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Art Meets Science
The orb drum and accompanying instruments that form the Earth Harp Collective represented the perfect blend of art and science to punctuate Global Experience Specialists Inc.'s theme.

photos: Global experience specialists inc.
Musical Genius
Global Experience Specialists Inc. creates the perfect blend of art and science to strike a chord with attendees, boosting leads by 328 percent and scoring 500 new fans and followers.
By Cynthya Porter
Exhibitor: Global Experience Specialists Inc.
Creative/Production: Global Experience Specialists Inc., Chicago, 630-307-2400, www.ges.com
Budget: $150,000 – $199,000
• Increase leads by 100 percent compared to EXHIBITOR2013.
• Improve the open rate of post-show mailings by 10 percent.
• Attract at least 200 new fans and followers on social-media channels.
• Boosted the number of leads collected by 328 percent.
• Grew the open rate of post-show mailings by 14 percent.
• Garnered a total of 500 new fans and followers on Facebook
and Twitter.
cientific study, in all its quantifiable glory, has preoccupied great minds since the inception of civilization. It's considered to be the key to understanding and affecting the human condition. Art, though, has long been eschewed by technical sorts as having a je ne sais quoi that picks up where science leaves off, but has no measurable influence on the universe.

Imagine the surprise of modern researchers, then, when they discovered that some arts – particularly music – have the power to affect living things in a way science can barely understand. Music can prompt flowers to bloom, make athletes stronger, and even change a human heartbeat.It can alter our perception of time, soothe pain, and provoke trance-like states. The crux of music's power centers on its ability to generate emotion, scientists believe, and harnessing that influence can create a potent tool in a marketer's arsenal.

Global Experience Specialists Inc. is an event-marketing firm that has long promoted the commingling of art and science to its trade show clients. To practice what it was preaching, GES put the aural power of music to the test in a huge way for EXHIBITOR2014, building its display around a provocative musical performance unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

Show and Tell
In the trade show industry, where inducing meaningful engagement is paramount for a successful exhibiting program, merging the art of eliciting emotion into the science of executing an exhibition takes on special hues of importance. All of the industry's best technology and measurement tools are wasted without a hook that engages, and the most emotionally compelling displays will drift from memory without a scientifically devised message to anchor the experience.

GES has long worked to combine art and science into events that generate engagement for clients says Gina McDuffie, senior vice president of marketing at GES. But she concedes that the company had not done a good job articulating its capabilities and, over time, became better known for its technical execution than its artistic mastery. "We know that engagement is about combining technology with human emotions, and we were already offering what people wanted, but we were not putting our message together well," McDuffie says. "We needed to do something different."

Early in 2014, GES developed a new marketing tagline – GES: The Art and Science of Engagement – to state the company's principles in unequivocal terms. The new branding platform was set to be unveiled at EXHIBITOR2014, the face-to-face marketing industry's premier trade show for exhibit and event managers. But creating a slogan to convey the company's message, McDuffie says, wasn't going to be enough. "At EXHIBITOR2014, we wanted to show that we could bring art and science together for engagement. We wanted to make people feel."

The Masterpiece
The undeniable focal point of the 20-by-30-foot booth experience was the massive earth harp, which had 45-foot strings fastened to the convention-center ceiling.

Nothing Ventured
By chance, a member of McDuffie's team spied the perfect vehicle for the art and science message while watching the TV show "America's Got Talent." Performing on that episode was William Close and the Earth Harp Collective – a group using fantastical instruments invented by Close to create music. The centerpiece of the ensemble was a harp with strings that ran from the floor to the ceiling of the venue, and as McDuffie and her colleagues watched the replay of the performance, they were breathless. Turning a venue into an instrument and then using it to create music was the perfect confluence of art and science to punctuate the new GES tagline, they thought. But the group questioned whether they could actually pull it off. "It felt like a long shot," McDuffie says, "and we wondered if we could really partner with that group and get show management to let us run harp strings to the ceiling. But if we're not doing something that makes us a little uncomfortable, then we're not doing enough. We had to try."
"If we're not doing
something that
makes us a little
then we're not
doing enough. We
had to try."

Close agreed to bring his performance to the GES booth, but to do so would mean running harp strings from a base in the booth up 45 feet and attaching them to the ceiling. GES upgraded its display size from 20-by-20 feet to 20-by-30 feet to reduce the amount of harp that would extend past its footprint, but it still had to contend with a portion of the strings reaching into another exhibit's air space. When approached about the setup, show organizers vowed to make it work.

To accommodate the earth harp and minimize potential disruption for other exhibitors, it moved GES to the back of the hall and positioned another exhibitor without ceiling rigging next to it.

Setting the Bar
With the logistics managed, GES sent out an email two and a half weeks before the show to tease attendees. "When art meets science, does it make a sound?" the email's text asked. The missive went on to invite attendees to visit the GES display for a "one-of-a-kind experience that will have the Mandalay Bay Convention Center buzzing."

GES sent another email 10 days before the show, this one to VIPs. Considering the entertainment it had in store for booth visitors, the GES team was not shy about making big promises. "EXHIBITOR2014: Art meets Science. And nothing will ever be the same," read the email's headline. "We promise an experience that will rock your world," added GES in the copy below, unabashedly setting a high bar for what recipients could expect.

A GES press release issued two days before the start of EXHIBITOR2014 revealed that William Close and the Earth Harp Collective would be performing inside the exhibit, and that attendees would have the opportunity to try their hands at the earth harp and other instruments. The press release also announced a contest in which a professional photographer would snap pics of attendees as they sampled the instruments and upload them to the GES Facebook page. The person in the photo receiving the most likes would win $250; plus, GES would also give $250 to a charity of the winner's choice.

