arlier this year, I was invited to speak at the International Federation for Exhibition and Event Services (IFES) World Summit in New Delhi. What I love most about any opportunity to see the international side of our industry up close is learning about the cultural norms and logistical processes of exhibiting in various parts of the globe. Some of those differences are subtle, others shocking.
Admittedly, I have a nasty tendency to think the American way is the best way. It's hard to see dusty convention centers that are deplorable by western standards and not long for McCormick Place. It's tough to see cows walking through outdoor exhibition spaces and plopping down for a little rest and relaxation without cringing. And it's difficult to see laborers installing exhibits using methods that would make an OSHA rep go into cardiac arrest without asking oneself if union labor just might be worth the upcharge and occasional hassle.
But whenever I encounter one of those cringe-worthy differences between exhibiting domestically and doing so in another part of the globe, I try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to draw a direct comparison to how things are done in the United States. Larry Kulchawik, past president of IFES, is famous for saying that while there are many strange nuances to exhibiting in various parts of the world, none of them are wrong, just different.
Having said that, exhibiting internationally is a minefield of potential pitfalls. And India in particular presents several unique challenges that exhibitors familiar with the American model must be aware of in order to be successful. For instance, since most Indian venues have no troughs or drop points for plumbing and electrical, it is difficult (although not impossible) to obtain those services. Because palletizing isn't common, preparing your shipment for transit entails its own unique challenges. Furthermore, a lack of dedicated freight storage and delivery yards within close proximity of Indian convention centers adds yet another hazard on top of an already daunting logistical obstacle course. As such, it's not unusual for American exhibit managers to witness their first setup in India, and wonder whether the show can possibly open on time.
But according to Sanjay Kapur of India-based exhibit house Studio 360, Indians know that the show must go on. And it always does. Kapur credits this to a little thing he calls "jugaad," a Hindi word that roughly equates to the idea of being able to improvise, adapt, and deliver despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Regardless of what might appear to be a chaotic, messy, frantic setup, the event will open on time, attendees will walk the aisles, and business will be done. Sure, the tasks on exhibitors' to-do lists might be accomplished differently than what we're used to. But with Kulchawik's maxim in mind, American exhibitors should focus less on the differences and more on getting the job done.
Whether you're exhibiting in India or Indiana, you are likely to encounter a few hiccups along the way. But despite the differences in how specific tasks are accomplished, exhibit managers, suppliers, and laborers the world over tackle trade show challenges with a similar, unrelenting resolve. Call it jugaad, call it chutzpah, or call it something else entirely.
The fact of the matter is, there are more commonalities than there are differences when it comes to international trade shows. Culture shock shouldn't derail an exhibit program, and if it does then you haven't done your due diligence. Adaptability is key to exhibiting overseas, but as long as you remain focused on your objectives and target audience, you'll likely find success – regardless of whether your crates arrive via a fleet of trucks or a convoy of rikshaws.