I don't think of myself as a salesperson," says Kim Whittaker. But the president of Baby Faire, a product, services, and information expo for prospective parents, is just that. She persuaded the late, great Dr. Benjamin Spock to headline her first consumer show, in Boston--on his 90th birthday. And she's recruited such sponsors as John Hancock, Prudential Insurance, Toys 'R' Us, Gerber Products, and drugstore chain CVS.
"Most of my sponsors and exhibitors said no before they said yes. Usually, no is a request for more information," Whittaker notes. She received a rejection letter from CVS, but she didn't give up. A second round of sleuthing revealed that the drugstore chain had produced its own consumer show, with mixed results. A follow-up letter, which compared the setup of CVS's show to Baby Faire's, won her a face-to-face meeting with CVS executives and, two weeks after that, a major sponsor.
Generally, people are willing to talk if you call and say you'd like to discuss what went into their decision. But, Whittaker adds, "you have to hear what they're saying. Usually, I uncover a misconception about Baby Faire." Whittaker, whose five shows drew 75,000 attendees in 1997, has learned how hard to push and when to get off the phone. She concludes, "The door is never closed if you believe the opportunity still exists." In eight years of persuading people to reconsider, Whittaker, based in Winchester, Mass., has built a thriving business.