“Let our rigorous testing and reviews be your guidelines to A/V equipment – not marketing slogans”
Facebook Youtube Twitter instagram pinterest

An Open Letter to Tradeshow Exhibitors

by September 06, 2008
It should read, "An Open and Frank Letter..."

It should read, "An Open and Frank Letter..."

To Whom It May Concern:

I know it costs easily tens of thousands of dollars for even a modest booth at one of these tradeshows. Those mega-structures set up by the major companies cost many times more. But in the end, what is most important is not how flashy your booth is or how high tech your demos are but people. In the end, it is the people, not the displays, that are responsible for distributing information, engaging the people that wander into your booth, and conveying the excitement you feel about your products.

Some booths cultivate a haughty attitude. I can sort of understand that. While sometimes it seems like a personality quirk of a certain person, often it is the attitude of the company. For many years I couldn't get into the Paradigm booth because it was for dealers only. Classe is famous for not talking to me. I've been to furniture booths where they have literally chased me out and demanded I delete all my pictures because they were afraid I was going to sell their "secrets" to a competitor.

You don't want coverage? What kind of lame marketing campaign is that?

boothbabeMany, many manufacturers hire "booth babes" to draw you into their display. These girls (who are all extremely attractive) run the gamut from being tastefully dressed all the way to looking like half naked Spartans in full battle regalia. This year's SpeakerCraft booth had chicks dressed like Amazon women trying out for a role on Survivor. Anyone that expects these girls to answer any questions more intense than "Where is the desk?" is in for disappointment. Last year at CEDIA, Dina found girls that didn't even know what company they were working for without reading the sign. Really, asking them questions about the new Blu-ray player or HDMI switcher is a geek's way of showing off. Move along dude, they are paid to talk to you. No matter how much you know about HDCP they aren't going to sleep with you. The fact is that the booth babe's job is to get the attendee's attention - is it impossible to train them to convey at least a little information?

If you want to waste an hour of your life, run into an engineer. This guy designed the product, built it from the ground up, and knows everything about it (including things about past versions that never saw the light of day). I once had a speaker designer spend a half an hour telling me all the different tweeters they went through before they decided on the one they now use. Seriously, you're not impressing me. Sure, some people will think that all that means is that you got the best tweeter in the world, but I know it just means you are trying to make me think you got the best tweeter in the world. For all I know, you flipped open a catalogue and put your finger down randomly. Engineers are good to have in your booth for those more technically minded but your managers need to recognize when they've cornered someone for too long and come save them. At least they should if they ever want to have that person come back to the booth again. There are whole companies I avoid out of a Skinnerian fear that I'll get trapped again… so I send Clint.

I finally figured out why J and I get about 70% of all the show coverage… While Gene and Clint get sucked into conversations on cabinet construction and the finer details of preferred speaker baffle materials, we deflect loquacious designers by telling them we'd be happy to hook them up with "one of the big guys at Audioholics". Besides, no one really wants to spend much time talking with the sarcastic arm of the AV juggernaut that is Audioholics.

Everything above can be viewed as a necessary evil or as a problem that needs to be managed. But what can kill the experience of any attendee and make all that money you spent on your booth for naught is ignorance. Nothing is more ridiculous to deal with at a show like this than ignorance. Case in point - Integra. The PR/marketing manager for this company is really on the ball and I have a lot of respect for him. He knows how to get you information and does it in a timely manner. That said, the girls/guys running the front counter on two separate days said they didn't have any press kits.

Really. At a tradeshow. No press kits.

It wasn't until I insisted that they did (because I had talked to someone in their marketing department between my first and second visit who told me so) that she got off her… um… chair and checked around. Seriously, where is the breakdown here? You're at a tradeshow. There are two main objectives - meet with dealers/customers and inform them about your products and meet with the press and do the same. How hard is that? Even when I did get them to admit that they had a press kit, the guy they hooked me up with to "show" me the new gear mostly wanted to point in its general direction and rattle off model numbers.

Think of it this way, I (or someone like me) has entered your booth and is interested enough in your wares to ask a question. Most people will look from the sidelines or just wander around. I've taken the time to actually inquire about what's new. All I really need from you is to show it to me. I'm not going to remember all the model numbers (especially when it seems that most companies think that changing one digit in a row of 7 won't confuse the customer at all) and pointing at it from your chair is akin to telling me that you're far too busy to stand up and do the job I think you are being paid to do at this show.

I'm picking on Integra, but honestly it is an industry-wide phenomenon. Sony is famous for not only not having press kits but stocking their booth (which probably costs in the millions) with people that don't even know that they have a website with the press information (this year we had to tell the person what it was). Half the time, a reader's favorite manufacturer is not reported on simply because I couldn't pay someone to talk to me. If it weren't for people on the Internet demanding information and posting it in the forums, some manufacturers would probably go out of business.

Hmm… now there's a thought…

I come to tradeshows in the hopes of providing our readers with free information about the manufacturers they care most about. I do so without asking any more from the manufacturers than to have information (either electronic or paper) available to me and someone knowledgeable enough to give it to me or tell me where it is. This isn't rocket-science, people - it's basic transmission theory. If you want something to move, you have to move it. In this case it is information. I'm not even offering any resistance to that move - I'm trying to help it along.

