Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Not So "Big Easy" (A New Orleans Trade Show Saga)

Question:  What do you do when you show up on Day One of a trade show, and discover that …

1.  The product literature didn’t make it to the show.
2.  The show entrance and your booth are at opposite ends of the building.
3.  There are no dedicated trade show hours ??

Answer:  Whatever you HAVE TO DO!!

You may have been brought in as a "Crowd Gatherer" or "Booth Hostess," but when it comes down to it, you are part of the Marketing Team.  This means you do whatever you have to do to make your show a success, whether you think it's in your job description or not.

So …

What happens when the Client unpacks the shipping boxes an hour before showtime and realizes that THERE IS NO LITERATURE TO HAND OUT??

You ask them to put whatever files they can find on a thumb drive.  You change into your comfy shoes.  You Google the nearest FedEx Kinko’s.  You take their Corporate Credit Card and off you go.  Thirty minutes later you’re back with bags full of pamphlets and flyers.  You put on your heels.  You’re a hero.   Miracle #1.
Then …

What do you do when your booth is in the far corner of the convention hall and no one is coming to visit?

You work your magic !

It's hard to be a Crowd Gatherer for a Presenter when he has no one to PRESENT to.  He may be great at sleight of hand, but without anyone to watch him … who cares?   So you grab an extra deck of cards and go out into the main hallways and tell every attendee you see to "Pick a Card!  Any card!  Take that Magic Card to Booth 1617 and turn it in for a prize!"  Next thing you know, the booth is full of attendees watching the Presentation!  AND, since all the attendees are turning in playing cards for prizes, your client has a pretty good idea who it was that pulled in the crowds.  Miracle #2.

And as if THAT wasn’t enough …

What do you do when the only time the attendees are in the Expo Hall hall is for meals?  To make matters worse, the Caterers, in their infinite wisdom, put a giant curtain in front of your booth, so no one sees you or your presenter.

Step out from behind the curtain.
That booth in the corner is now part of the dining entertainment.  Visit the tables during lunch and welcome the attendees.  Invite them over to your booth for some lunchtime magic.  Tell them that your presenter will teach them a trick and give them a special gift to take home with them.  Miracle #3.

And after this third miracle, you are officially a New Orleans Saint  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Tricks like this (pun intended) will get your booth full of prospects, and get your client to see the value that you bring to their trade show marketing effort.   If your client doesn't get good leads, they’re not likely to come back to this show.  And if they don’t come back to the show … you’re not working for them.

So …

You step up.  You help wherever you can. You do things that might not be part of your job description.  You make problems disappear.  Then, the morning after the show, you get an email thanking you for the great job you did along with a contract for their next three shows.

Life is Good.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How To Be A Better Manager...Part II

Welcome to another Monday!  As you go forth and conquer the Wonderful World of Events and Promotions, be sure and read this week’s tips:

How To Be A Better Manager … Part II

4.  Make sure everyone on your team has taken a break or had lunch before YOU do.

There is no better way to lose your staff’s respect than to get everyone in place for the event, push through the first few hours, tweak, tune, and occasionally terrify your staff and then be the first one to break for lunch.  No.  Don't do this.  If you need a few minutes to use the restroom and glug down an energy drink, tell your staff that you will return in five minutes and then lunches will begin.  And get back in three.  

The following story may help illustrate this point.  (The name has been changed to protect the guilty.)

Several years ago, I worked a promotion for Ralph K. The call time was 7AM.  Ralph showed up at 7:10.  Strike One.  At noon, Ralph decided he was going to take ‘an hour’ for lunch.  Strike Two.  By the time he got back and remembered to start breaking his staff, it was 2:30.  Strike Three.   How much respect do you think Ralph earned that day?  What do you think the chances are that I will work for him again?  And more to the point, what do you think the chances are that I will HIRE him, now that I happen to be running this campaign?   

Cranky employees do not make for a pleasant event.  Try to keep your staff from getting cranky--especially at you!

5.  Do not eat with your staff.


Yes, we all know each other and are probably friends outside the business, but give them a break and don't join them at the lunch table.  They need to be able to relax and get away from you.  They need to talk on the phone, chew gum, smoke, swear, and bitch.  Bitch about the client.  Bitch about how much their feet hurt.  Bitch about the look you gave them when they rolled in barely on time.  It's called a lunch BREAK for a reason, and part of that break is getting away from YOU.  

