Creativity For Trade Show Managers: Part 1

Creativity? Since when is being a trade show manager a creative enterprise? That job often seems more like pushing a rope. Well, I’m suggesting it is creative—and always has been. Maybe you just didn’t label it as such.creativity for trade show managers

You may think creativity on the trade show floor means playing silly games in the booth or having a costumed character in the aisle. But stunts like that are not where creativity begins and ends. The kind of creativity I’m talking about is coming up with ideas that suit your corporate culture and help with these four objectives:

  • Enhance, not detract from, your company’s show goals,
  • Bring big returns without breaking the bank,
  • Make sense in their own right, and with your company’s corporate culture,
  • Don’t appear “added on” to an already-existing show plan,

Gimmicks, giveaways and gadgets that don’t relate to your marketing message give creativity a bad name.

Creativity is not cleverness. It’s actually an applied method of solving a problem in a new, different or unconventional way.

When applied correctly, a creative approach can (and often should) challenge conventional thinking and break new ground.

To apply a creative approach as a trade show manager, work through these three steps:

  1. Identify the need,
  2. Brainstorm a great idea,
  3. Package and sell the idea to stakeholders (we’ll come back to this one in our next post).

Let’s look at how this process works in action.

  1. Identify the need:

Creativity should have a reason to exist. How do you know when you need it in your exhibit program? If your lead count is falling or your booth staffers are bored, or there’s poor turnout in the booth, these are all clues that it’s time to change. And if you’ve been doing things the same way for a long, long time…trust me, you’re ready for a change.

Begin the process with a few questions: A. What can we do better? B. Why have we always settled on the “safe” choice? C. What do we need to do to make a change?

  1. Brainstorm a great idea:

There are thousands of books on how to brainstorm, including Roger von Oech’s classic, “A Whack On The Side Of The Head.” But let me suggest a few things that are necessary. You need to start with a good team of players with different skillsets. You’re going to need:

  • Creative Thinkers: these are the people who keep files of different marketing ideas, come up with the themes for office parties, and have folders for clever sayings, jokes and unusual facts. They probably have interesting hobbies they take part in away from work.
  • Improvisers: These are the people in your organization who can take an idea and run with it, like an improvisational actor does with a suggestion from the audience. They like “big picture” concepts and experiment with different possibilities.
  • Detail People: These are the people who act like research scientists in your company, analyzing, weighing and judging. They just naturally seem to know what will work and what won’t in your organization. They should have a clear understanding of your marketing objectives, so they have something to weigh ideas against.
  • Convincers: The biggest reason creative ideas fall apart is that there’s no one who can get others on board and lay out the case for a creative approach, like a lawyer prepares for the courtroom. Their job is to think through all the possible objections and come up with valid counter-arguments.

Generally speaking, the people you’ll be presenting your creative idea to are not the most creative types. That’s why it’s important that the Convincers understand what ROI the company is looking for. This allows them to prepare and present their best arguments.

Once you’ve got your team together, use this ten step approach to creative thinking. Share these points with your team, so you’ll all be singing from the same sheet music when it comes to brainstorming effectively.

  1. There’s no such thing as a bad idea—at least, not when you’re starting out. A weird or outlandish idea can often spark something more practical. If you weigh ideas on their merits at this stage, you’ll never get anywhere because your team will quickly become too afraid to go out on a creative limb.
    creativity for trade show managers - VK-1122 MEO Portable Hybrid Display with Fabric Graphic and Backwall Workstations

    VK-1122 MEO Portable Hybrid Display with Fabric Graphic and Backwall Workstations


  1. Take ideas to their illogical extreme. Let your team feel that anything is possible at this stage of the process. Go as far as you can with an idea to see if it sparks anything else along the way.


  1. Keep your minds open. Leave all preconceived notions at the door. The biggest bugaboo to thinking creatively is getting stuck in some “routine,” or “the way we’ve always done it.” It does take energy to make changes, but the longer you wait, the harder it gets.


  1. Encourage everyone on the team to bring in ideas from outside to help spark the creative process. Use ads, articles, books, famous quotations, Vine or YouTube videos, and props—even your team’s own life experiences.


  1. Go off on a tangent. You’ll never know where one can lead. It’s helpful to record your meeting so that you can retrace your steps back to the main highway once you’ve gone down a different road.


  1. Play the “What If” game (What if we made it bigger? Smaller? Painted it blue? Turned it upside down?). Challenge your team to go deeper or think more broadly, instead of grabbing the first idea that comes along.


  1. If you really must shoot down someone else’s idea, be prepared to offer solutions or alternatives. The worst thing that can happen to healthy brainstorming is someone who just keeps saying, “That’ll never work.”


  1. Consider giving something obvious an unusual twist. Don’t forget to examine what’s right there in front of your nose.
    8ft curved vburst pop up display kit

    8ft curved vburst pop up display kit


  1. Use word associations to advance an idea. Encourage your group to offer antonyms and synonyms for words used in explaining an idea. A thesaurus will keep new words coming that might lead to a fresh concept.


  1. Metaphors can be your friend. How does your product or service compare to something else, say, a race car engine? What would be the fuel? Who would be in the driver’s seat? Metaphors provide a creative “hook” that should be instantly relatable to your audience.


Finally, make the process fun. When people are having a good time, there’s more energy accessible to bring to the challenge. Offer refreshments. Play music. Go outside. Find a different setting. No one creates well under pressure, so keep it light.

We love to work with clients when they’re excited about doing something new. One of the benefits of modular displays, like those we provide, is that they can grow with you as you move further and further out on that creative limb. As you refine your skills as a creative trade show manager, you’ll find that most of whatever you need for your creative approach is probably in our catalog. If you don’t see it, go ahead and ask us. Call (800) 676-3976 or email [email protected].

For more, read our part 2 on creativity for trade show managers or how to be a better trade show manager.