A Fair Trade: Why We Do Conferences & Trade Shows

Even in the throes of a pandemic, we kept up our presence at pivotal trade shows and conferences this year. You might wonder what we get out of attending these events. We have a short and simple answer; it keeps us on our toes. The longer answer? We asked Lance Alison, Director of Business Development as well as Mark Thompson, Business Development/Parks & Recreation, for insight.

We Exhibit Our Expertise & Capabilities

If you’ve done the hard work and you’re already on the beach, then you might as well show off those muscles! While there are plenty of inappropriate places to show off, that’s a place where it’s almost expected. At a tradeshow or conference, we “flex” our engineering muscles, so to speak. What better way to discuss your firm than in a place where everyone’s asking? Lance talks a bit more about spreading that message.

“We attend 13 or more conferences a year. The main objective at an event is to build relationships and brand awareness. There are occasions where a specific need or project might be discussed but for the most part, it is about letting the attendees know who we are and what we stand for.”

Lance keeps it casual; he’ll certainly hook you if he sees the opportunity. Otherwise, he’s happy to talk about the industry and tell you what our firm has been up to.

Mark agrees, “It is a time when potential clients come by and ask questions related to the services your firm provides. A potential client will often quiz you about their potential projects or projects they have underway.”

When you’re at a conference, you better know how to walk the walk. When it comes down to it, you’ll either make or lose potential client relationships based on your ability to talk off-the-cuff, and come up with interesting answers.

It Inspires New Ways of Thinking & New Partnerships

If you go to a tradeshow or conference with the firm expectation of simply shilling your business, then you aren’t getting the most out of the occasion. These events are great ways to make connections, but they also serve as spaces to inspire. Whether it’s a technological innovation, a partnership, or even a client, you never know what kind of out-of-the-box interactions you’ll stumble across. It’s as close to lightning in a bottle as you can get.

Mark loves to look for like-minded firms that he can develop relationships. He understands that engineering is not a closed industry; it’s one where the expectation is that knowledge should be shared, even among competitors. Mark has a unique advantage when it comes to Parks & Recreation Conferences as he brings 40 years of experience as a Park Director.

“I always look forward to the potential for team-building with complementary firms. It is an opportunity to get to know their personnel, compare company philosophies, and share mutual connections. It is golden when you leave a conference/tradeshow and you have new partners to team with on future RFQ/RFP opportunities.”

Lance likes to “peek over the fence” and see what others are doing. Then, he asks himself the question, how can we do it better?

“When you are at an expo the possibilities are great that you will make a new connection or you may even see a new way in which you can present your company. I try to observe the other businesses that are at the expo and if they are doing something new and creative I try and figure out a way of working that into our efforts. Not necessarily copying it but using it as a jumping-off point to improve our image.”

Sometimes, It’ll Get Your Foot in the Door

Even with the clout we have, engineering is an industry where it’s a constant struggle to tap into one sector or another. Lance has focuses on government, transportation, and school conferences, where he can meet with officials, get the name out there, and ultimately get his foot into the door.

“The major conferences I attend for elected officials are the Kentucky County Judge Executive Association, Kentucky Magistrates & Commissioners Association, and Kentucky Association of Counties. These associations provide continuing education and professional development opportunities for elected officials across Kentucky.  Since we do government projects it’s a great way for us to get in front of them and let them know who we are.

Transportation is a key service line for our company and Kentuckians for Better Transportation is a great way for us to get in front of our state transportation engineers. Additionally, the Kentucky Association of School Administrators and Kentucky School Board Association are two organizations that allow us to let school districts know who we are. Generally, all of these are held in either Lexington or Louisville.”

Kentucky isn’t the only state we operate in, so we attend conferences in Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee. Mark’s focus in Business Development is Parks & Reaction which take place in all these states as well as national conferences that rotate around the US each year.

We Learn to Keep It Short & Simple

In engineering, every answer is complicated. We’re talking pages and pages of answers. Yet, our main purpose in this industry is to simplify that inherent intricacy before it gets to the client or the layperson. What better way to practice the adage of “keep it simple” than with the elevator pitch? After all, that’s at the heart of the tradeshow. Lance has plenty of experience with this.

“You’ve got less than the length of an elevator speech to catch an attendees attention at an expo. We try to have a very creative display that is graphically pleasing and open. Most importantly we are open and excited to talk with attendees.

We are competing in a space of around 80 other vendors and in some cases over 300 for national conferences so you must be approachable both in the design of your booth and you as a person. I compare it to being a billboard on the highway. We want to be memorable so the next time they see our logo on a proposal or want to research firms we are in the forefront.”

Lance wants his marketing efforts to reflect our philosophy as engineers. Keep it simple, keep it elegant, and make it memorable.

Trade Shows & Conferences Allow Us to Market Ourselves

How do you stand out from the crowd? That’s the question we ask ourselves. Sure, we have a million answers to that question, but how do we convey exceptionality without saying a single word? That’s something Lance is always exploring, and one he puts the most thought into.

“Engineering firms, for the most part, do the same thing; some better than others but we are talking about first impressions. So, how you tell the story of what sets you apart is the difference-maker in these quick interactions. We set ourselves up for success by having a solid foundation of brand awareness, to begin with; we have monthly blogs, our “Bridging Ideas” podcast, and attentive marketing materials. Without these items, everything we say at a show would be hollow.”

You Have to Have Some Bite with Your Bark

Lance brings up a good point. No matter how good you can talk the talk at a show or conference, you have to have something to show for it. As they say, you gotta put your money where your mouth is. We do that with our reputation, first and foremost. We are a well-known firm in our region, and to an extent nationally, so when we come knocking, we hope our reputation precedes us.

So, when we’re talking shop at a show, we have the privilege of keeping it loose and casual. We’ve already done the work to show you that we’re serious. Our marketing efforts are elevated by that hard work. The icing on the cake is the way we communicate, which is something both Lance and Mark love to explore. In the end, we still find these events fun; that’s why we’ll see you there.