An Exhibitor’s Perspective: The Other Side of the Convention

By Published March 18, 2013 at 7:36 pm

I’ll be attending PAX East (this weekend!) for the third consecutive year, but this is the first time I won’t be going as an exhibitor. Certainly this PAX will be much different than what I’ve experienced in my previous position—but is that a good thing? Let’s find out in my insider’s take on the highs and hells of convention/trade-show exhibiting.

Click for full image. PAX East 2012 panorama.

Being an exhibitor in the PC hardware industry is like starting college.


You’re finally away from the office and your boss, much like when you leave high school and the watchful eyes of Mom and Dad. You’re finally in a position to let your guard down, get drunk with your peers, and dabble in other shenanigans…and you get paid, too.

While this can be beneficial for exhibitors, unfortunately this doesn’t always translate to a good exhibitor-attendee dynamic. From an exhibitor’s point of view, payment’s already in the bag, though there are the looming appearances you have to make for partner companies and media, and there’s only so much a single exhibitor can do to convince hundreds or thousands of people to buy the company’s products. Also, plenty of representatives (sent by their managers – that’s right, most of us don’t get to choose) aren’t trained to handle such large audiences for 20 hours in a weekend, and perhaps that’s the reason why many of the exhibitors you come across aren’t excited to be there.

I worked for a medium-sized hardware company, so I’ve gotten a good overall feel of trade show demands. Even though I put my best foot forward, it’s everything that happens outside of show time hours that often ruins the experience of traveling to a new city and thriving in a different, more playful work environment. Ensuring everything arrives in one piece for the booth, setting up the booth and your machines, troubleshooting the internet connection, and dealing with the hassles of hotels & other logistics can really set someone off before going back on the show floor. It’s these instances that make us look around at all the colorful, buzzing booths and say “so what.” And when the day’s done and you’re about ready to collapse after answering emails and writing your trip report, you end up missing out on exploring a city. Honestly, having a good time as an exhibitor is not easy. It takes work.

So what happens if you’ve got a window of freedom? Since these hours come at night, you’re likely either passed out on your bed with your shoes on because you didn’t want to bother changing your clothes, or you’re anywhere there’s alcohol. But no amount of Lunesta or Red Bull can guarantee a fitting end to your invasive day; you either embrace that once-lost sense of freedom with endless tequila shots, or you say 'screw it' and turn in early. Either way, you’ve still got a demanding tomorrow ahead of you. Is this the college-like experience you recognized at first sight?

So now that I sound like an ungrateful bastard, I’ll let you in on my secret to surviving the long weekends.

pax-east-11-bioshockPAX East 2011 -- one of the cooler attractions we saw (Bioshock Infinite).

I’m grateful that energy drink companies sponsor trade shows.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t have the same caffeine-induced, energetic outlook on the most radically different of work experiences. Being an exhibitor is the chief reason I miss working as a rep in the hardware industry, and for good reasons.

First of all, exhibiting really opens you up to the types of interactions you have with people. Unlike an attendee, you’re speaking with as many as a couple thousand strangers each day, and if you approach each conversation as a new interaction, you can really come out with some unique stories under your belt. When I think about meeting a family who traveled all the way from New Zealand to attend BlizzCon, conversing with our Facebook page followers in person (I managed our page for several months), becoming more interested in my industry as a result of talking with the most loyal and passionate PC builders at conventions, and flirting with the rarely-present female nerds who stopped by the booth – I clearly see what kept me afloat in a high-turnover industry. These are the experiences I pined over when I couldn’t escape the office.

And just because you’re on a business trip doesn’t mean you have to shackle yourself to your business – even when you’re working on the floor. Thinking about the audiences here and the diversity of exhibiting companies – indie and mobile game developers, geek clothing retailers, professional gaming teams, etc. – makes me see conventions as more of an ecosystem than a customer-engagement event. And again, especially as a PC hardware exhibitor, you’re only going to have a marginal impact on the average attendee when it comes to “buying decisions,” so why not have as good of a time with your audience as possible?

So there are two good reasons it's an enjoyable gig.

pax-east-11-2PAX East 2011 -- overhead view of one corner of the convention center.

Third – and I’m sure you’ve waited for me to say this – the free stuff. But it’s not just about the gaming mouse I took home last year or the Gunnar schwag I was handed out the door. I see “free stuff” as the collection of opportunities (including networking) I would not have had if I had not been an exhibitor. I think of the few hardware partners I got to know by seeing them show-after-show, the $40 sushi lunch I enjoyed with a friend of mine at Pike’s Market in Seattle, the run I went for around the Disneyland confines during a break at BlizzCon, and each small instance is a building block for one of the most fascinating points in my life’s narrative.

Now it’s up to me to build a new set of experiences as a member of the GamersNexus community. What better way to jumpstart that than by covering one of the most exciting industry events and sharing those stories with you: PAX East 2013. This weekend.

I'm ready.

- Nick "stuBEEF" Pinkerton.

Last modified on March 18, 2013 at 7:36 pm

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