I feel like Paul Revere – “The trade shows are coming! The trade shows are coming!”  Well, in reality, 1 down and 3 to go!  Hopefully the Atlanta Gift Show was a huge success for the artists who exhibited.  Next up, CHA then SURTEX in May and the Licensing Expo in June.  So there will be many discussions and questions about how to decide which show would be best for your business, how to go about learning about the shows, what to do you if you attend a show, etc.

To me, the most important thing is to be extremely conscious and considerate of the exhibitors and their time and investment in any of the particular shows.  I’ve exhibited at more than 11 shows and have seen some crazy things.  I’m not an agent for others yet some artists want me to spend a lot of time looking at their portfolio and telling them what to do. (That is what coaches are for, and not on a show floor.)  Or others want to take my promotional materials and say to me, “So I can do mine just like yours”.  That isn’t really a complement, it’s copying.  Or one time and artist literally stood in front of my booth, rocking back and forth on his shoes saying, “Yup.  I’ll be in a booth one day and you will have to compete with me.”

I don’t think most artists are mean-spirited in what they do or how they act, they just don’t know better.  They get such tunnel vision about why they are there and wanting to learn that they forget the exhibitors have spent a lot of time, money and effort to be there – and not so someone can block your booth rocking back and forth on their shoes. 🙂

But don’t take my word for it – here is some great advice a fellow artist shared with a new artist wanting to learn what to do or not to do when walking a show.

She refers to SURTEX and a few of the details are specific to that show but overall, the advice is sound for any show.

I’ve done a booth at Surtex for a long time and mentored a number of aspiring artists. I remember how many questions I had and how eager I was. May I offer you and other new artists an arm around the shoulder about this? If you’re a newbie, there are so many ways you can step on toes without meaning to.

Sometimes when we’re so full of enthusiasm and want to learn so much, we can accidentally do things that make us seem rude and offensive. This happens often at Surtex. You may not realize it but those of us in the booths have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours preparation to be there. We MUST make it pay. We are there to meet present clients and prospective ones. Our money and sweat has paid for that huge venue and brought those people into the building.

So while I know you’d never try to take advantage, you can understand why we ask you to walk down the middle of the aisle and not approach our booths. We don’t want people taking photos because we have struggled to dream up something that’s ours- we don’t want you to copy it. You must find your own vision, dream up your own wonderful and unique booth, not copy mine.

We exhibitors would ask you not to walk over and engage us in conversation unless we make the move first because if you are standing at our booth, proper show etiquette means that nobody else will approach us. Others do not know this is just a friendly, non-business conversation and if we’re just having a pleasant chat, prospective clients will walk by because that is politeness in this industry. They will not interrupt what might be a business meeting. You may unintentionally be wrecking our show. We may be wishing you’d leave but too polite to ask and make it awkward.

The same with portfolios. It is absolutely a no-no to start looking at another artist’s portfolio unless they invite you. Sometimes artists look through another artist’s portfolio to steal ideas. Of course that is probably the last thing you’d do. But if you innocently start looking through a portfolio, you are likely to have the artist respond by asking you to stop immediately. This happened to me a dozen times last year and after the first time or two I’m afraid I wasn’t particularly sensitive in the way I said it.

As to the $150 fee to walk the show, if you are planning to go you should pay it and consider it a cheap education. That’s only fair. We who have paid thousands for our booths have asked the show organizers to do this to make it more fair. Why should we pay all those fees so that others can walk in and take photos, meet clients, peek through our samples… all for free? If you look at it from the exhibitors’ point of view (and we after all are the ones who fund the whole show) why would we put out all that energy and money so that others can have it for nothing? I know that’s not the intention, but it’s how you will look at it when you have a booth, too. We are not major corporations, we are small design shops for the most part, individuals just like you. And we have to make it pay.

If you pay the $150 fee, you should wander the show and look at everything. Walk those aisles for hours. Smile and some of us will chat with you when it’s quiet and we can do so. But for the most part you are there to observe and learn. Don’t take photos, don’t approach busy people, and for heavens’ sakes don’t bring your portfolio and plan to whip it out and make a deal in the aisle. Bring a little stack of business cards and your most comfortable shoes, a notebook and pencil. If you see an agent you are interested in, note their name and you can contact them after the show. If there’s an artist you admire, write their name down and send them a kind email when you get home. This way you’ll build a reputation for being appropriate and considerate. You may make some valuable contacts and you’ll have gotten a good education.

I hope I haven’t offended anyone. I am only trying to offer you the advice someone should have offered me when I was starting out.

I wish you joy and success walking the show. If you come to Surtex, wave at me from the middle of the aisle and smile and if I can I will step out and greet you.

Thank you so much for letting me share this (you know who you are!) and I, too, wish everyone a great 2011.  We all want to do what we love, be successful and get the economy and industry back to where it was.  Let’s be professional, optimistic and work hard to make it happen!

– Tara Reed