It's OK to Cry at Trade Shows
Well, it’s another January, and that means for many of us, it’s a time to reflect and build upon on the prior year. Many will be gathered together at the Mandalay Convention Center, and surrounding areas, for the PPAI Expo this week. For the thousands attending this year, it’s a place to reconnect with old friends, meet some new ones, and grow business. Whether you’re a distributor, supplier, multi-line representative or business services representative (like me), from aisle to aisle, morning to night, Starbucks to Eye Candy, there is plenty of opportunity for business to be had.
Many are out for the camaraderie, good times, and idea generation, and while I enjoy seeing new and old faces as I walk the aisles of the show floor and the frequent the establishments afterwards, the PPAI Expo is always a little bittersweet for me.
You see, nine years ago around this time, my father passed away from a battle with brain and lung cancer. For anyone who has experienced this, you know that losing a parent is one of the toughest life events to go through. Even though I was I had been working at Promo Marketing for about a year-and-a-half, my manager at the time graciously told me to take whatever time I needed, despite the fact there was another industry event happening that week. Others would pick up for me.
However, being the son of a hard-working midwestern salesman father—one who, I may add, would go through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation for several hours, then head out to face with clients shortly thereafter—I felt it would be a betrayal to his memory if I didn’t carry on and do the job I was being paid to do, even if it was a few days after his passing. Plus, I was new, I had to make an impression to my colleagues, and I was behind a week to start the year, so there wasn’t a chance I was missing this event. I HAD TO SELL ADS!
That said, because of my relative inexperience with my customers, and my own insecurities, I felt that I had not built enough of a relationship with them to reveal the reason why I couldn’t see them the previous week. My cynical brain, inherited from my dad, told me that by admitting why, it could be construed as a disingenuous ruse to get someone to buy something, no matter how factual. However, I also have my mother’s genes. She's a wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve and dammit-if-I’m-gonna-cry-I’m-gonna-cry kind of person.
I put up a good front among my colleagues, who’ve known me for quite a while and knew the circumstances from the prior week when I arrived in Vegas. I figured I’d suppressed the emotion enough to make sure it was “all business” by the time I hit the show floor. As I approached the first supplier booth in Las Vegas—emboldened with the artificial resolve that a sales rep may receive from repeat viewings of Alec Baldwin’s "Glengarry Glen Ross" speech, ready to extol the virtues of advertising in Promo Marketing—did I swallow the lump that had festered in the top of my esophagus for several days and continue with my intention of selling a half-page to them?
No, dear reader, I did not. Instead of "Glengarry Glen Ross," you may have thought I watched a three-hour mashup of the climactic scenes of "Brian’s Song," "Good Will Hunting" and "Marley and Me."
After collecting myself and attempting to clean up the teary, snotty mess—all the while thinking that I had blown a great opportunity to add more revenue to our February issue because of my outburst—a funny thing happened. I received the warmest collection of hugs one could imagine.
These great people were well within their reason to recoil or dismiss me the moment my voice cracked and my face became possessed by a trembling sadness demon. After all, they only knew me as the guy who called them for advertising, and here I was, bawling like a Bachelor contestant after Nick didn’t choose me for the one-on-one, and poaching in on their time talking to real prospects and customers. Instead, they embraced me. They told me it’s all OK, they understood, they’re so sorry, and they were there if I needed anything. Even though they didn’t know me aside from our standard business chit-chat every couple of months and their acknowledgment of my role with Promo Marketing (i.e., I’m not buying any of their caps), the gesture was not at all out of pity. It was from the genuine sense of good that comes inherently from many in this industry.
Even though I am still to this day slightly embarrassed by that moment, I feel it’s a very good representation of the level of support the people in our industry have to offer. If a supplier is willing to put up with a blubbering sad man at the most random of times, think about what kind of support they’ll offer you.
Fortunately, I haven’t had that kind of episode on a trade show floor since then. (I can’t speak for what’s happened at blackjack tables, but that’s another story.) Whether you’re in Las Vegas this week or not, each January reminds me that regardless of what’s happened the prior year, this is a year for a new start. What was great last year is a wonderful opportunity to build upon that success. Alternatively, what sucked the previous year can be used as motivation to turn it around this time. I hope your situation is of the former, of course, but regardless of what the motive is for your strategy for this year (and I know this is cliché as all hell), remember that we’re all here to support each other.
And, if you’re curious, no, that company still didn’t buy the ad space.