If It’s October, It Must Be AUSA
Over here at GE's Intelligent Platforms business, we’re getting ready to ‘do’ the Association of US Army Annual Meeting & Exposition (aka ‘the AUSA show’).
Quoting from the AUSA website: “Held every October in Washington, D.C., the AUSA Annual Meeting is the largest landpower exposition and professional development forum in North America.” There are over 500 Army and industry exhibitors and more than 250,000 net square feet of exhibit space. The AUSA show is a big deal, and every name you have heard of in the military supplier world will be there. There will be tanks and trucks and missiles and helicopters and radars and radios and command posts and everything associated with these things at this show. We supply embedded computers to all of them – these are our peeps.
“Doing” Trade shows conjures up all sorts of images:
That’s right: conventioneers, with funny hats and drink in-hand, crowded in elevators as they roam from party to party. So you might be thinking: “Yeah, these trade shows are just a bunch of the sales guys hanging out at in a hall schmoozing with customers, drinking and having expensive lunches and dinners. It’s just a lark!” If you are thinking this, let me set you straight; at GE this is not how we do trade shows.
This is how we do trade shows.
Over a year ahead, we evaluate what shows we will do for the coming year. We budget and plan our space at these and, where it makes sense – like the AUSA show - we work with other divisions like GE Aviation to make a “One GE” presence.
About six months before, we begin our planning for the show. This includes deciding on our theme and message, what products we will feature, which of our experts will be needed to attend to best represent these products and who we want to reach both globally (walk-bys) and specific invitees. At this, stage we must also book travel and lodging for the attendees to get the best rates.
About three months before, we start a running show plan (updated no less than weekly and often daily) that lays out all tasks; attendees, booth layout, display fabrication, graphics, equipment preparation, videos, social media, presentations, invitations for specific customers and influencers and scheduling meetings with our leadership and these folks. We begin the PR activity reaching out to the press -product releases and other good news.
At two months to go, we have weekly WebEx sessions for those who will ‘work’ the show, and create detailed plans for the ‘who, what, where and how’ of the various presentations, meetings and booth manning duties. Collateral is ordered (and in some cases produced).
With one month to go, we prepare and send announcements to our customer lists; each sales professional sends a “teaser” announcement about the show, explaining what we’ll be showing and why they should come see us. , Next we create drafts of all presentations, white papers, graphics, crib notes (quick facts for our people that explain the exhibits). We also begin seeking firm appointments with our targeted customer base individuals (senior DoD and customer companies). We also begin shipping display materials to the staging site.
With two weeks to go, we are now fully engaged in the final details; all presentations and any other materials are complete. Appointments are beginning to firm up. A second teaser, this one more specific, goes out to our focus customer base.
At one week before, we have a full schedule of the booth manning and appointments. Everything has shipped and we are ready to go.
Two days before the show, the booth shell is erected (by an exhibit company)
One day before the show, our people set up the exhibits, ensure they work properly (and scramble to make any tweaks or fixes that may be needed). All materials are in place and the booth is clean and tidy – it’s a very long day.
At the show (which is usually a 12-15 hour day) our folks are there early for the daily activity brief and to man the booth based on an agreed schedule. Coffee, bio and lunch breaks are most often “on-the-fly” taking the minimum time away. The day is split between manning the booth and “walking the show” (engaging other exhibitors, who are our targets as well). Often, there are evening events that require our attendance and, when we do these, we usually are either “on our game” (working the message) or far too tired to even enjoy the meal. Sleep comes late and quick.
Decorum on the booth is tight; no sitting, taking phone calls, eating or drinking is allowed in the booth; we are there to engage the customers, not entertain ourselves. The mood is open, inviting and always professional.
When the show closes, there is still more to do; the displays must be packed and prepared for return shipping (with its associated documentation), after-show reports must be written, contacts and “leads” generated are posted and follow-up activities planned.
Then we start on planning for the next year.
As I said, the AUSA show is a big deal. So why would we go through all this? We do it because everyone who is anyone in the Army market is at this show. It’s an opportunity to maximize our contacts and display our products that is the equivalent of (quite honestly) scores of sales calls and thousands of phone or email contacts. It’s a way to engage the Army and the Army suppliers face-to-face, not just for a one hour meeting, but for an extended period. This is why we do the AUSA show.
As to why we do it with such rigor and discipline? It’s because we are GE and we are good at what we do.