Seductively Simple
GES designed its entire exhibit space to be a listening lounge of sorts, with Close and his ensemble occupying a circular stage that extended across the back of the booth, and wide benches and chairs spread across the floor in front of it. McDuffie's team called it the "unbooth," she says, for its lack of traditional trade show trappings such as kiosks, walls, and overhead graphics. Instead, it was left as open as possible to create an unstructured area where people could relax.

To promote an open feel and focus attention with pinpoint precision, the exhibit concentrated graphics and LED monitors only in the back of the space in the area of the stage. Two towering 20-by-3-foot banners flanked the stage to the left. A blue one simply stated, "There is an art to engagement," and a matching green one read, "There is a science to engagement." The design was deliberately plain, McDuffie says, so as to deliver a singular message and not overwhelm the booth with info graphics. To the right of the stage, a hanging 20-by-6-foot LED screen scrolled information about the opportunity to try the harp after each performance and be entered in the contest to win $250. It used a background of similar hues, and every so often it flashed the words "art" and "science" to drive home the GES message.

In the center behind the stage, a massive 20-by-14-foot LED screen comprised more than 200 LED tiles and commanded the eye when the musicians were not playing. The screen ran footage of some of GES' work for clients and text about the company's capabilities. But when William Close and the Earth Harp Collective played, GES had something far more magical in store.

Leave Them Talking
When the exhibit hall opened, it didn't take attendees long to make their way to the back corner, following the faint trail of ethereal music from several aisles away.

The spectacle that greeted attendees as they came down the aisle toward the GES exhibit, however, was worthy of any special arrangements McDuffie had to make. On the stage, a slender man was plucking and caressing a spread of strings that fanned at an angle from a base on the stage to the ceiling over the neighboring exhibit. The deep timbres and delicate pitches he coaxed from the unusual instrument drifted through speakers, creating sounds that seemed to blend classical, New Age, and tribal styles into a mesmerizing strain. To his left, a man pounded drum

Center Stage
As attendees played the earth harp, a photographer snapped photos of them, which were then uploaded to Facebook. The person's photo with the most "likes" received $250 and GES donated $250 to a charity of that person's choice.

pads affixed to an orb that was hanging from the rafters overhead. To his right, a violinist fiddled a melody from an electric violin, and next to her, a singer cantillated haunting tones that rose and fell with the music.

During these presentations, the enormous center screen, once a predictable-looking montage of company information, displayed abstract, alternating scenes suggestive of clouds, snowflakes, and sparkling waterfalls that moved in motion with the music. Sporadically, the words "art and science" would appear embedded in the images or scroll across the screen, dramatic in their simplicity.

Attendees stood transfixed by the display, as if each pluck of the earth harp strummed a collective internal chord in the mass of bodies that had gathered. Many stood shamelessly slack-jawed with wonder clear on their faces, and no one moved, except for those who pulled out their cellphones to photograph and record video of the unexpected scene. As the performance wore on, more and more bodies crowded into the space to stand and stare, and everything else for 75 feet in that corner of the show hall ground to a complete halt. Sizzle Awards judges were impressed, especially given the nature of these particular attendees. "To get this audience of jaded exhibit managers to stop and become emotionally involved was quite a feat," one judge said.

The scene was repeated over and over at the top of each hour, and at the end of each performance, only wild applause broke the spell cast by the arresting experience. William Close finished each set with a few words about his extraordinary instruments, becoming the perfect pitchman for the importance of blending art with science.

"We didn't start
planning our
exhibit by talking
about four walls;
we started by
talking about
how we wanted
to make booth
visitors feel."

Hundreds clamored for a chance to stroke the strings of the earth harp, something judges felt was the key to this program's success. "The sound was no doubt cool, but being able to handle the strings created a much more personal, tactile, and therefore memorable experience," one judge said. It also provided ample time for GES staffers to mingle with waiting attendees and talk about how merging science and art could help their exhibiting programs, too. And it filled the GES Facebook page with more than 200 photos of booth visitors taking their turn at the one-of-a-kind instrument, something that promoted ongoing interaction with them well after the show.

The performances were no doubt disruptive to nearby exhibits, primarily because they all emptied as the earth harp lured attendees toward the stage. But by the end of the first day, neighboring exhibitors were thanking McDuffie for the dramatic presentation. Drawing a spot in the back of the room is usually considered an unlucky break for exhibitors, but the back corner of this exhibit hall was thick with traffic generated by the GES booth, and everyone exhibiting there benefitted from it over the course of the three-day show.

Duly Noted
By the show's end, it was clear that GES had delivered on its promise for a one-of-a-kind experience and achieved exhibiting greatness with its unconventional display. Attendees, and even other exhibitors, came back again and again to see William Close and the Earth Harp Collective in action, and the exhibit landed GES among the top 10 most tweeted Twitter handles under the show's hashtag. In addition, the exhibit earned GES the Best of Show Large Booth Award at EXHIBITOR2014.

But the pièce de résistance was that GES crushed its goals for engagement with attendees, something it was able to effectively measure by using an app that it customized to track every metric. The company attracted a total of 500 new fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter, besting its goal of 200 by 150 percent. And when it sent a post-show mailing to attendees with a link to a microsite where a recording of the performance could be viewed, it garnered a 60-percent open rate – up 14 percent from a similar missive the previous year.

It was the increase in the number of leads collected, however, that cemented the exhibit's status as legendary. When all the leads from EXHIBITOR2014 were tallied, GES had collected 278 of them, a jump of 328 percent over the 2013 show.

"We've been telling people that you need both art and science to engage attendees," McDuffie says, "but with this, we showed them how it can work, and there's no doubt they will remember it. We didn't start planning our exhibit by talking about four walls; we started by talking about how we wanted to make booth visitors feel. And when you begin with that question, you can create an exhibit that truly rocks their world."

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