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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Advice for trade show goers


In a few hours I'll be getting on an early train to take me into Manhattan for Book Expo America. BEA is the annual mammoth gathering of book publishers, booksellers, book printers, librarians, authors, author groupies, bloggers (who may be author groupies), journalists, broadcasters, PR people, suppliers of products and service to the book biz, and other hangers-on.

The most exciting thing I've ever seen at BEA is the Espresso book machine.

My report from last year is here.

This will be the sixth BEA I've gone to. I go as an author, publisher and blogger. I am going to try to learn WHAT'S NEW in the book business, to say hi to some old friends, and to see the faces of and shake the hands of and maybe hug some new friends I know only online. (Rebecca and Orna -- this means you.)

Events like BEA, which can be called trade shows or conventions, exist in many industries and are held all over the world -- usually in exciting places. The Consumer Electronics Show is probably the biggest in the USA, and I've been attending since my first journalist job, back in 1970. Back then it was in Manhattan and later in Chicago. Now it's in Las Vegas. It will probably never be held in Duluth.

My experience with these events actually goes back to early childhood, probably around 1950. (SHIT -- that makes me seem old.) My father frequently attended shows for the clothing business and would always bring me back what he called "loot." Loot consisted of key rings, pens, pencils, candy, pads, more candy, whistles, flashlights and more candy. Also known as "tschotchkes" in Yiddish, or "swag" at the Oscars, loot was and is provided by show exhibitors in an effort to gain the attention and affection of show goers, and perhaps to stay in their memory after the show.


If I examine the bottom of my shoulder bags, I can find loot from several years of show-going. When I was a kid I looked forward to my father's return with a pile of loot for me. Wife Marilyn will expect me to return with candy and pens for her.

Now some advice for show-goers, in no particular order:
  1. Wear comfortable shoes or sneakers. Forget about fashion.
  2. Carry a big shoulder bag, with a comfortable, wide, padded strap.
  3. Go through the online show directory in advance and make a list of the companies you MUST want to visit. Try to list them by location so you can walk through efficiently.
  4. Have a good supply of business cards, and have separate places to stash your cards and the ones you collect.
  5. Make sure your phone (and camera if you'll be taking one) are charged and loaded.
  6. Make sure you have an extra memory chip for the camera.
  7. Carry a bottle of water (not a heavy one). You can refill it from water fountains.
  8. If possible, eat before or after the show. Show snacks are as expensive as stadium snacks.
  9. If you collect cookies, put them in a plastic bag so they don't crumble all over the other stuff in your bag.
  10. If you expect to be collecting LOTS of brochures (or heavy, bulky items like books at Book Expo) take a bag with wheels and a handle -- but try not to crash into other folks.
  11. Make appointments in advance if you want to meet people. Get their cellphone numbers in case you need to make a change.
  12. Here's an important tip from my old man: If you have, say, four appointments spaced an hour apart, and you know you'll be late for the first one, call the first person and change that appointment to the end, or even cancel the appointment. This is better than calling everyone to reschedule.
  13. If you wear eyeglasses, take a spare pair.
  14. Take eyeglass cleaning pads, too.
  15. Dress like the others dress, with minimum formality ("business casual") if possible. 
  16. Make sure your name is spelled properly on your badge. My father often used fake names on his show badges as a joke. I have huge collection of my badges going back more than 40 years. I have a huge collection of huge collections. I'll let my heirs deal with them.
  17. Take a pad and several pens that work and don't leak.
  18. Take any necessary medications and don't forget to take them at the appropriate times.
  19. Make sure you get a show directory, and any supplement. The directory can help you find exhibitors you may not have thought of, and is a good reference after the show.
  20. Get the show daily newspaper each day and take it home to devour.
  21. Try to walk through the center of each aisle, scanning ahead and to each side. Exhibitors will try to entice you with key chains, Tootsie Rolls and gorgeous models but don't waste time in booths that have nothing you need.
  22. Many booths (called "stands" in Britain) will be very crowded and you may have to wait to talk to someone. If you can't wait, grab literature and maybe try to go back later.
  23. Some booths will be empty because an exhibitor changed places or didn't show up. If there's a table and chairs, use the facility as your own temporary office. 
  24. At the end of the show, go through your accumulation and ditch what you don't need. There is no reason to carry (or FedEx) stuff that will be thrown out when you get home.
  25. Some booths will have nobody but the booth people. Booths may be unpopular because the companies are unknown, they have crappy tschotchkes, or other reasons. Booth personnel may try to seduce you or harangue you into listening to a pitch. If you have no interest, be polite -- but firm -- and move on. If you have time, invest a minute. You may start a friendship or learn something that will turn out to be important.
Well, it's now 3:24 AM. My normal wake-up-and-blog time is 3:30. Should I try to grab some sleep, or decide that I'm up for the day? I think it's best to load my shoulder bag and make sure my phone is charged up and maybe read the list I just typed.

EPILOGUE: The show was great but I left my damn cellphone home.



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