With IMEX America coming up (Oct. 18-20), meeting planners that have participated in the event’s hosted buyer programs share best practices and other essential advice so you can make the most of your time there.
“You have to put in the work before the trade show—that means when you get there, you’re going to get ROI on your time, as opposed to wandering like a lost lamb in the wilderness,” warns industry veteran Marguerite Florsham, president of Strategy US Meeting & Incentive Travel Specialists.
1. Identify your priorities
“First of all, you’ve got to know what your objectives are—what are you trying to achieve?” Florsham says. “And be prepared to work because it is work and you have to keep your concentration at IMEX America because there’s so much going on. You have to really have a clear plan in your mind as to what your objectives are—if not, it’ll be a few frenzied days.”
“I usually come with RFPs. I have very strong objectives—I have clients that have nailed down a destination or have a few destinations that we’re looking at, so I use IMEX America as a time to research, to talk to suppliers—hotels as well as destinations—who are in the mix,” she says. “After meeting with them, I short list [the options].”
2. Strategic mapping
Map out your appointments prior to scheduling in order to minimize having to run from one end of the massive trade show floor to the other.
“Because of the size of the trade show floor, when you book your appointments, try to make them as close together as possible,” Florsham says. “Don’t book one appointment on one end of the trade show and [the next] appointment a 10-minute walk in the totally opposite direction. [To do this] you have to go to the floor map. That is really important—when you’re a hosted buyer, with the mandatory appointments [per] days, you have to be very quick on your feet.”
3. Schedule education
Time for education sessions can be limited based on your appointments, so take advantage of all of the Smart Monday education possible—the day before scheduled appointments begin.
“You should schedule time for education because that has immense value,” Florsham says. “Because of the commitment with the appointments, I often don’t have time to do the educational [sessions]—apart from Smart Monday, which is amazing. I come for Smart Monday because that’s the only way I can get the education—I like to be in the know. But, you know, Tuesday and Wednesday, I’m slammed with appointments.”
4. Manage your energy level
The bevvy of evening functions and opportunities offered by suppliers can be hard to resist, but remain mindful of the energy you’ll need to be successful the following day.
Florsham takes a different approach to all that’s on offer at IMEX America, often skipping the evening functions so as to be as sharp as possible the next day. “I get in on Sunday, Smart Monday starts [the next] morning and [the next day] you’re into the seminars. And that goes until the late afternoon—and by that time, I’m pooped, I don’t even go to any of the evening functions. A lot of business is done at the [nightly] networking events—so there is value in that. But the next day you have the keynotes, then you’re onto the trade show floor and you run until 5-5:30 p.m. Free time for me doesn’t exist there. Of course, I know planners who go off and see shows and all of the different suppliers offer all kinds of wonderful opportunities, but personally I don’t go because I’m exhausted—I have to conserve my energy for the next day on the trade show floor.”
Tracey Lane, president of The Lane Group, LLC, has a team of 12 people, four of which will be attending IMEX America this year. In offering suggestions for hosted buyer newbies, she surveyed her group for the best recommendations to share with you.
“At IMEX America, if you take the full hosted program, most of your time is taken during the day, for certain,” Lane says. However, if you’ve got the stamina, her group recommends attending the evening networking events.
5. Know the suppliers
Learn about the people you’re going to be meeting with. More decision makers are often at IMEX America, compared to many other trade shows, Florsham says. Understand that you’re dealing with the professionals with which you can cut deals, not junior-level sales people—so plan accordingly.
“What I do really, really like about IMEX America, and why I am a big supporter, is because the senior suppliers are all there,” Florsham says. “You’ve got the key people: owners of DMCs, sometimes general managers, certainly directors of sales and marketing, you’ve got all the right decision makers. You don’t get any other show that has every head honcho you can imagine—they’re all there.”
6. Be professional
By participating in a hosted buyer program, you’re making commitments to the organization hosting you, the event’s planners and the suppliers involved. It’s your responsibility to meet all of their expectations—as well as your own.
To start off, Lane’s team recommends: “Get to the show floor early the first day it opens because there will be a long wait to get in. [If you’re not there early], you might be late to your first appointment.”
“Be considerate: Don’t waste the supplier’s time by saying, ‘I’m only here because I needed another appointment.’ Even if you think that, please don’t say that,” Lane says. “I know suppliers have heard that quite a bit and it is so distasteful to me. You can sit there and listen and you never know… I had a planner who had an appointment with a DMC in Berlin. She said, ‘We have never in the history of the company gone to Berlin. I feel like this is a waste of their time and a waste of my time.’ And I said, ‘Go. Sit. Talk. Figure out why we might want to bring a program to Berlin—let them sell you on their destination.’ And sure enough, within a month after getting back to the office, we received a meeting that wanted to go to Berlin. So meet with people with an open mind—because you never know what’s going to happen. And also meet with people you may be familiar with, you may have been to their property last year or two years ago, but things change, many things change—management, general managers, the physical property changes—so keep an open mind and know there’s something to learn from everyone you visit.”
And even though the education sessions during trade show days can be tempting, don’t skip out on scheduled appointments for them. “There are several courses offered that we couldn’t take because we have appointments in the way. So it’s either miss appointments or not schedule enough to meet your commitment,” Lane’s team says. “People need to understand that suppliers have put their heart and soul into this, they’ve paid a lot of money to be [at IMEX America], and if you’re hosted, you should be respectful of your host.”
7-10. Comfortable and informed
Planners from The Lane Group offered a number of additional recommendations that are wise to adopt in your IMEX America planning.
- “Bring water and a snack. Wear comfortable shoes—very important.”
- “Download the app.”
- “Keep a calendar of all your invites because you will get many.”
- “If you’d like to eat lunch with your co-workers or others that might have appointments, make sure you block out the same times.”