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Call Me Maybe


If sidestepping spam is more important than connecting with prospects, you need to reconsider your priorities.
A lot has changed during my tenure at EXHIBITOR. I've witnessed the transition from film to digital cameras, the birth of Facebook and Twitter, and the slow but steady adoption of augmented and virtual reality. Similarly, I've watched as my actual inbox (You know, the one with letters in it?) went from being full of direct mailers and printed press releases to sitting empty for days while my electronic inbox overfloweth with spam.

The humble press kit has also undergone numerous transformations. First, folders and hard-copy press releases were replaced by CDs, then thumb drives, and later by quick-response codes. Today, many exhibitors don't have press kits at all and just offer up links to press sites where journalists can obtain information after the event. But while covering the 2019 International Consumer Electronics Show, I noticed that yet another staple seems to be going the way of floppy disks and dial-up connections: A large percentage of exhibitors didn't have business cards.

Initially, I assumed staffers had made the rookie trade show mistake of not bringing enough cards with them to distribute. But after a dozen or so similar exchanges – me asking to swap business cards and them explaining they didn't have any – I stopped asking. Or rather, I stopped asking for cards and started asking for email addresses. Rebuffed, I begged reps for a co-worker's email address, perhaps someone from the public-relations department. That's when things got awkward, as multiple staffers told me they're not allowed to give out email addresses. In the words of one rep, "You can imagine the amount of spam we'd get if we did." As someone who attends dozens of trade shows each year and is on mailing lists for industries as diverse as aviation and adult entertainment, I have no sympathy for that staffer or any others like him. My inbox has seen things it can't unsee. Believe me.

Instead of providing their contact information, it seems exhibitors have taken to simply scanning badges and promising to respond. But out of the several dozen who did just that at CES, only a tiny fraction actually followed through, leaving me without the information I desired and no contact with whom I could connect. And lest you think this practice is reserved solely for press reps, many attendees I spoke with shared similar accounts. Having spent hours trying to hunt down contacts for exhibiting companies, I can tell you that any address beginning with info@ is as likely to prove fruitful as Jesus' cursed fig tree.

In a world where yesterday's technology is already obsolete before today's hits the market, it's impossible to escape the fact that change is inevitable. And while I admit to being a bit of a technophobe, I sincerely believe that not all change is for the better. Sometimes we need to course correct, and I think that before we lament the death of business cards, we ought to get out the defibrillator, resuscitate the lowly medium, and remind ourselves that face-to-face marketing is all about forging connections that will lead to future correspondence and commerce, so enabling that communication should be an exhibitor's top priority.

As common sensical as it may sound, making it hard for attendees to contact you is as counterintuitive as lining your booth with "No Trespassing" signs. If someone is interested in sending you a missive (digital or otherwise), he or she is likely a prospect at the very least, and may even prove to be a qualified potential customer. Bottom line: Protecting your email as if it were your social security number is like telling attendees, "Don't call us. We'll call you," knowing full well that you probably won't. And if sidestepping spam is more important than connecting with prospects, you need to toughen up your firewall and reconsider your priorities. E



Travis Stanton, editor;
@StantonTravis
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