Glenda Brungardt, a Diamond-level CTSM professional, is a global events manager at HP Inc., where she is responsible for all facets of the company's strategic trade shows and events. Brungardt strives to identify and drive economies of scale to generate revenue, increase productivity, and help improve HP's marketing investment. With nearly 30 years of industry experience, she has received countless industry awards and accolades, spoken at numerous conferences, and served on many exhibiting advisory panels and committees.
Companies with as much clout and staying power as Hewlett-Packard Co., the predecessor of HP Inc., don't owe their accomplishments to sheer luck. In fact, some might say that their success and stamina have less to do with hard work and more to do with the smart work of a few gifted employees.
Glenda Brungardt, CTSM, a global events manager at HP, is one of the firm's brilliant workers, and some might say a covert weapon. Since joining the company in 1977, she has accrued nearly 30 years of trade show and corporate event experience, during which time she's served on countless industry councils and has managed events for almost every business unit at HP. Clearly, this marketing maven has pretty much seen it all – and has developed her own set of best practices in the process.
That's why EXHIBITOR sat down with Brungardt to ferret out some of her secrets. While her expertise ranges from exhibit design to messaging hierarchy, one often-overlooked tactic in her arsenal quickly came to the forefront of the discussion: cultivating and leveraging relationships with show management. Here, Brungardt offers her insights as to why and how smart exhibitors can draw upon this underrated relationship and take advantage of the numerous value-adds and marketing freebies these foes turned friends can offer.
EXHIBITOR Magazine: Many exhibit managers take an adversarial stance with show management. Why are show reps often seen as the enemy, and why does this perception need to change?
Show-management firms have gotten a bad rap. Somewhere along the line, exhibitors began viewing them as evil entities that sell floor space at astronomical prices, gouge them with drayage fees, and then set them adrift amid a sea of general-contractor sharks to fend for themselves. In effect, show-management reps became the smarmy used-car salespeople of the trade show world.
While it's certainly possible that this was a well-deserved characterization in the past – and I've run into my fair share of slimy salespeople who didn't give two hoots about me or my business – this bad rap is mostly undeserved. Given the multitude of shows and events and the current economy that demands effective business practices driven by win-win relationships, things have changed considerably.
Now perhaps more than ever, show management needs your business, as there's a real risk of you taking it to another show or developing your own user conference or corporate event to take its place. Reps have become acutely aware that you're the customer and that they're responsible for delivering enough benefits, over and above the show-floor concrete, to retain your business. As such, today's show-management reps are highly trained marketing and events-industry professionals, most of whom understand that if exhibitors aren't happy, their shows – and their jobs – can go poof. At least to some degree, they realize that their responsibilities don't end the minute you sign on the dotted line.
EM: More often than not, however, exhibitors expect very little from show management, aside from the aforementioned concrete and maybe a little promotional assistance. What else can show-management reps offer?
Show management is a storehouse of industry information. First, most reps have their fingers on the pulse of the industry. For example, they know what products are trending – and which ones are waning. Certainly, this type of information can help you position your products in the best light possible at the show, but you can also share it with your company's research-and-development team and ensure your exhibit-marketing program provides yet another deliverable to your firm.
Second, reps can offer a plethora of data about attendees, including everything from demographics to purchasing power and buying plans. Show managers should also be able to provide insight into past exhibitor-related praise and complaints, general show-floor traffic patterns and hot spots, show activities that may steal traffic from the exhibit floor (e.g., sessions, awards presentations, etc.), and attendees' post-show communication preferences and buying tendencies. You can then use all of this data to craft a more effective exhibit-marketing strategy for the show.
The number of value-adds you can obtain is in direct correlation to the quality of the relationship you've developed with show management.
Granted, all of this attendee info is of much greater value if the show has been audited. And not surprisingly, I'm a huge proponent of audits. After all, your company's advertising team wouldn't think of buying ad space from a publication without audited data, yet exhibitors are expected to purchase floor space with no real metrics about the attendees. And unless exhibitors start to demand audits, 10 years from now we'll still be exhibiting in the dark with one arm tied behind our backs. But, I digress. The point is that whether or not the show is audited, reps should have plenty of attendee-related information at their fingertips.
Finally, show management is a treasure trove of info about your competitors. Certainly, ethical reps won't spill the beans about secret product announcements or under-wraps reveals. But prior to the show, they can certainly tell you where your competitors' booths will be located in relation to yours, if key rivals have dropped out or downsized, whether adversaries have obtained any variances for structures that might somehow interfere with your plans, and perhaps even the scheduled times for competitors' prominent presentations or reveals.
