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Exhibitors single-handedly serve as actors, stage managers, directors, playwrights, producers, understudies, accountants, and janitors. So where's the applause?
This month, blogger Bob Milam wrote an installment of Trade Show Bob comparing the elements of a Broadway show to the components of an exhibit-marketing program. As I read it, I was reminded of watching a Cirque du Soleil production before getting a behind-the-scenes tour with a friend on the production's lighting team. What struck me most was the realization that the vast majority of audience members had no awareness of the immense amount of work that went on backstage. In fact, even those in the front row were only witness to a tiny portion of the effort it took to pull off the performance.

Like Milam, I see many similarities between show business and trade show business. But beyond the obvious correlations, I believe the sobering truth is that nobody (attendees, upper management, internal stakeholders) has any idea how much work goes on behind the scenes of a corporate face-to-face marketing program.

You've likely never received a pat on the back for properly filling out a bill of lading, never been praised for your ability to estimate total-show expenses, and never received an evaluation that commended you on your mastery of working with union labor. Rather, your performance is judged by the number of leads your program pulls in, or whether you went over budget – both of which are only minute measures of a job well done.

This isn't entirely management's fault. As people migrate up the chain of command, they tend to lose touch with the reality of what worker bees below them actually endure in order to execute their visions.

And unlike Broadway, where a literal village comes together to pull off every performance and master every matinee, exhibitors single-handedly serve as actors, stage managers, directors, playwrights, producers, understudies, accountants, and janitors. So where's the applause? My point is that this is can be a thankless job. Because your co-workers don't truly understand your role and the demands that are placed on you, they can't possibly appreciate your ability to move exhibit-marketing mountains every day of the week. And while some of your tasks may seem insignificant to many of your colleagues, they are as important as box offices and ticket takers.

So what's the solution? I suspect a behind-the-scenes tour might be in order. If members of the C-suite have never attended one of your shows, invite them along. And make sure that they see not only your exhibit, but also your pre-show training sessions, as well as installation and/or dismantle. If that's not an option, invite them to a post-show debrief, where you provide an overview of the event, note any successes, and specifically point out the unseen activity that helped everything run smoothly. Consider including photos of your booth space throughout the I&D process, or images of the show floor before, during, and after the event. The more holistic a view you can give these stakeholders, the better they'll understand what you do and deal with on a daily basis.

You can't fault your boss or upper management for not appreciating all of your invisible efforts if you've never taken the time to explain them. Having said that, it's not likely this newfound insight will prompt your CEO to hang a star on your cubicle. But the simple awareness that there's more going on behind the curtain than one realizes is sometimes enough to engender increased respect.

Every Cirque show I've seen since my backstage experience has been enhanced by the knowledge that there are a billion tiny duties executed by an army of individuals. And maybe if others realized there's more to your job than meets attendees' eyes, you'd earn yourself a standing ovation. E


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