ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
We need additional booth staffers for upcoming shows. What questions should I ask a temporary-staffing agency to ensure we find the right personnel?
As an exhibit manager, you've likely invested a ton of time and money into planning your exhibit-marketing program. You certainly don't want to throw a wrench into the works by filling your booth with unqualified or ineffective staffers. So finding the right staffing firm is critical to the success of your program. As you search for a staffing agency, then, consider asking the following five questions to ensure the firm and its employees are a good fit for your exhibiting program's needs.
1. What percentage of your clients are trade show exhibitors?
Exhibit-staffing needs are different from not only traditional staffing requirements but also from those of other event or marketing experiences. That is, exhibits require a whole different skill set than, say, marketing activities at a concert, festival, or pop-up shop. You want to hire an agency that understands the unique challenges of exhibit marketing, has working and payment processes in place that cater to exhibiting scenarios, and has acquired myriad temporary employees that can meet these unique needs.
2. How do you train your staffers to work effectively in exhibits in general, and how would you train them to specifically address my program's needs?
You wouldn't send your own employees to a trade show without training them first, so an agency should never send out temporary staffers without carefully preparing them beforehand. Even if you just need a pretty face to hand out fliers, the brain behind the face needs to understand the ins and outs of exhibiting, the dos and don'ts of exhibit staffing, and a little bit about your firm and what you offer. So if you ask a staffing agency about training and hear nothing but crickets, you're probably talking to the wrong firm. Also note that many agencies offer broad exhibit-staff training via a webinar, Skype, or live presentations. Consider attending or viewing one to assess the quality of training and to possibly provide the agency with feedback as to how to tweak the session so it's customized to your company or brand. Bottom line: You want an agency that takes staff education very seriously and will go the extra mile to ensure your staffers are ready to meet the demands of your job and environment the minute they step foot onto the show floor.
3. Can I get a list of current and past clients?
You want to contact not only current happy customers, but also those who have cut ties with the company. Certainly, some past clients might have an unfair ax to grind, but you need a mix of positive and negative responses to get a decent sense of the quality of service you can expect from this firm. Also pay attention to the length of time each client has been with (or previously stayed with) the agency. Are the agency's customers all one-and-done clients? Or do at least some of them have long-standing relationships, which typically are a result of continued quality service and professionalism.
4. What percentage of your agency's exhibit-staffing professionals are repeat hires?
This query is important because the more repeat hires the agency has on its roster, the more experience those individuals will have in the exhibit environment – and thus, the more comfortable and skilled they likely will be in your booth. These experienced folks will often be more engaged in their work and do a better job for you and your team. Plus, some will consider themselves exhibit-staffing experts, making them more invested in their performance and in delivering quality service.
5. Do you have satellite offices or key partners in other cities that operate under the same principles as your firm?
The trade shows at which you exhibit probably aren't all held in the same city, so you likely need staffers in locations ranging from Las Vegas to Poughkeepsie, NY. Even if most of your shows are in a single locale, a rogue show might pop up on your calendar next year that requires temporary staffers. So it's important to know whether the staffing agency in question has partners or additional offices in various cities, or if you'll have to start this search all over again in a different locale.
After posing these questions to a few different staffing agencies, select the one that best fits your needs and with which you could most envision building a long-term relationship. If you take a few minutes to carefully research, question, and assess each potential firm, you'll be far more likely to find a partner that can provide carefully trained and highly effective exhibit staffers, giving your program the best chance of success.
— Claire Rathbun, director of operational effectiveness, Skye Agency, Dallas