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fixing snafus
illustration: Regan Dunnick
In a Bind
It was at this very moment, gripping a hair dryer and surrounded by three-ring binders on the cold tile floor of my hotel bathroom, that I wondered aloud: Is this seriously what my life has come to?
Plan A
When preparing for a trade show or corporate event, it's natural to do some proactive troubleshooting. The majority of marketers have likely thought of what they'd do if their graphics got damaged or a staffer fell ill. But it's not always the usual suspects that foil our plans. Sometimes the tiniest details become seemingly insurmountable hurdles you couldn't see coming.

I learned that lesson the hard way while planning an exhibit for a client in the entertainment industry. In the weeks leading up to a key industry show, I was confident that this event was going to be a cake walk. After all, the exhibit was a turnkey rental, and I had been meticulous in double checking every detail. Plus, the company's objectives were laser-focused on 40 VIP clients and prospects, all of whom had prearranged in-booth meetings. My top priority, then, was to facilitate those meetings and make the VIPs feel like rock stars in the process.

I arrived on site in Las Vegas two days before the show with only a few items on my to-do list: confirm that our branded pens and literature had arrived on site, inspect the booth, and create 40 binders that would be given to the VIPs prior to their meetings. More than just generic information on our services, these binders would contain highly personalized briefs that I'd spent weeks developing. Each one-of-a-kind document had been created with that specific individual's demographics and psychographics in mind. Everything from the stock imagery to the services and benefit statements had been customized. The binders weren't just showpieces detailing the company's offerings; they were my babies. What's more, I had arranged for drivers to meet the 40 individuals at the airport and not only deliver them to the hotel in style, but also hand over their binders for them to review at their leisure in preparation for their on-site meetings.

While the contents had been color printed on high-quality paper and hole-punched before being shipped to the show, I was planning to buy the binders from an office-supply store in Vegas. So after checking on the booth setup, I hopped in my rental car and picked up the 1-inch black binders, which had clear plastic overlays that would allow me to slide a personalized cover sheet into each one.

Back at my hotel room, I tried to remove the retailer's label from the first binder's spine. I picked and picked at it, but every time I got my fingernail underneath the label, it tore before I could peel the whole thing off. I spent a good 10 minutes on the first one before moving on to binders two, three, and four. After roughly 35 minutes of unsuccessful attempts to remove a single label, my nerves were shot. So I went for a walk to clear my head and ran into three members of my client's booth staff. I explained my infuriating dilemma, and each offered their homemade hacks for removing stubborn labels. I returned to my room with a trio of action plans, determined to unstick those stickers.

First, I tried just barely lifting the edge of each label with my fingernail and then rolling it back slowly rather than trying to peel it off like a bandage. But the labels tore before I could get more than a millimeter removed. Next, I moistened each label with water before trying to rub it off with my fingers. That approach had moderate success, but it still left an unsightly mess of damp label bits and adhesive on each binder's spine.

Finally, I attempted a series of steps I was assured by one staffer would work. The plan was as follows: I would hold a blow dryer about an inch from each label for several minutes in an effort to melt the glue. Then, before the glue could dry, I would slide the edge of my hotel key card along the spine, wiping the label away. Since the only blow dryer available was the one tethered to the bathroom wall of my hotel room, I set up a makeshift station on the floor of the bathroom, where I tried – repeatedly – to melt the stickers off these binders. It was at this moment, gripping a hair dryer and surrounded by three-ring binders on the cold tile floor of my hotel bathroom, that I wondered aloud: Is this seriously what my life has come to?

I knew those binders needed to be finished by 8:00 the next morning, when a driver from the limo company would be picking them up in time for the first wave of VIP arrivals. And at this point, leaving the labels on the binders was not an acceptable solution, as hours of picking, peeling, moistening, and blow drying left most of them badly mangled.

So I finally gave up and hauled all 40 binders back to the office-supply store, intending to return or exchange them. But of course, the store was closed. I used Google Maps to locate a nearby 24-hour department store where I found comparable binders (with easily removable labels), but not nearly enough of them. I begged a benevolent customer-service rep to check if they had more in storage, but she came back empty-handed.

As I worked to hold back tears of utter frustration, the rep called a half-dozen other stores in the area to check their inventories. But even if I spent the next three hours pinballing from store to store, I still wouldn't have the 40 binders I needed. Eager to help, the rep tried removing the labels, and we even enlisted a bottle of Goo Gone. Nevertheless, the goo was not gone from a single one of the binders, and I was still in a pickle.

Plan B
Just then, I spotted a box cutter on a desk behind the customer service counter. After a rep handed it over, I carefully sliced the clear plastic overlay off the binder's spine. Voila! Exhilarated and relived, I jumped to my feet and hoisted it above my head victoriously. Because of the binder's construction, the overlay on the front and back covers remained intact, allowing me to still insert the personalized cover sheets while once and for all removing those damned labels.

Newly purchased box cutter in hand, I sped back to my hotel and cut the overlay off the spines of the remaining binders with the finesse of a sushi chef wielding a Yanagi knife. After putting the personalized pages in each binder, I set an alarm and fell asleep with my clothes on.

Ultimately, the show went off without a hitch, and my client was pleasantly surprised by how well those personalized binders went over with recipients. But of all the things that could have gone wrong at that event, I never would have guessed that binder labels would become my archnemesis. It just goes to show that try as we might, we simply cannot anticipate and prepare for every sticky situation we might encounter in the line of duty.

— Alan Landry, strategic consultant, Landry Consulting, Plymouth, MN

Send your Plan B exhibiting experiences to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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