Advance Your Program, Advance Your Career


Working in a position that is often (arguably) misunderstood in the company ecosystem can be frustrating. You like what you do, you know you are so much more than an order-taker, you play multiple roles with suppliers, product groups, and leadership—but the travel demands of your job decrease your face time and sometimes, it seems, your influence on the total corporate marketing effort. You enjoy what you do, you thrive on the energy of face-to-face events, and you appreciate that no two events are alike.

But at the same time, you have your eye on career advancement. And why wouldn’t you? Your job is multi-faceted, and you bounce between the strategic and tactical on a day-to-day basis. Your responsibilities include managing an exhibit staff, primarily salespeople, over whom you have no direct authority although their buy-in to your program is essential. Your projects are occasionally held up by late approvals from product teams or, in some cases, compliance departments. You must negotiate—and sometimes argue—with show management and associations to get what you and your company need to be successful. And all the while, you know it is entirely up to you to prove the value of your program, which, as it happens, is one of the largest line items in the marketing budget, and to show how what you are doing contributes to corporate revenue. And frankly, no, your budget shouldn’t be cut because you are responsible for the landscape of the final frontier where your company and its prospects and customers can interact face-to-face.


Is there a way that you can keep doing what you’re doing but move from a specialist to a director, for example, and get compensated for the many hours and weekends you dedicate to making a compelling presence on the show floor? We have a few suggestions:

Pursue education in the event industry. Yes, there are programs for you. Exhibitor Magazine and its events arm, ExhibitorLive, offer a certification program in trade show management, CTSM. The Events Industry Council, formerly the Convention Industry Council, offers the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation as well as a healthcare-specific program. There is also the CMM or Certification in Meetings Management, offered through the University of Virginia. Need to read more about these or other programs? Here is a good source. Whatever course you choose, talk it up to your manager, and get support for your studies. You are enhancing your company’s corporate profile, and it’s a significant investment of your energies.

Develop a role for corporate leadership at your events. We have all seen C-level executives appear at an event, looking lost and awkward, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Plan ahead. Find out if there is an opportunity for them to speak at the event, or if that isn’t feasible, design a VIP experience for your best customers in the exhibit. But wait! Be sure that your name is attached to the opportunity. Prepare some briefing documents that will put your C-level person at ease and take credit for the effort. Too often, in the pressure cooker that is the show floor, you assume someone else will take care of those details. Flip that pattern! Delegate the tactical on-site details and focus on strategy.

Promote innovation. You might see or read about the technology you think would work well in your exhibit. But go beyond your own sources of information: insist that your partners bring you new ideas. Too often suppliers present concepts they think will “work” or be readily accepted because what they’re presenting is a riff on a show floor attraction that you already used. Challenge them to bring you new ideas, new ways of presenting material, or for that matter, new materials. There are suppliers that are risk-averse; you don’t want to work with them. And if you come across something that seems right for your program, ask them to investigate. Manage your suppliers in a responsible way.

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Become a thought leader either in your vertical industry or in the events industry. Not impossible, not at all—but you must start. Join an association, either one focused on marketing in your vertical or on the events industry. Raise your hand! Volunteer! Start off by being part of a panel. Join a committee. Work hard (you already know how to do that). Become known to the inner circle of the association. Don’t limit yourself to national associations. For instance, many large cities have MPI chapters, and you might want to start at a local level. Are you uncomfortable speaking before a crowd? Get help. There are Toastmasters groups everywhere, and if you really want to feel confident, take an acting or improv class. Feeling really brave? Have a friend record a video of your presentation. You will notice, if you’re like the rest of us, that you have certain quirks that you would like to eliminate. (Fear not: we all have them.)

Be judiciously social. Social media is a wonderful thing. It can keep you connected with friends you make during your travels, it can alert people when you are traveling to their cities, and it can promote your thought leadership. Be active on LinkedIn in particular. Post articles of interest to people in your vertical or the events industry. Join LinkedIn groups. But go beyond that: wish people happy birthday, congratulate them on new jobs, connect contacts who can help each other. Get “known” or recognized for your interests. Facebook is great, but be careful. Keep your posts positive, try to stay away from controversy—and if someone tags you, visit that page to see whether you want to be tagged in a particular photo.

Make friends with colleagues across the enterprise. Make an appointment with IT when you are in the office and learn how you can append the data collected at shows to the customer data that already exists. See if you can devise a code of some type that alerts marketing analysts that the appended data came from a face-to-face event. Let’s face it: with the focus currently on GDPR implementation, you don’t need an excuse to talk to IT. And while you’re in another part of the building, ask a procurement person to lunch. Talk about some of the challenges you face: the charges that are not transparent, the charges you incur when approvals are late. Learn how procurement looks at pricing for creative as opposed to how they look at pricing for commodities. This shouldn’t be a one-off occurrence, but the beginning of a relationship that benefits both of you.

Create your posse. When projects are piling up, the temptation to eat lunch at your desk or to work late when everyone else goes out for drinks and apps is strong. Resist that temptation. You know that the work will be there after lunch or the next morning; you won’t get that much more done by missing out on the in-house networking. You don’t want to be perceived as anti-social. Those less formal get-togethers can provide you with the opportunity to find a mentor, or even better, a sponsor—someone who can promote you within your company, who can put your name forward when promotions are on the table. Visibility is critical if you want to advance in your career.

Take care of yourself. You don’t get extra points for not taking a vacation. Get enough sleep. Yes, that’s hard when you’re on the road a lot, but do the best you can. Eat well and exercise regularly. Your feeling of well-being is an essential asset for the way you come across to people. Get a good haircut. Do you wear glasses? Get some new frames. True, you are on your feet for hours on end, but some shoes are comfortable AND stylish. Although you may not feel like it, on the days that you’re in the office, dress well. “Well” does not mean expensively. It means neat, clean, ironed, simple. When you’re traveling, forget room service (the fries are always soggy). Try local foods, see a play, visit a museum.

Yes, it’s possible to keep doing the job you love while getting the recognition you deserve. PS: let us know if we can help!