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There was a time when computers and smartphones did not exist

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Posted by , 10th June 2020

There was a time when computers and smartphones did not exist

Photo by Markus Winkler

I know because I was there. 

Actually, computers did exist but not as we know them today. 

The first computer I ever saw filled a whole room, and most people in the company weren’t allowed to enter its sacred space. 

That was the domain of a guy called Ray.

Ray wore a white lab coat, went everywhere with a clipboard and got extremely angry if you even walked towards his beloved. 

When I started working for an exhibition organising company a few years later, there was no computer room or computer. As I had little idea of what computers did, it was no big deal. 

It’s worth mentioning that similarly, I had no idea about what an exhibition was or did either

I’d never been to one, and I didn’t go to one for the first year of my event working life. 

Until I did, the event I was working on was a one-dimensional thing. 

It was a floorplan on the wall.

Shapes represented stands with the names of the occupying companies written on those shapes. 

As I worked in sales, I spoke to hundreds of potential exhibitors about the show and the opportunities it presented. 

And, as I got better at explaining things and understanding more clearly what it was we were offering, my sales success rocketed upwards. 

Once I experienced my first show, met clients and learned what the show had done for their sales and their success, my sales efforts went to a whole new level.

Based on what I had seen and learnt, I wanted to let other businesses know just how good things could be for them too, and I had plenty of success stories to support the case.

It was a transformational time for me and my career.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was fortunate to be working with the leading people in trade shows within a business that would go on to become the biggest show organiser in the world. 

What’s the point in telling you this? 

Well, the other thing that got me so hooked on the work I did was learning about direct marketing.

Trade show organisers, in particular, were users and exponents of direct marketing

We used it to attract exhibitors to our shows and most important of all we used it to attract the audience.

Yes, we ran ads in the trade and national press, employed PR people, even ran TV and radio campaigns for some events but…

Behind everything was our direct mailing campaigns, some on a scale so huge the numbers are eye-watering. 

Ticket inserts by the million: printed newspapers and sales letters by the hundreds of thousands were not at all uncommon. 

You might be thinking now, “how wasteful” but we worked with what we had, and even back then we recycled what we could. 

Campaigns had to be planned months ahead. Lists needed to be built or rented, and those lists were held on…computers. 

Luckily, I discovered no lab coats were involved in the marketing end of computer usage but what those computers could do was amazing even back then.  But back to event marketing. 

Test mail shots checked the quality of the lists we had built or rented. 

We factored in postal delivery and response times. It was fascinating work, but it was also a high stakes game. 

Large sums of money were involved, both short and long-term

If you ran an event campaign that didn’t work, the attendance would drop, and the sales impact on the event could, in theory, be terminal.  

Over the years, digital tools have replaced many of the printed versions we used to create.

They haven’t replaced the thinking and planning process, although digital has massively shortened the time frames required. 

The fundamentals remain and the core to the whole process then and now is the list. 

That goes for exhibitors as well as organisers. 

A list of clients and prospective clients lies at the heart of building great sales, and yet, it’s often one of the most overlooked items in the marketing armoury. 

My approach and that of my colleagues when it comes to helping exhibitors grow their sales is different. Something you would discover if we had a conversation. 

With no trade shows or conferences on the horizon due to the pandemic, you might be thinking this is precisely the wrong time to be talking events, but I would say, this is precisely the right time to be getting the fundamentals right. 

If you feel combining digital and direct marketing with events could work for your business, send me an email, and we can fix a time to have a call.

Ray with his whirring machine in an air-conditioned room with rows of punchcards moving up and down wasn’t big on marketing.

We, on the other hand, are. 

I wish you safe and well. 

David 
David O’Beirne

Posted in B2B Marketing  /  Trade show marketing  /  Trade show sales

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