Unless lunch is being served for the whole staff in a tiny room with one table, you should make arrangements to let them have their space.  And if you must all eat together, don't talk about work.  Nurture them.  Care for them.  Ask them about their families or the next job they have lined up or where they went on vacation.  But NO shop talk!! 

6.  Have an emergency supply kit.
This is one of those things that a new manager might not be able to have, but over time, you will learn what to collect and what to have on hand at all times.  You know you are always bringing home leftover product from events, so put it all in a box and use it to keep your staff happy.  You never know when a granola bar is going to save someone's attitude--and your day!  

Sometimes, you can even ask the client ahead of time for a small amount of petty cash to supply these items.  More times than not they will say yes.  Happy staff = Happy client = Successful campaign = More work.

Some things to keep in your stash are:  

  • Food Items:  Granola bars, power bars, apples, carrots, juice boxes, flavored water, 5-hour Energy drinks, breath mints, chocolate, cheese sticks, cookies and anything else that you have collected from various promotions over the past few months.  Don't tell me you don't have a small arsenal of Nesquick floating around in your stash somewhere!  Festival season is a prime time to stock up!!  

  • Non-Food Items:  Band-aids, pain medication (non-prescription, please), Pepto, Tums or Rolaids, disposable ponchos, extra socks, beanies and gloves, tampons, dental floss, anti-bacterial sanitizer, toilet paper, napkins, chap-stick, sunscreen, and hand lotion.  Again, most of these items can be collected from past events, but some you can supply yourself.

Again, a story will illustrate how important this can be:

Last year, I was managing Team Awesome at an outdoor auto drive test event.  Anyone who has ever worked one of these knows exactly how grueling it can be.  I really needed my staff to step up and knock it out of the park.  This was a big client and I didn’t want this to be the first, and LAST time we worked together.

So I had a little meeting with my staff, and I laid it out for them.

"We have two options to make this event the best campaign ever and get rehired.  I can be a complete terror and micro-manage you into doing what I need you to do …. or I can bribe you." 

With that, I opened up my stash of goodies and watched their eyes open as wide as children on Christmas morning.  Suffice it to say, Team Awesome kicked ass!

And all it cost me was $5.65.  (Which I wrote off on my taxes.)

That’s all for this week … Tune in next Monday for Part III in an ever-growing series.  Feel free to add your own comments or suggestions.  You never know what might show up on my next blog!

Monday, May 7, 2012

How to be a Better Manager

Over the past several years that I have worked in promotions, I have probably read no less than 50 manuals, orientation letters, training guides, and blogs, written by agencies and staffing companies.  They all seemed to focus on one thing:  How to be a better employee.  While I appreciate the advice, I believe that a good team is as much the responsibility of the manager as it is the staff.  Good leadership is reflected in good employees.  And I’m sorry to say, the opposite is also true.  With that, I present this …

How To Be A Better Manager

***Part One in a Series of Three...or Four...or however many I feel like writing.  After all, this is MY blog...***

1.  Set rules and enforce them.  

My rules are very simple, easy to understand, and never change.  People who work for me can recite them ... in their sleep:
  1. Be on Time
  2. Be in Uniform
  3. Never, EVER be on your Cell Phone.

Simple, right?  Easy to follow?  You would be amazed.

I have something of a reputation.  I tend to fire someone on the first day of a promotion.  Why?  Well, usually because one or more of the above rules were not followed.  

As a manager, you have to draw your line in the sand.  Define what it takes to keep the job.  Define what it takes to lose it.  And don’t be afraid to fire someone who doesn't follow those rules.  Believe me, the rest of the staff will pay attention. You will have their respect -- and the respect of your client.

This is a job not a party.  Those who are here to work should not have to tolerate people who are not.  Show up late, dress sloppily, spend your time yapping on the phone or Facebooking?  Buh-Bye.

Last year, I managed the Docents program at Cisco Live!  On the first day of the assignment, my employer (and mentor) Dan Smith, was conducting a facilities tour.  A young woman directly in front of me was on her smartphone.  I happened to glance at the screen and when I discovered what she was up to, I politely suggested that perhaps she not be on Craigslist, looking for other jobs while working this one. She looked at me as if I had just asked her to turn off her mother's life support system!

She did not make it through the program.

OK, we got the nasty one out of the way.  The rest are easy.

2.  Beat your staff to work, dress better than your staff, and never, ever be seen on your cell phone.

What, you think the rules you set for your team don't apply to you?  Not only must you do as you say, you must do it BETTER than anyone on your staff.  Give them an example to strive for.

