ix years ago, I published an editorial about inspiration that cited author Jack London, who once wrote: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." The idea was simple. Sitting at your desk waiting for inspiration to strike is a little like sitting on your couch waiting for that beer gut to turn into abs.
But in the six years since I penned that editorial, most exhibit managers have been bruised and burnt out by a recession that robbed them of the time – and perhaps the motivation – to dust off their clubs and embark on the inspirational hunts London recommended. Many of today's marketers are so mired down in the logistics of simply getting the job done that inspiration is viewed as a luxury. Fortunately, my outlook on inspiration has evolved. I no longer believe one has to go hunting to find those elusive creative sparks, because I don't think they're all that elusive to begin with.
The 2014 Sizzle Award winners profiled in this issue are proof that sometimes the most creative ideas can come from readily accessible sources of unexpected inspiration.
The award-winning campaign for Global Experience Specialists Inc. was inspired by "America's Got Talent." The creative spark ultimately translated into an arresting marriage of art and science that generated a 328-percent increase in leads.
Similarly, Polk Audio increased the number of in-booth product demos via an innovative concept inspired by "Live From Daryl's House," a television show that originated as a series of webisodes featuring singer/songwriter Daryl Hall. And American Express Open took inspiration from competition-style reality shows such as "The Voice" and "Project Runway," leading to an award-winning traffic builder that boosted in-booth applications for the company's credit cards.
Not all inspiration comes from pop culture, of course. Gilson Graphics dreamed up a deli-themed campaign by likening its customizable services to the optional toppings on a sub-style sandwich. And that program netted a 137-percent jump in leads. Granted, none of the aforementioned sources of inspiration represented obvious applications to trade show exhibiting.
Each creative spark required an open-minded individual to nurture those inspirational embers into red-hot Sizzle Award-winning campaigns. But the hunt itself need not be intentional. The GES employee who watched that episode of "America's Got Talent" wasn't actively in search of inspiration. The pursuit was passive. It was the act of turning that unexpected spark into an actionable idea that required intentional effort.
Take Deckel & Moneypenny Exhibits' award-winning cupcake-decorating promotion. Design director Steve Deckel derived inspiration from a speaker-training session where a comment by organizational psychologist Dan Lumpkin prompted him to turn his company's 10-by-10-foot exhibit into a mini bakery serving up custom-decorated cupcakes. Lumpkin never suggested distributing baked goods to attendees at a trade show, nor did he even mention the word "cupcake." But because Deckel was open-minded enough to spot and seize an ember of inspiration, a happenstance comment became a Venn diagram, which matured into a booth theme, and manifested itself into a promotion that blew the company's pre-show goals out of the water.
Inspiration is omnipresent, but in order to capitalize on it, you must be mindful enough to see the sparks in the first place – and willing to put in the effort and energy it takes to fan the creative flames. So the next time you're looking for inspiration, just open your eyes. The sparks you see might start a smoldering inferno of Sizzle Award-worthy ideas.