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Rules of the Road
Long before the term "mobile marketing" was synonymous with smartphones, the phrase referred to road shows that traversed the country's highways and byways. From Doctors Without Borders to the United States Army, and from Legos to L'eggs, organizations and companies continue to deploy these exhibits on wheels to increase awareness of their products and services via face-to-face marketing in buyers' backyards.

But if you're considering a similar strategy, there are some best practices you need to know. Here, David Varady, chief marketing officer of EEI Global Inc.; Paul Duffy, executive vice president of client services and agency operations for Next Marketing Inc.; Bill Victory, mission specialist with Spevco Inc.; Ben Hindman, CEO of Splash; and Tom Harper, vice president of sales, marketing, and business development for Kentucky Trailer's Michigan Division, offer advice that will keep your road show from hitting a speed bump. By Charles Pappas

Drive Time
The Department of Transportation (DOT) sets strict rules and regulations for the length of time drivers can be behind the wheel for a road show. "They can drive a maximum of 11 hours (including breaks and any vehicle inspections)," says Bill Victory, "but only after they've had 10 consecutive hours off duty." For more information, Victory recommends checking the DOT website at www.fmcsa.dot.gov. Once there, search for "hours of service summary" for more in-depth information on the topic.

Permission Granted
Many cities require special permits for the various elements that often comprise a road show, which include everything from parking to event tents, food, seating, and perhaps entertainment, too. With that in mind, David Varady cautions that acquiring the necessary permits can entail lengthy application procedures that need to be initiated well ahead of time.

"Optimally, it's best to allow at least four to six weeks for wading through the red tape of obtaining the necessary permits for each stop," he says.

The Staff of Life
There are few things as important as permanent staff members in making sure that a mobile-marketing exhibit offers a consistent experience at every stop along the way. Marketers should have at least two staff members who are present throughout the tour and can train any local staffers while keeping the aforementioned consistency. Allow a minimum of one hour to train on-site staffers who are working only one or two particular stops along your route. Be sure, however, that the coaching consists of something more than just memorizing a list of dos and don'ts. "One of the most effective training methods," says Paul Duffy, "is to have staffers take turns role-playing as both staff and visitors so they can then understand an attendee's point of view. This will help them anticipate visitors' needs and foresee their reactions better."

Breaking Up
Most staffers on road shows take one 30-minute lunch or dinner break, as well as two additional 15-minute breaks throughout the day. Duffy notes that timetable may not work with mobile exhibits whose traffic patterns are volatile and therefore recommends a more flexible schedule if needed. "If there are prolonged slow periods," he says, "combine break times during the down periods so the staff is fresh and available during the busy times." For instance, if state labor laws allow, give staffers a single one-hour break instead of three shorter ones to maximize their ability to be on site and energized to handle increased traffic.

It's a Setup
While the setup time for any mobile exhibit hinges on factors such as the size of its footprint and number of staffers and other personnel, it's important to know that the prep time for road shows of any size will generally decrease with the subsequent setups that occur. "Exhibitors can routinely count on a 25-percent reduction in setup time after three or four iterations," Victory says. That means a two-hour setup in the beginning will shrink by 25 percent to roughly 90 minutes by the fourth or fifth stop along the tour.

Play It Cool
If the road show's activities take place inside a semitrailer, the crush of visitors' bodies within such a relatively small space can generate heat like a sauna. To keep the temperature from reaching stovetop levels, Ben Hindman endorses a cooling-off period – literally. "Drop the temp to 64 degrees a few hours before the doors open," he says. "Initially it will be chilly, but the temperature will rise to exactly the right level as the event goes on and more people come in."

Traffic Stops
One aspect of road shows that marketers often overlook is adjusting time lines based on the commuting patterns of their intended audiences. Hindman finds that much of Los Angeles, for instance, empties out during the workweek by 7 p.m. Thus, he says, "Holding a weekday event past that time in LA might leave your road show looking more like a ghost town." For another example, scores of New Yorkers rely on public transportation. If a mobile exhibit is a considerable walking distance from subway and bus stops or doesn't offer convenient parking, Hindman advocates partnering with Uber or Lyft to offer exclusive discount codes for attendees.

Central Park
Often, a road show needs to set up in locations where adequate parking for visitors is secondary to another priority, such as being close to an important client's headquarters. If that's the case, Tom Harper suggests an out-of-the-box solution. "Survey the surrounding area for parking lots you can rent," he says. "Then come up with a plan that could include buses, vans, or shuttles to transport attendees to and from the parking area to the event."

Learn Notice
The best road shows tend to tweak their exhibits regularly, shedding approaches that don't work and adding ones that do. "To accomplish that," Duffy says, "schedule pre- and post-event meetings with staff to capture their feedback." Insightful input from the staffers on the front lines can often allow exhibitors to evolve and improve the road show on the fly.

Maintaining Appearances
Few things can bring a road show to a halt quicker than vehicles that are not routinely serviced. Victory urges consistent vehicle maintenance based on the number of miles driven. "Plan on vehicles receiving a full day of maintenance service at least once every 10,000 miles," Victory says. Taking your vehicle off the road for service may cost you a full day, but it will pay dividends down the road by preventing significant lost time and missed events due to any number of preventable malfunctions.

Supply and Demand
Among the most common supplies mobile marketers stock up on before hitting the road are duct tape, zip ties, hook-and-loop fastener, permanent markers, scissors, power strips, and extension cords. But Duffy notes one item that's often understocked: traffic cones. He recommends purchasing a hefty supply of them, as they will need to be set around the vehicle at each stop. "Since these are often lost or stolen," Duffy says, "bring at least 10 with you to ensure you'll always have a sufficient number on hand."

Ride Share
A road show can be an expensive proposition, so marketers should be on the lookout for ways to minimize its financial impact on their department. "One way is to repurpose the vehicle for company events such as training, employee recognition, corporate celebrations, and so on," Harper says. By taking that approach, costs can be spread out over several departments' budgets within the organization.

Payback is a Hitch
Whether marketing is motionless or mobile, it always needs some form of return on investment to quantify its effectiveness. Harper suggests a twofold approach to ROI measurement. "First, talk to the various stakeholders before the road show even begins to reach a consensus on how to measure the effort's success," he says. That way, upper management can't blindside marketers later on by asking for a metric no one anticipated. "Next, suggest metrics that particularly reflect a road show's accomplishments," Harper says. "These could include total number of visitors, key clients in attendance, or C-level attendees, as well as the number of requests for quotes or sales closed on site or immediately after each stop on the route." E

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