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editorial




Be nice, be humble, pay attention, stay focused, don't take yourself too seriously, and to thine own brand be true.
ast month, I asked readers to submit their personal exhibit-marketing resolutions for 2013. Similarly, Diane Brady, a senior editor for Bloomberg Businessweek, invited CEOs, management consultants, and business leaders to suggest one resolution that would enhance readers' lives and careers in 2013.

What struck me, perhaps more than anything, was how their advice mirrored the same tutelage one might have received from a parent. The tenets could mostly be boiled down to the following: Be nice, be humble, pay attention, stay focused, don't take yourself too seriously, and to thine own self be true. No earth-shattering insight. No trends to follow, technologies to adopt, business books to read, or managerial principles to ascribe to. Certainly not the jaded advice or Six Sigma-type stuff you might expect from seasoned CEOs. Just subtle variations on lessons so elementary that we tend to forget about them.

It's almost as if we believe we outgrow those guiding principles as we climb the corporate ladder, possibly because old-school management mentality prioritized cut-throat competition over softer skills and open-door policies. But I can't help wondering whether the ideas extend beyond boardroom meetings and managerial best practices. Might they also be extrapolated to modern-day marketing in general, and face-to-face marketing in particular?

Consider the advice of those consultants and leaders in the context of a trade show booth. Frame them as directives on how to interact with attendees rather than co-workers and direct reports. Maybe it's just me, but the age-old, time-tested tenets seem both rudimentary and paradoxically revolutionary when viewed through a live-events looking glass. Be nice, be humble, pay attention, stay focused, don't take yourself too seriously, and to thine own self - or rather, to thine own brand - be true.

Imagine for a moment the tectonic shift these relatively simple ideas could have on your trade shows. How different would your program look if these concepts influenced the design of your exhibit, the content of your staff-training sessions, the hierarchy of your messaging, and more?

One of my favorite trade shows to cover is the National Stationery Show at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York. I used to think it was because the one-of-a-kind, brand-appropriate booths had so much more personality than the sleek corporate spaces and bland-as-tofu rentals I see at every other event. But I recently realized it has far more to do with the character of the show's exhibitors, many of whom are owner/operator small businesses.

When you walk the NSS aisles, staffers smile at you more than at any other show I've attended. And while I'm sure there are exceptions to my far-reaching generalization, they seem more polite, more attentive to attendees' varied needs, and more aware of their own roles and objectives. Every element of their exhibit programs is tightly integrated with a uniquely defined personality and corresponding aesthetic. And they are undeniably authentic.

I know that it's an entirely different beast to achieve that kind of cohesion and staffer ownership when you're managing a schedule of 250 shows for a Fortune 500 company. But the concept is worth considering. At best, we reinvigorate events by combating the anonymity of today's purchasing experience (largely driven by online shopping, procurement, self-service checkouts, and staffers more eager to scan a badge than engage in conversation). And at worst, we revisit our roots and perhaps become more respectful or levelheaded in 2013. As I see it, either scenario is a win.

Simple advice is not always so simple to heed, but I resolve to give it a shot. You should too.e
Travis Stanton, editor;
tstanton@exhibitormagazine.com
@StantonTravis
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