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STRATEGY

How to Survive a Las Vegas Trade Show

Getting the most out of Sin City without getting a headache.
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Las Vegas thrives on fake. The place boasts imitations of the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Statue of Liberty, a Venetian piazza, Elvis... and we won't even catalog all the fake body parts on display.

When it comes to trade shows, however, Vegas is the real deal. There are planes flying in from all over, hotel rooms aplenty, amenities fit for the King, and more event space than you can shake a feather boa at.

"We are easy," says Chris Meyer, vice president of sales for the destination marketing organization Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which owns and operates the Las Vegas Convention Center and Cashman Center. What he means is that it's a snap to book a room, get transportation to the hotel and exhibition hall, find fine cuisine at all hours, make valuable business connections, and experience world-class entertainment.

Also easy in Vegas: getting overwhelmed.

Between the long hours, the 24/7 amenities, the constant temptations, the intensive walking, and the dry desert climate, staying sane in Sin City requires a special level of commitment - not the drive-through wedding chapel kind. You don't need the best poker face to have a winning time at a conference here, but high-stakes style preparation is essential, whether the show brings together a few hundred people or a hundred thousand.

From keeping customers happy to keeping employees in check, it's time to put all the cards on the table.

Surviving a Las Vegas Trade Show: Be Prepared

Procrastinators could find themselves left in the dust. One of the most common rookie mistakes Meyer sees is the attendee or buyer who finally got around to reading the conference materials on the plane ride to Vegas.

"There are always time-sensitive cost savings in those materials," he says. Securing the best deals on accommodations and amenities avoids surprising high costs later. Reading the materials ahead of time also provides opportunities to attend unique networking events that usually require reserving a spot well in advance. "Maybe Bill Gates is at a cocktail reception, but you didn't RSVP in time and you can't go," Meyer warns.

Exhibitors should start planning at least half a year in advance while attendees should start coming up with an action plan six weeks in advance, suggests Candace Adams, an event and exhibition management consultant known as "The Booth Mom." Such a plan outlines who would be useful to see, what sessions to attend, and a daily schedule detailing the hours on the show floor, in classes, and in meetings. Adams also recommends doing a keyword search on the trade show website to make relevant connections. "It will bring up all the exhibitors who checked that off as a keyword," she says. "You want to be organized when you get there because time is not your friend in Vegas."

Vegas can be incredibly valuable to the bottom line. Creating leads at a trade show is far less expensive than creating them anywhere else, says trade show consultant Joyce McKee. She cites a Center for Exhibition Industry Research report from fall 2009 that found each face-to-face exhibition lead will cost a company $96 while the same kind of lead elsewhere costs $1,039. Exhibitors who plan well and have with booth personnel trained to ask the right questions can see an ROI of 12 percent or more. "If you're not planning," McKee says, "you're wasting money."

In March, Christina Gay attended and exhibited at a trade show in Vegas for the first time. As marketing communications manager for Atalasoft, a document imaging software company based in Easthampton, Massachusetts, she experienced days that started at 8 a.m. and kept going until 3 in the morning. "Everything you do, have a strategy in mind," she says. "You have to budget for everything, down to the number of beers you're going to have with a client."

Dig Deeper: Why I Love Trade Shows

 

Surviving a Las Vegas Trade Show: Surround Yourself With the Best People

Forget the fishbowl full of business cards, McKee tells exhibitors. "For current customers, I'd have your sales people hand deliver invitations whether they're in Vegas or not," she says. "Make them destination-bound to come see you." Using the company's database of current and future customers to communicate a product launch in Vegas will keep the target audience engaged and updated, whether they can make it to the show in person or not.

Identifying the right team to attend is another crucial step. For some workers, the temptations in Las Vegas will be too enticing to resist. The effect on a company's image could be devastating. No matter how great a salesperson's work, if he or she is battling demons, Vegas should not be the place for that fight. "You need enormous willpower to survive," says trade show industry consultant Susan Friedmann who goes by "The Tradeshow Coach." She knows of an employee who showed up to a trade show booth seriously hung over after a night of hard partying and was promptly fired. "There's only so much coffee you can drink," she cautions.

