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Similarities Between the Manufacturers Rep and Marketing Communications Businesses:
Making Trade Shows Work for You

By: Laurence Kaufman

Laurence Kaufman is a partner of Kaufman Ryan Stral Inc., an ad agency/PR firm, and of BigWorld Communications, web site developers.  He counsels numerous manufacturers' representatives and their associations, and also works with manufacturers and other business-to-business marketers.

This article originally appeared in The Representor, published for manufacturers' representatives in the electronics industry.  However, the principles articulated are applicable to businesses of many types, especially service businesses.
Working as closely as I do with manufacturersí representatives and their associations, I am often reminded of the similarities between the rep business and the marketing communications business.  Two of the most obvious are that both types of firms are often called agencies, and both of types of firms handle multiple lines.  One of the differences is that capitalizing on synergy is that the center of the successful rep business, whereas in advertising and P.R. opportunities for synergy tend to be coincidental.

But as the saying goes, tonightís the night!  This is the once-a-year time when I get to fill my regular Representor column with a message that not only (hopefully) serves my readers, but also one of my important principals, the Electronic Distribution Show.  One of my mandates from EDS is to help the people who participate get maximum benefit from being there.  But even if you do not attend EDS, virtually everything I can tell you about effective EDS marketing will stand you in equally good stead at Wescon, Nepcon, Comdex, or whatever other trade show is central to your portfolio.

Your decision to attend EDS or any other trade show is largely driven by your principalsí decision to exhibit, and the concomitant expectations they have from you. You know more about selling your products than I do, so itís not my purpose as your consultant to discuss your role at the Show in effecting the interface between your distributors and your principals.  (With my EDS hat on, however, Iíll remind you that the more principals and the more distributors you encourage to be in Las Vegas, the more productive your time there can be.)

As your consultant, I remind you that most reps do a better job of selling their products than they do of marketing their companies, and if my research is to be believed, they do a better job of communicating with their customers than with their principals.  (For more on this subject, review my article in the Summer 1998 issue of The Representor.)  Todayís article zeroes in specifically on marketing your company in the trade show environment to existing principals as well as to prospective principals.

You will probably have some kind of review meeting during EDS with your principals, and you will come to that meeting reasonably well prepared.  You will know where you stand vis a vis forecasts, status on important accounts, and all the other nitty-gritty of selling the product in the territory.  But Iíll bet you dollars to donuts you wonít have a presentation or a hand-out sheet summarizing for your principal what has happened in your company in recent months.  Does the principal know that you have equipped all the outside salespeople with laptops and sophisticated sales automation software?  that Joe and Charlie have each finished another leg towards CPMR status?  that you have upgraded your Web site?  For that matter, do you have a current copy of your credentials portfolio for the new people who werenít with the company last year?

That last is a real no-brainer, because itís just a matter of bringing along half a dozen extra copies of the portfolio you have brought for prospective principals.  You have brought them, havenít you?  After all, youíll need them for two kinds of meetings at EDS.  First, there are those that youíre setting up in advance of coming to Las Vegas,  with lines that you know are in play.  Take a tip from Chicago office products rep Kevin Schoen CPMR, who rarely heads for a trade show without at least two customized Power Point presentations in his laptop to use at pre-set appointments, in addition to the generic one for those that serendipity brings about.  Be prepared, rather than caught short, because there are always opportunities youíll hear about when you arrive, whether through your network, or through the Lines Available postings at ERAís EDS headquarters, or because someone grabs you as you youíre walking down the aisle.

As youíve inferred, although I made earlier reference to ďextra copiesĒ of your portfolio, itís delivery of your message that concerns me more than the medium.  Do you want to make the presentation from your laptop?  Thatís fine.  Just be absolutely sure to send hard copy to your prospect the minute you get back to the office.  (Leave-behinds are always important, but at a trade show there is a tendency for them to be left behind.)

Once caution about using hard copy of the Power Point as your leave-behind: good Power Point presentations are cryptic on the screen, because youíre providing the fill-in orally.  The hand-out material should contain the material you said, as well as the material you showed.

That suggests another way to produce hand-out material thatís comprehensive and attractive without placing an undue strain on the budget:  download it from your Web site.  Mack Sorrells CPMR, a Dallas-based cutting tool rep, uses a heavy, glossy colorful cover for a spiral-bound booklet, much of the content of which is right off the Web site.  There are a number of potential problems with relying on your Web site copy to serve as your portfolio.  The two foremost are that your presentation to a prospective principal may contain material that is more sensitive than you want to post in cyberspace, and that if your Web site is overly oriented to the prospective principal, it may lose some of its utility to customers.

Having talked here both about presentations to existing principals and to prospective principals, let me make a statement that would appear to be obvious if we didnít see it so regularly being honored in the breech.  Although we promote EDS as a three-day show, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Iím well aware that for manufacturersí representatives it will start this year on Sunday.  (The 1999 schedule avoided the Mothers Day problem.)  Your best shot at your existing principals is early in the week, before they get engrossed in distributor conferences.  Your best shot at prospects is late in the week, when traffic has started to die down.  Tempting though it may be to bug out on Wednesday, Thursday can turn out to be your most productive day, especially if you get busy now on researching and setting up appointments with the manufacturers who are ready to make territory changes.

Incidentally, the EDS office, where I hang my hat during the Show, is right down the hall from the ERA headquarters.  Youíre more than welcome, as part of the Expert Access program, to bring me a copy of your presentation materials for comments and suggestions.

© Copyright 1999, Laurence Kaufman, Kaufman Ryan Stral Inc./BigWorld Communications.

Other Articles by Laurence Kaufman

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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