EM: It seems that show reps also hold the reins when it comes to prime floor space and variances. What type of exceptions can they provide, and how best should you approach them?
If you're stuck with a crappy booth space, your first call should be to your show rep. He or she can put you on the wait list for space openings, such as those that occur when an exhibitor cancels its contract, merges with another firm or into another exhibit, or simply goes out of business. And if you've developed a relationship with your rep, he or she can probably give you some insight into the chances of a better space becoming available, provide tips for making the most of the location you've got, and offer guidance for securing a better locale next year.
And while the person that sold you the concrete may not be the one to actually grant you a variance, as various officials and contractors might have the final say, he or she is still the first person to contact. Assuming that you've developed a rapport with your rep, he or she will often go to bat for you, increasing your chances of success. These requested exceptions can include everything from changing your targeted inbound freight times and securing a blended drayage rate to permitting you to erect a structure or hanging sign that exceeds the show's stated height restrictions.
I should add that the amount of free stuff and number of value-adds you can obtain are in direct correlation to the quality of the relationship you've developed with show management. If you only call your reps to purchase space or complain about attendance, chances are they see you as either an anonymous exhibitor or a pain in the patootie – neither of which will get you much help. If, on the other hand, you get to know your reps, offer them constructive criticism, pay your bills on time, and develop a genuine connection, you'll greatly increase your chances of gaining extra info and assistance. I'm not saying you need to send elaborate gifts during the holidays or turn every conversation into a schmooze fest. But to establish a real relationship, you need to do something, anything, over and above signing a space contract once a year.
EM: Information and variances are a great start, but aren't there some free promotional opportunities that show management can provide?
If the show draws a sizeable attendee base year after year, chances are that somebody in the back office knows a thing or two about promotion. (And if the show fails to draw a host of attendees, it's probably a moot point, as you should consider exhibiting elsewhere.) So tap into that knowledge and to the myriad promotional resources already available to exhibitors. If you simply call up your rep, discuss your goals, and ask about free promotional avenues, you'll probably be amazed by the multiple opportunities that you've overlooked or undervalued.
In terms of pre-show promos, ask how to get your company's name, product news, URL, and logo into the show's existing promotional channels, such as bulletins, newsletters, email blasts, online videos, websites, etc. Also inquire about free or discounted exhibit-hall passes that you can distribute to your own clients and prospects, along with special VIP seating passes for keynote sessions or those educational offerings hosted by your company's presenters. More likely than not, the show will be thrilled to have additional attendees, even if it means comping some show-floor visitors or making special seating arrangements.
A rep that is only interested in making his or her sales quota is a detriment to every single exhibitor.
Also see if there are ways to generate additional visibility and product awareness and to foster the perception of your firm as an industry leader. For example, are there free speaking opportunities for sessions or on-floor educational forums? Might you be able to co-sponsor a webinar or online educational seminar for attendees? Is there a way to make your company more visible in the show directory? Are there booth- or product-related awards or showcases you can enter? And what about training and marketing education? Some shows offer free staff-training workshops, measurement seminars, and overall marketing-education classes. A little knowledge can improve your program not only for this show but also for the foreseeable future.
Finally, ask about ways your company can promote the show and further your burgeoning give-and-take relationship. For example, are you hosting a killer product demo that might make for a good Facebook Live post for the show? Do you have activities planned in the booth that might be great for a video feed or even just some tweetable content? Are there show hashtags or links you can add to your outgoing communications to help promote the show? Bottom line: Consider how your planned activities might be leveraged by the show's public-relations team, which could be a promotional win for all involved.
EM: What assistance or add-ons can show management provide when it comes to sponsorships?
If you sit down with show reps and explain your goals and budget, they can often match your needs to available sponsorships. They might even be able to adapt an existing sponsorship to fit your goals or work with you to craft a whole new promotional endeavor that's specifically tailored to address your exhibiting objectives.
In addition, many reps will give you the inside track on which companies typically purchase which sponsorships, what packages might be discounted if not purchased by a specific date, and what deals are currently in the works. All of this data can help you better plan your promotional budget and strategy.
Keep in mind, though, that when it comes to sponsorships, each management team is an entirely different animal. I've seen some dig in their heels and only allow the existing sponsorships to be sold at top-dollar pricing. But I've also seen firms go out of their way to adapt existing opportunities or invent completely new strategies to better serve exhibitors with specific needs.
EM: So what's the best way to approach show management and to secure these opportunities for your program?
Show-management reps are just as busy as you are, so while most are happy to assist exhibitors, they're probably not going to volunteer for the privilege to do so. But if you do two simple things – ask questions and foster relationships – reps will likely deliver in spades.
