If you’re like me and have attended large publishing and educational events, you know how difficult and frustrating it can be to achieve your business objectives, especially if you’re navigating on unfamiliar turf. You know there are people on the exhibit floor who are good prospects for your books, your services, or your new business ideas, but how do you find the right ones? How do you budget and spend your time profitably? How do you check out potential buyers and trading partners, meet them, have a productive dialog, and not get totally exhausted by the end of the day?
I have a solution–Robin Bartlett’s New and Improved Matrix Method for Working Large Trade Shows! (I tweak the system as often as I see ways to make it better.) The Matrix Method is derived from–and tested through–my own experience. As director for new business development for the American College of Physicians, I attend many large medical meetings each year, and I also go to the major American and foreign publishing shows, such as BEA (the annual BookExpo America), ALA (the American Library Association’s semiannual meetings), and the annual Frankfurt and London Book Fairs.
The Matrix Method is a simple organizational tool that will help you use your time productively and focus activity on the booths and prospects that are most likely to produce profitable business relationships, new partnerships, future sales, and network connections.
Get the Guide First
It’s not unusual for some of these very large trade shows to have between 900 and 1,500 exhibit booths in multiple halls that attract more than 20,000 attendees. In working these large shows, I have found that an hour spent planning and preparing my planning matrix ensures a profitable experience at the convention.
The form below is the one I use, and you’re welcome to use it too. You can prepare an Excel spreadsheet instead if you’re so inclined, or even download the matrix into a PDA, but I’ve found that using a good old-fashioned pencil to create a paper version is fast and easy. And having everything on one sheet of paper makes access to your work plan on the convention floor convenient and manageable.
Here’s how my system works.
You start with a copy of the exhibitor guide. A guide for every large book and educational show is typically published in book form or in magazines such as Publishers Weekly or Library Journal in the month preceding the meeting. Make every effort to obtain a copy of the exhibitor listings in advance of the meeting, read through it, and circle the booth numbers that interest you. Try to do this before the meeting, because it’s much easier to do your planning at home in your PJs than in the hotel the night before the meeting starts.
Even if you can’t get the show guide prior to the start of the meeting, though, don’t waste time walking around aimlessly when you get there. Take an hour, grab a coffee, sit down, and construct your matrix before you do anything else.
Make Your Personal Symbols List
After you’ve gone through the guide and highlighted the booths that interest you, the next step is creating a set of symbols that you can insert next to the booth numbers in the matrix you’re about to construct.
The symbols I use are:
$ I put this next to booth numbers for exhibitors that appear to be good sales prospects. It’s a priority visit symbol for me.
? A question mark next to a booth number means, for me, “What is this?” It tells me that something in the description or name of the company caught my attention and triggered some interest. Yes, most question-marked companies will turn out to be dead ends, but occasionally you’ll find the pot of gold you’ve been looking for.
Which reminds me–it’s important to remain open to chance meetings when covering a large trade show. You never know who you will run into.
F means “friend,” someone I know or have at least met and want to touch base with at the show. Be sure to make time to visit friends at their booths. Being successful in publishing is all about networking.
C stands for “competitor,” and you need to make sure that you visit the booths of all your competitors, large and small. It’s usually at a competitor’s booth that you can pick up ideas you can integrate into your own sales and marketing programs. What new books are they publishing? What do their covers look like in comparison to yours? Who are their new authors? What promotional campaigns are they launching?
T is for “technology.” It’s the symbol I use to focus on booths that feature printers, software publishers, or new technical advancements that I need to find out about. These booths provide learning opportunities for me and also put me in touch with vendors I may want to contact for bids in the future.
* An asterisk is for booths that I’m personally interested in, maybe because of a giveaway or a contest. I always include a couple of asterisks in my matrix just to keep my day interesting and fun.
Of course, you can create more symbols and different symbols to define your own business objectives, but the point is to read the exhibitor listings and put symbols next to the booth numbers that appear to be worth the time it will take to check them out.
Prepare the Matrix
This is the easiest part. You can simply take an 8 _”_ 11″ sheet of paper, turn it horizontally, and draw columns an inch wide from top to bottom, as shown in the sample.
At the top of each column, write the numbers for the aisles on the convention floor: 100 aisle, 200 aisle, 300 aisle, all the way up to whatever the top number is. This may go as high as 2,500—3,500 at the largest shows.
Then go back through the exhibitor listings that you marked in the exhibitor guide and insert the booth number of each exhibit you want to visit in the appropriate aisle column, along with the symbol that tells why you want to stop there. List the booth numbers in each aisle in numerical order. (Tip: use pencil and leave lots of room between numbers.)
And there you have it, a great, one-page roadmap and planning tool. It’s my roadmap to the meeting, and hopefully to profitable success.
Booths and Consequences
Does the system pay off? In many ways, large and small. For instance:
Example #1: A number of years ago, while I was working a BEA, I put a ? on my matrix next to a group called Publishers Marketing Association. I walked up to a woman named Jan Nathan and asked, “What is PMA?” That was the start of a 10-plus-year association that has brought great pleasure, profit, fun, and knowledge to my life–all because I put a booth number coupled with a ? on a piece of paper.
Example #2: I once stopped to meet the director of marketing at the University of Nebraska Press because my son was interested in Lewis and Clark and in pursuing a Ph.D. in history. She sent me a dozen “hurt” books to further his education. All because I put a * on a piece of paper.
Example #3: One of the best ideas I ever got for marketing a book that my company published came from visiting a competitor’s booth. It featured a lead title in a Lucite display. I ended up building hundreds of such displays to spotlight my company’s book and sending them to medical bookstores and libraries throughout the country. This resulted in a 5 percent lift in library and bookstore sales for the year.
Give my Matrix Method a try next time you have a big trade show to attend and see if it doesn’t help to make the experience a big + rather than a — !
Robin Bartlett, who has served on PMA’s board, chairs PMA-U and is president of the American Medical Publishers Association. He writes often for the Independent and is the director of sales and business development for the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia. You can reach him via firstname.lastname@example.org and www.robinbartlett.com.
Sample Matrix Form
This is a copy of the form I used at BEA in 2004. The 1000—1999 aisle is blank because that’s where the superlarge publishers were, and I had no interest in visiting most of them. Generally, I try to visit all the booths in my matrix over the course of two days. The number of contacts shown on this matrix is probably on the high side for first-time attendees. For regional shows, such as the New England Booksellers Association, a much smaller matrix would be fine, since they typically have only 125—150 exhibitors.