When I work conventions on the Event Staff side, I am at work at least 30 minutes before my staff.  Sometimes this means I'm in at 5:15 AM.  I get to have my coffee, relax, assess what challenges I might have for the day and deal with them.  I have plenty of time to pow-wow with my boss (who is usually at work 30 minutes before I am) and get ready to receive my staff with a well-prepared agenda and a smile.  

Too much of our business is done on-the-fly and at the last possible minute.  Why not avoid adding to this stressful situation by being early and prepared.  I learned this lesson by watching Susan Sperry of CSS run her shows.  For starters, she is ALWAYS there before I am and ready to prep me for the day.  (I actually think she sleeps at the convention hall.  I kept looking for her little Japanese roll-away mat, but then just decided that she probably doesn’t sleep at all.)  Susan is a woman I have never seen thrown off guard or unprepared for anything. 

Always make sure you are the last of your staff to leave the event.  You are accountable for your staff's actions as well as any material lent to them by the client, so make sure your staff gets out the door or off-site before you go home.  You don't want staff lingering and getting into trouble.  And trust me, you don't want an iPad going missing on your watch.

If you don't dress better than your staff, then how can you ask them to improve the way they present themselves?  Tuck in your shirt and wear a belt.  Have clean shoes, smooth hair, polished make-up and conservative jewelry.  Tuck a small mirror in your bag to discretely check if you have food in your teeth.  And under no circumstances have a bad manicure with partially chipped nail-polish!  That's just icky.  It shows that you don’t care about yourself.  If you don't care about your appearance, then how can you possibly care enough about your staff to make them successful?  Image is EVERYTHING in this business.

If you must be on your phone for work, let your staff know this during the Pre-Event Meeting or training.  When you were a BA, did you watch your manager text and Facebook continuously?  How did that make you feel after you were told NOT to?  If constant communication is a necessity for your job, consider Nextel radios or a separate business phone provided by the client.  Trust me, it helps!!

3.  Be respectful of your staff.

I can't stress this enough.  We are people.  You don't like to be treated like shit by your boss, do you?  Well your staff does not like to be treated like shit by you.  

We are all individuals with different needs, different morals and values and different personalities.  Respect that.  Anticipate your staff's needs before they do, and let them know that you care.

I'll give you an example of what I say in my Pre-Event Meeting (That's the second time I've mentioned a Pre-Event Meeting, think it's important??):

"I know we all have separate lives outside this particular job.  Some of us have families, some of us have kids, some of us have pets, and some of us have other things that we need to pay attention to because they are important.  I will make a promise to you right here and right now that I will do my best to respect you and your values and do whatever is in my power to make sure you get your needs met.  But I cannot meet your needs unless you communicate them to me in advance.

If you have a family that you need to check in with every day at 3:00, let me know in the morning, and I will make every effort to get you off the floor to check in.  If you have dietary restrictions such as Diabetes or Hypoglycemia and have to have a shot or a pill or a snack, let me know and I will find someone to cover you so you can attend to your medical needs.  If you have a religious or culturally specific task that you must perform, let me know and I will do my best to accommodate you.  It might not happen right away, but I promise you that if you work with me and you trust me, I will do my best to make it happen.  But that involves us all respecting each other and being honest with each other.  If you don't work with me on your needs and I see you sneaking off every few minutes to talk on the phone, check your email, sneak a snack or whatever it is you feel you need to do, I will assume that you don't care about your position and will find a permanent replacement."

I make that promise and I stick to it.  I've had staff come to me in the morning and ask me if it is OK for them to make a call at 3:15 to have a five-minute interview.  Of course.  I've had staff ask me if they can take their lunch at a certain time so they can be on a training call for another promo.  Of course.  I've had staff ask me if they can take a quick break so that they can say hello to their kids who are stopping by the Convention Center in a half hour.  Duh!!  Of course.  Those who show me this kind of respect are those who are on my speed dial for future work.

Be honest with your staff, communicate openly with them, and you will be a much better manager.  Why?  Because your staff will TRUST you.   Then, when your client walks up to you in a panic and asks, "Where is Dave?  I thought he was stationed at the front door?"  You can calmly reply, "Dave is on a scheduled break right now and will be back in exactly ten minutes.  Until then, Diane is staffing the position."  Suddenly, your client is happy.  And happy with YOU.  They are free to go away and put out someone else’s fire.  You have proven to your client and to your staff that you know what you are doing.  You are in control.

Life is good.