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For Better or Worse


Picking vendors with the most impressive portfolios won't prevent Murphy from making an appearance at your events.
Anyone who has worked in the industry for more than a moment knows that Murphy's Law is as applicable to trade shows and events as Newton's is to gravity. Anything that can go wrong will, and when it does, you're likely going to need Father Time's patience and Mother Teresa's resolve to formulate and implement a contingency plan. Still, after more than a decade's worth of exhibition-related experience, I'm often shocked by the spectrum of snafus encountered — and their uncanny ability to travel in packs.

Several months ago, I began planning my wedding. Given my industry background, I approached the task like any event pro worth his or her salt. I vetted more than 80 venues, conducted several site visits, and orchestrated every detail with precision. So you can imagine my surprise when, within the span of 24 hours (and less than 60 days before the big event), everything came crashing down like an ill-constructed exhibit.

First, our wedding planner unexpectedly quit. And within an hour or so, we received word that the venue promised to us had been given to another party. The one-two punch left us dizzy and bruised. We cycled through the seven stages of grief as we mourned the loss of our venue.

But just like an exhibit manager searching for a missing shipment, we began devising a plan of attack. We escalated the matter to individuals with the efficacy to solve our problem. We created contingency plans and reimagined our event in a new space. And we waited — and waited — for our team of seasoned wedding pros to resolve the issue.

What ensued in the next three weeks was a comedy of errors, but we weren't laughing. Ultimately, after 18 days of agonizing, we were finally offered what we felt was an adequate resolution and compensation for the inconvenience. But why did that resolution take so long? And what could I have done differently to prevent this from happening in the first place?

The sad fact of the matter is, whether you're overseeing an exhibit installation or orchestrating your own wedding, you'll inevitably encounter a hiccup or two at best, or a full-blown catastrophe at worst. And nine times out of 10, it's probably not going to be the result of your own errors. But in this case, I did make a mistake — even if it's not the one that created the sorry situation in the first place. My mistake was forgetting to invite Murphy to my wedding.

Instead of assuming that endless reams of spreadsheets and a slew of site visits would somehow serve as event-planning indulgences that might help me skirt hellfire on my way to holy matrimony, I should have anticipated Murphy and saved him a seat. If I'd done that, I might have placed less value on finding a venue with the perfect view, and allocated slightly more energy to identifying the property with the best team of troubleshooters.

The lesson for face-to-face marketers is that when selecting an exhibit house, vetting an AV firm, or choosing a promotional-products vendor, it might be worth looking beyond the design renderings, service fees, and past projects. Picking vendors with the most impressive portfolios won't prevent Murphy from making an appearance at your events. But if you also inquire about how potential partners have dealt with and overcome the countless unforeseen obstacles that can occur, you'll assemble a team more ready, willing, and able to proactively plan for and expeditiously resolve whatever problems you encounter.

The best laid plans of mice and men are still subject to Murphy's Law. But if we focus a little less on the superfluous details and a little more on assembling a superior team, we're infinitely more likely to find a loophole in Murphy's legality — and sidestep a lot of drama along the way. E


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