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Village People
It takes a village
to raise a child,
but it also takes
a village to turn
exhibit-marketing
aspirations
into reality.
arlier this year, I had the honor of speaking at the International Federation of Exhibition and Event Services 2013 World Summit in Cape Town, South Africa. While enduring a long flight delay at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, I encountered an African proverb printed on a wall near my gate: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

When I pondered the concept, I realized that it took nothing short of a global effort to get me safely to Cape Town to deliver my presentation in the first place. If I'd never been introduced to IFES by past president Larry Kulchawik, the opportunity might never have presented itself. Had I not met with Justin Hawes of South African exhibit firm Scan Display Solutions Pty. Ltd. or Gloria Guevara of Belgium-based Congrex at the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association's annual Access conference and EXHIBITOR2013, respectively, that opportunity surely wouldn't have come to fruition. And if it weren't for countless others who assisted with visa issues, international travel, etc., the trip might still have happened, but would have been infinitely more difficult.

After spending three days with more than 100 exhibit and event professionals representing approximately 30 different nations, that African proverb elicited something of an epiphany. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to turn exhibit-marketing aspirations into reality — and when those dreams involve overseas trade shows, it often takes several villages.

The problem is, of course, that two-thirds of face-to-face marketers work in departments of three or fewer employees. And while two's company and three's a crowd, neither represents much of a village. So what's an exhibit manager to do? Well, if you're not lucky enough to have your own pre-established village, you need to assemble one yourself.

First, take stock of your internal stakeholders. Just as you don't get to pick your family members, these people are part of your village whether you like it or not. Second, identify any internal evangelists — you know, the people within your organization who "get it" and recognize the value of what you do. When you need help, you're more likely to get it from them than from someone who doesn't understand or believe in the power of your program.

From there, you need to evaluate your external team members and ask yourself whether those players are partners or mere suppliers. Granted, not all exhibit managers have the luxury of hand-picking their exhibit houses, promotional-product vendors, transportation companies, etc. And while attributes such as loyalty and trustworthiness are essential when assembling a village, they don't often score highly on procurement's priority list. But to return to our child-rearing comparison for a moment, how many parents choose daycare providers based solely on hourly rates, without weighing reputation and reliability pretty heavily in that equation?

If your hands are completely tied, and your villagers aren't committed to your cause, seek comradery elsewhere.

Join exhibits advisory committees for the trade shows you attend. Mingle with neighboring exhibitors during install. And look for associations or exhibit-industry organizations where you can start building a network and support system.

Nobody ever accomplished anything great on their own, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or oblivious to the role others played. In today's interconnected world, no man is an island, and no exhibitor is entirely alone. But if you refuse to identify and assemble a village, you're unlikely to go fast or far — and even if you do, nobody will be there to see it.

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