Image result for Barry Siskind     Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders
"The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge
 and the dissemination of truth."

John F. Kennedy

Meet our Thoughtleaders: An Interview with
Barry Siskind by Gordon Nary

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Barry Siskind has been an important fixture on the trade show scene for three decades. He continues to help exhibitors, around the globe, achieve spectacular results from their show investment. His company, International Training and Management Company, is one of a handful of firms that specializes in helping exhibitors. Barry has written seven bestselling business books including Powerful Exhibit Marketing. He is an active member of IAEE and CEIR and UFIís Community Manager. He is also the recipient of CAEMís Lifetime Achievement Award. Barry, the guru of exhibit marketing, sat down with me to talk about his career and the future of face-to-face marketing 

Gordon: You have been doing this for so long. What got you into this business in the first place? 

Barry:  I found the exhibition industry like many people do, through the back door. I had been an exhibitor in my previous career. I also had a background in sales training. I saw lots of companies who were exhibiting at trade shows and simply not getting good results. The reasons seemed pretty obvious to me and I thought this might be an interesting direction for me to pursue. So I did a lot of research, spoke to experts and visited trade shows with a new eye on exhibitor performance. When I sold my company, I decided to move into exhibit consulting so that I could help exhibitors realize a better return for their investment. 

Gordon: Why not traditional sales training?

Barry: I seriously considered it but when I researched the market I found lots of people offering sales training services and quite frankly I didnít feel that I could add anything of value. The last thing I wanted to do with my career was to be a ďme too.Ē I had a feeling for working a show because I had done it first hand and I understood how different it was from traditional selling.  

Gordon: You are a recognized speaker. Do you remember your first speaking job? 

Barry: It was the Workshop Show in Toronto. I was to be the luncheon speaker. The organizers set the room up for 200 people and I was all set. The problem was that the only people who showed up were the handful of service contractors who were on their lunch break. So there I was standing in front of an empty room. Those service contractors got the best seminar they ever had. 

Gordon: How did you learn to be a speaker?

Barry: When I entered the field, the first year or so, I spoke whenever and wherever I could. I spoke to groups of all sizes. Each time I used the opportunity to hone my craft. Whatís exciting to me is that after 30 years I am still learning. 

Gordon: Did you have much competition back then? 

Barry: Not really. There were a handful of people doing exhibitor training and a huge marketplace.  There are more people in the field today but very few who specialize in just helping exhibitors. 

Gordon: What changes have you seen in how exhibitors approach exhibitions? 

Barry: The biggest change I see is the need for accountability. Trade shows managers are now forced to ensure that their investment in exhibitions contributes measurably to the bottom line. Fewer and fewer exhibitors have the luxury of participating in a show and hoping for the best. Shows have become a marketing tool for the seasoned pros. Those people who understand the value and have planned for the challenges will run a successful exhibit program. 

Gordon: And how are companies handling the issue of accountability? 

Barry: Some are doing a great job while others have thrown up their hands saying that they donít know how to measure results. Some who are not at the show to sell products and services say they are at a loss when it comes to measurement. The problem is that as soon as there is any downward shift in the economy, the knee-jerk reaction is to cut the exhibition budget.  From their managerís perspective it makes sense since there is no formula for measuring ROI. But the downside is that often companies lose excellent opportunities that were right under their noses.  

Gordon: What should companies do? 

Barry: I think it is in managementís lap. If the people who approve budgets understood the real importance of their face-to-face activities, they would insist that their exhibit managers have a more sophisticated skill set. Organizations like IAEE and UFI are doing their best to make updated education programs easily accessible. I believe that if more people understood the inherent value of face-to-face, there would be a greater uptake of these programs. 

Gordon: What else can be done to improve the situation?

Barry: I believe that exhibit managers need to be able to make better decisions about the shows they attend. I am still mystified at the slowness of the North American community to embrace independent audits of their shows.

Gordon: How do you define your role in working with clients? 

Barry: I am a consultant. I know that many of my colleagues call themselves trainers but I find that definition limiting.  I like to use the analogy of a computer when I define an exhibit program. The hardware, which gets most of the attention, looks great and may make your boss proud but doesnít get results unless you include software. Software is the human element. Itís only when both software and hardware are carefully orchestrated that great results are possible. My role as a consultant is to help companies find this balance. 

Gordon: Are you saying that both hardware and software are of equal importance?

Barry: I am not sure ranking them in order of importance is the right way to look at it. Rather, I would say that one doesnít work without the other. If companies put their entire budget into hardware it decreases the training opportunity for their trade show staff and thatís where the mistake lies. 

Gordon: Surely you are not advocating training for all booth personnel.  

Barry: Actually I am. Having a lot of experience doesnít guarantee success. Exhibit managers should look at participating in an exhibition like a football coach does when his team is playing in the Super Bowl. The coach has well trained and experience players but unless they understand the competition, work as a team, focus their attention on the immediate job and are well motivated, then Super Bowl victory is nothing but a dream.    

Gordon: But many exhibit managers simply donít have the time or budget to do the training. What do you say to them? 

Barry: Letís go back to our discussion of accountability and ROI. If exhibit managers know there is a positive return and if their senior managers understand the value of face to face, then justifying the time and expense to train people should be forthcoming. 

Gordon: You have done a lot of work in Europe, Asia and South America. Are there differences in the way people approach exhibitions in these various cultures?

Barry: Yes. Each culture has its own business norms which are strongly reflected in their face to face activities. As an example, you can see this in the types of exhibit hardware, how people are greeted and the use of hospitality. It would be a wise move for any company considering exhibiting in a new country to spend the time learning the doís and doníts of exhibiting in the places they wish to do business. 

Gordon: You have written a book called Powerful Exhibit Marketing. What motivated you to write it? 

Barry: Powerful Exhibit Marketing is my seventh business book. My first was called The Successful Exhibitor. I wrote it nearly thirty years ago because people were asking me for additional information and there was very little in the marketplace. What I have attempted to do in all my books is to write clearly and distinctly to give my readers access to information in an easy to digest form. I want my readers to see a solution and know the techniques to incorporate into their plans to overcome their challenges.  Powerful Exhibit Marketing is a comprehensive book specifically focused on the needs of the exhibit manager. Iím quite proud of the book and the help it has been to so many people. 

Gordon: People say that exhibitions are a dying marketing form and are being quickly replaced by virtual shows, interactive websites and social media. How would you respond to that? 

Barry: The people who say that trade show days are numbered are not reading all the studies that say the opposite. We have gone through some turbulent economic times. Some industries were more severely hit than others and the attendance at these specific industry shows were evidence of the downturn. But while some industries falter others thrived. What I believe and what all the research supports is that there is a strong need for face to face marketing. Technology has moved us away from the personal connections that people still need. Exhibitions are still the best place to meet lots of high-value contacts in a short period of time and begin the process of engagement and meaningful dialogues. 

Gordon: Do you have any advice for those considering a career in the exhibition industry?

Barry:  The exhibition industry provides a dynamic workplace. It a great career choice for people who like working with lots of interesting people and enjoy finding innovative marketing solutions in a high pressured environment.  This industry gives you all that and more. But the exhibition industry demands that the people who choose it as a career are dedicated professionals which means not only learning all there is to learn through one of the various programs offered by associations and universities but a commitment to a continuous learning path throughout your entire career. 

I have had a great career. Iíve enjoyed every moment. I still get excited when I see a show being set up or when I stand in front of a room filled with exhibitors wanting to learn the newest skills and techniques.

Gordon: Your excitement is contagious.Thank you for your time and a great interview.


© 2014 by Gordon Nary