Recently most of my department went to a Retail Marketing Expo, put on by the Retail Merchants Association. It was an interesting contrast to the library conferences we sometimes attend - a gathering focused on our job function rather than our industry. My boss thought it was "way more useful than all of us going to VLA." I'm not sure I agree, but I am glad I went. Here are some insights into the pros and cons of attending this event, and what we learned.
My goals: Get more information about advertising opportunities, get new ideas for marketing/advertising vehicles, make contacts that could be useful later. I know that others in my office were more interested in the networking and making contacts side.
What we gained: I got contact information for A LOT of printing shops. We do a little bit of outside printing, so this was useful information. We could see sample papers and other things that it's hard to do online. One of my coworkers was able to get several price estimates for a new type of publication we want to create. It was quicker than doing the same research over the phone and online, and it allowed us to start building those relationships.
We saw some striking and creative signage and displays, which really inspired us to think about the physical displays in our library. We're interested in getting out of the "shoestring" mentality, moving away from the "boxes covered with colored paper" paradigm, and starting to get some elegant, professional-looking displays up in our library. The catalog that we got from one display company will be endlessly useful as we explore possibilities for future displays.
We were able to talk with some companies where we otherwise might not consider their services, or where it might otherwise have been difficult and time-consuming to get cost information. For example: radio stations, Valpak, small magazines.
The downsides: I would say that about a third of the exhibitors weren't relevant to our interests (Payroll services, health care providers, "groupon" deals, credit unions) and another third were so completely out of our price range that it's unlikely we'll be able to use information from them anytime soon (marketing and branding consultants, TV stations, radio stations, app developers, event planners.)
Speakers: We also attended two "power sessions," which I think were supposed to be like a power-nap or a power-walk, with lots of oomph in a short time. The information was about what you would expect; little nuggets of info, nothing new or groundbreaking, more like a reminder and a conversation-starter.
The first session was "Taking the Work out of Networking" with Jim Roman. It was a very short session, and the speaker didn't try to fit too much information in. He stuck to a couple of key points:
- Networking is different from marketing and selling. It's about building relationships, letting people get to know and like you as a person, to facilitate doing business later (not now.) Networking is about farming, not hunting. It's a slow process of cultivating your relationships, not a matter of finding someone to pitch to.
- You only need 2-3 networking groups to find success. How do you find the right groups? Ask your best clients/customers what networking groups they belong to - rotary clubs, professional organizations, etc. People hang out with like-minded people, so if you want to find other great clients, that's a place to start.
- Begin a relationship by offering something. Take someone out to coffee, find out more about what they do and what they care about, and figure out how you can help them. Help someone three times, and they'll help you back.
The second session was about social media, and it was a little disorganized. But there were still a couple of points that stood out to me:
- Be engaging. (He actually said "enchanting", but we all agree that "enchanting" sounds too Disney.) It's not enough just to post - you should post something interesting. "Be fractious, be factual, be funny, be famous, be first."
- Content is currency. Good content means views and likes, which translate into business.
- Take disputes offline. Don't argue it out on Facebook.