Dig Deeper: Tips for Trade Shows

 

Surviving a Las Vegas Trade Show: Stay On the Up-and-Up

In the era of camera phones and lightening-fast social networking, what happens in Vegas definitely does not stay in Vegas. "From the time you get off the plane to the time you get back to the office, you are on display," McKee says.

Despite the city's well-known shady side, it is possible to have fun, get work done, and not go overboard around The Strip. To strike that balance, Gay recommends setting realistic expectations ahead of time so employees know what the company thinks is acceptable, and what is considered grounds for getting the axe.

"You've got to have really good guidelines around your tradeshow policies: I expect you to be on time, neat, and not smelling of alcohol. I expect you to come show our product off," she says. "We are liable for what happens after hours." Sticking to smaller gatherings can help maintain the necessary focus and prevent socializing from getting out of hand.

Trade shows are work. One way to make that clear is by calculating what the trade show costs the company on an hourly basis and then communicating that to employees. Gay does this at Atalasoft and says that for her colleagues, putting a concrete dollar amount on time wasted puts the show in perspective.

That said, some socializing can be good for your team, and morale. So pick your plan for unwinding in the evening "If you're going to gamble, have a budget and absolutely limit yourself," Friedmann advises. "It's so easy to keep going and going, and before you know it you've lost a lot of money. The house has a tendency to win." Instead, motivate employees to stay on track by offering a reward for coming in under budget. Peers can look out for each other, too. Competitions that recognize the best booth staff encourages positive behavior.

Dig Deeper: How to Boost Traffic at Your Trade Show Booth

 

Surviving a Las Vegas Trade Show: Think Like a Distance Runner

Carpet-covered concrete still feels like concrete. Spending hour after hour walking around on it will put the sturdiest footwear to the test. "Make sure you're bringing the most comfortable pair of shoes," says Las Vegas trade show veteran Karen Chupka, senior vice president for the Consumer Electronics Association, where she oversees the annual Consumer Electronics Show as well as the association's standalone events. "Don't worry about style. You're going to be walking a lot of distances."

This is the desert. Too much alcohol and too little hydration can be a recipe for an emergency room visit. "What's magic in Vegas? It's the water," Adams says. "If you don't have it you're going to literally drain yourself." Packing lists should anticipate the dry air and include provisions like lip moisturizer, lotion, and throat lozenges.

To save herself trouble later, Chupka asks for an extra room key as soon as she arrives at the hotel. She stores it in her wallet to avoid having to trek to the front desk at night in case she leaves it in the room. Those treks are annoying, and with feet swollen from a marathon day, they can be painful as well.

Dig Deeper: An Insider's Guide to Vegas


Surviving a Las Vegas Trade Show: Strategize To Save

The bigger the trade show, the longer the lines will be at the airport for a cab. "If you use a bellhop, for five bucks it's worth every penny," Friedmann says. "That's a tip somebody gave me and ever since I've known about it I use it all the time." Take a moment to find that designated area and then skip the crowds waiting for cabs.

Adams suggests picking up plenty of inexpensive water from a convenience store en route to the hotel. A few extra bucks spent on the cab for the stop will save far more on water costs. "It's cheaper than all the water I'm going to drink," she says. Buying bottled water from the room or a gift shop adds up quickly. An even cheaper alternative is to bring reusable bottles and fill them at the conference facility.

When booking a hotel room, Chris Meyer strongly suggests staying in the host hotel for the show. As tempting as it is to go with a slightly cheaper hotel option, the show organizer will usually sets aside a whole block of rooms and that has its own benefits. "Number one, you get the interaction with other attendees that you wouldn't get with other hotels," he says. Then there are the transportation costs incurred by not having access to rides back and forth between the host hotel and the showroom floor.

Use your tools, says Karen Chupka. The annual Consumer Electronics Show offers a mobile application to help attendees navigate it. Getting familiar with maps of the trade show and the area will save plenty of time because often there are multiple dropoff points along the way. "The Monorail is a great option, but sometimes you might have to walk 10 to 20 minutes to get to that station," Chupka says. That's more walking in those shoes that seemed comfortable when they were packed several time zones away.

At the end of the day - or night - Sin City will still be awake, alert, and flush with cash. With smart planning and preparation, so will you.




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