The old tenet is as true in exhibit marketing as it is in personal relationships: You'll never get what you want unless you ask for it. Show-management reps aren't mind readers, and they have no idea what each exhibitor is looking for in the way of info, promotions, etc. It's up to you to ask for everything from variances to VIP promotional suggestions. Granted, show reps can't always deliver exactly what your heart desires, but they'll definitely give you a big nothing if they have no clue what you need. Plus, once armed with your wish list, reps can keep an eye out for ways to meet your demands in the future.
To borrow another relationships tenet, the best way to keep your love alive is to always keep the lines of communication open. Unless your rep is sending you signals to the contrary, it can't hurt to check in with him or her at least a few times a year to inquire about new opportunities, floor-space changes, fresh promotions or sponsorships coming down the pipe, and more. Again, don't pester. But once you've established contact with your rep, don't risk sliding back into "anonymous exhibitor" territory. It's far worse than the friend zone.
EM: Let's say you're Bud's Shoe Repair, as opposed to HP. If Bud drops out of the show, management probably doesn't bat an eye. If HP bails, all hell breaks loose. Are folks like Bud less likely to gain free stuff, or is that just another stereotype?
If show management is worth anything, then losing Bud is as bad as losing HP. That's because the little guys usually comprise 80 percent of the exhibits on the show floor, and only 20 percent of exhibitors are typically big anchor companies. So that 80 percent brings in a big chunk of show revenue, and any show management team worth its salt will be truly concerned if one little guy wants to bail. Smart show-management teams see Bud as the canary in the coal mine.
From my view here at HP, anytime a little guy leaves due to show management's actions or lack thereof, I'm concerned – not only because it brings the show's shortcomings to light but also because these little guys are part of my industry as a whole. Often, Bud and others like him are HP partners that supply parts, components, or services in the workflow in which our products are also used. So if the 80 percent start to vanish, the anchors will take notice and may start to pull out next.
EM: So what can little guys (and gals) like Bud do to ensure they get as much attention from show-management reps as the big brands do?
Big or little, all exhibitors have the same access to their account reps, and we all should be having the same conversations about what show management can do to help us. Granted, Bud's goals and HP's needs may be different, but show management's responsibilities are the same: to meet the needs of its exhibitors.
Regardless of the size of your footprint, if your show-management rep isn't focused on adding value to the show and to you as an exhibitor, you need to voice your concerns to upper management and ask to be assigned to a different contact. A rep that is only interested in making his or her sales quota is a detriment to every single exhibitor and the show as a whole.
EM: What are two actionable things exhibit managers can do today to craft better relationships with show management and/or earn some free stuff?
Besides simply calling your rep and having a conversation about your goals, which to me seems like a given, the first thing you should do is change your perception. Stop looking at show management reps as a used-car salespeople and start viewing them as partners.
Next, focus on what you can do, as opposed to what you can't do, perhaps as a result of booth size, budget, show drawbacks, etc. During your next talk with your rep, go over your can-do goals and try to identify ways you, as a team, can better meet these objectives.
Finally, be a full partner in the two-way conversation. Provide feedback, offer suggestions, promote the show, and join an advisory panel. If you're forming a true relationship, there has to be give and take on both sides, so you need to do your part. In the process, you'll help to make the show more effective for not just yourself but for all exhibitors. You have to engage if you want things to change. And yes, I know I provided three things, not two, but I couldn't help myself.
EM: How do you deal with a show-management team that's not open to fostering exhibitor partnerships and delivering value-adds?
I would carefully scrutinize my participation in the show. If reps are more worried about their own agendas and sales quotas than they are in the needs of the customers they're serving, maybe you should direct your money to other marketing endeavors that are more supportive. It's like choosing a restaurant. Even if Steve's Steak and Chop is packed with customers, but the steak stinks and the customer service is below par, you won't return a second time. Rather, you'll seek out other restaurants that offer a similar menu but better-quality items and service. The same concept applies to exhibiting. When quality suffers, talk to your rep first, but if that fails, speak with your wallet.
I'm also a firm believer in karma, which comes after everyone eventually. I don't care who you are or how big your show is. You can't get away with screwing people over your whole life. If show management is only concerned with itself, karma will eventually step in. If the show isn't meeting your needs, give karma a hand, close up your wallet, and exit the premises.
Learn more about how to secure your share of show management's free stuff in one of Glenda Brungardt's four educational sessions at EXHIBITORLIVE, including "Free is a Good Thing: A Conversation With the Expert." E