our regional associations, with similar roles and challenges. It was interesting to hear their take on the industry as well as their report on the state of their associations. These leaders are looking to PPAI for input, as well—for example, there was a tremendous amount of interest in PPAI’s new Product Safety Awareness program.

If I could have the best of both worlds, outside The PPAI Expo, of course, I would take the look of the PSI Show and the feel of the PPPC National Convention. The sleek designs and trade-show stand presentations, coupled with solid conversations with new and old partners alike, would make for a valuable trade show experience.

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