How to Say “No”

Resisting the tradeshow carpetbaggers.

It’s tradeshow season again, and as we dodge hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters (see this month’s Shop Ops column for more), I’m having another familiar encounter: the tradeshow carpetbagger. At every show, non-exhibiting companies hope to pitch me a product or service – a tricky situation.

We exhibit at tradeshows for their global benefits. Signs of the Times increases its brand visibility and loyalty by having a presence at these events. Tradeshows support associations that promote sign-industry-friendly legislation, educate signmakers, provide space for industry vendors to demonstrate their wares and build a pipeline for future generations of industry leaders.

We sell books, recruit new subscribers and have the lucky opportunity to meet a few readers – undoubtedly the best part! It’s not unusual for us to have 10 people walking the floor. And because we have a booth, it would be easy to entertain faux vendors who want our attention.

It’s an odd thing. We want to connect with as many industry suppliers and sign company leaders as possible at the show. But more is not merrier when it’s all get and no give. And while I’m sorry to miss those connections, particularly when it’s a company we may not be familiar with yet, I’m loyal to companies who share in the industry investment that exhibiting offers.

There’s gray area in every organization, every negotiation. But I hope that we are all in the business of building win-win scenarios. So, here’s an example of how I decline these tradeshow invitations (and others that cross the lines):

While there may be some short-term benefit, even a mutual one to your request, the value of our brand is its trust and credibility with readers. Accepting your request would diminish that value, and that of our partnership with you, over time. We hope to work with you in the future, so maintaining this foundation, even if it means we can’t help you today, benefits all involved in the long-term.

I harbor no hard feelings for carpetbaggers; it’s a brave new world and most of us are still “figuring it out.” Still, I take the opportunities to invite these companies to join us for everyone’s benefit. It feels much better to extend an opportunity than to scold.

Regardless of those differences, we can all build something together. If you need help in phrasing these conversations, drop me a line: robin.donovan@stmediagroup.com.

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