So I ask you - Why bother? Why spend all that money just to ignore and alienate the people that are trying to help you? Why deny the millions that read Audioholics' reports the very information that will help them make purchasing decisions? Most importantly, why do I get blamed for negligence (in the best case) and bias (in the worst) when I can't provide the coverage that our readers demand? Why?

Sony, you put a guy directly in front of your new 70-inch XBR7 LCD screen. That's great, but unfortunately his maximum capability extended to reading the placard hanging on the wall next to the display. When I asked him about the type of backlight used in the display he had no idea - and pointed me to the front desk for the answer. The front desk? Are you kidding? That's the last place I want to go for information. I might get trapped in some kind of time loop waiting for a booth babe to summon a PR person, or worse, be told (once again) that all the information is available online - at a website URL that I have to memorize since there aren't any cards, handouts, or temporary tattoos to direct me.

I implore all exhibitors - don't skimp on training. Spend 30 minutes before the show making sure everyone knows at the very least who to direct people to for information. Tell them that "No" isn't in their vocabulary. Make sure you have a few very knowledgeable key people on hand at all times. I went to the Gefen booth twice - the second time to confirm some information I got during my first visit. Every piece of information I got contradicted the earlier information. When I told them what I had learned the first time, no one seemed capable of finding someone more knowledgeable to consult which led me to believe that these were the most informed people at the booth at the time. Since they couldn't answer some very basic questions and contradicted the information I got before, I left not knowing who was right or if (more likely) both were right about certain things. Which information was correct was impossible to discern.

Think of a tradeshow like a war. You wouldn't go to war with just foot soldiers would you? No, you'd have captains and generals on hand at all times to give orders and make decisions. At a tradeshow there should always be someone on hand to be the definitive voice - the leader that everyone knows can be turned to when they have a question posed to them that they can answer. This can make the difference between a tradeshow that generates business and disseminates information and a money hole that makes you question whether or not you should even attend next year.

Sincerely,

Audioholics

 

About the author:
author portrait

As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

View full profile

Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!

Recent Forum Posts:

majorloser posts on September 08, 2008 12:29
Uh, you do understand that trade shows are the best way to “wine n' dine” clients all in one place? If you're not hooking up with the vendors every night for a night out on the town, you're not doing it right. And always remember that the people working the booths after the first day are either the junior staffers who didn't make the party from the night before because they had to open the booth that day or they are staff that made the party from the night before with a serious hangover.

And what's with the lack of love for the poor working booth girls? Would you really give a dang about some company's new RCA subwoofer cable if it wasn't used to hold up the tiny bikini on the booth babe?

But I will agree with you on the engineers. NEVER ask an EE to explain their work (unless you need a quick cure for insomnia).
jinjuku posts on September 08, 2008 12:06
Clint DeBoer, post: 453171
Oh no. We've found some incredibly well-versed marketing people (perfectly acceptable) and product managers (best) in the industry. They understand how the products work and know how much information to deliver before it gets tedious. The actual engineers never know when to stop and typically don't have the capacity/ability to judge when they are talking too much or boring the listener.

It's funny, when we research product for our business I always prefer to speak with a tech support person about the product. I have a habit (right or wrong) of considering the sales/product managers not being ‘in the trenches’.

On any major purchase I have ALWAYS spoken with a support/engineering type before dropping the $$.
Adam posts on September 08, 2008 12:06
Clint DeBoer, post: 453171
The actual engineers never know when to stop and typically don't have the capacity/ability to judge when they are talking too much or boring the listener.

They need to send engineers with better social skills, then. I spend my days surrounded by engineers (I'm one, too). Granted…I'm conditioned to it, but I think that for the most part we act like “normal” people. There are those, however, that are just like what you describe. Those people just bore the living snot out of me. And the jokes that they tell…oh, lord…the jokes.
Clint DeBoer posts on September 08, 2008 12:00
jinjuku, post: 453128
I don't know what to tell you at this point Tom. The person that is going to be able to answer your questions is the same one you don't want to bump into.
Oh no. We've found some incredibly well-versed marketing people (perfectly acceptable) and product managers (best) in the industry. They understand how the products work and know how much information to deliver before it gets tedious. The actual engineers never know when to stop and typically don't have the capacity/ability to judge when they are talking too much or boring the listener.
jinjuku posts on September 08, 2008 10:46
You can't have it both ways…

I have a bit of a problem (to quote from the article):

“If you want to waste an hour of your life, run into an engineer”

AND

“Sony, you put a guy directly in front of your new XBR7 LCD screen. That's great but unfortunately his maximum capability extended to reading the placard hanging on the wall next to the display. When I asked him about the type of backlight used in the display he had no idea”

I don't know what to tell you at this point Tom. The person that is going to be able to answer your questions is the same one you don't want to bump into.

An engineer isn't going to take an hour to answer what back light is in a TV. But they are going to be able to answer your next question, and then your next question after that If they are taking too much of your time just excuse yourself.
Post Reply