Today's Fast Food Friday might seem like it's only relevant to those of you attending WPPI this month. However, read over my list of twenty-five points, because most of them apply to just about any convention you'll ever attend.
There are few things better than a great convention to help you recharge your battery. Sadly, so often too many of you head off to a conference spending virtually no time planning the trip.
Over the years I've written several posts and a couple of magazine articles on how to get the most out of a trade show. WPPI is coming up in less than two weeks, and it's time to bring back the ever-growing list of tips to maximize the trip!
Getting the Most Out of WPPI
In scuba-diving there's an expression, "Plan your dive - dive your plan!" You've got limited air; limited time, and it's important always to have a buddy. Well, a convention is no different. You've got to plan your trip, make the most of every minute at the event and come home with ideas to improve your skill set and build a stronger business.
- Why are you going to WPPI? It might sound like a stupid question, but some of you go to party, others to buy and more of you to learn and network. Figure out what the most important thing is you want to get out of the show before you get there.
- Check the weather forecast for Vegas! It's pretty obvious we've aggravated Mother Nature this year around the country. Over the years at WPPI there have been times when we had lunch outside by the pool and others when we had snowball fights. You're going to be out in the evening, so pack accordingly. I know this seems so basic, but I'm amazed how many people never check a couple days before.
- What companies do you need to visit? Take a few minutes and look around your office, studio or the trunk of your car. Isolate every product you use as a photographer, and put the manufacturer on a list. Now, look at every company whose services you use. Your lab, frame company, web design, album company, etc. should all be on the list. Your first goal BEFORE you get to the show is to isolate every company that's involved in your business.
- New products and companies: Last on the list, are there products you need for your business or new services you require? One year at WPPI forty-five album companies were exhibiting and probably twenty-five to thirty labs. If you're looking for new companies and products, this is the time to go exploring. For example, you've read posts about Marathon's Bella Art Prints here on the SCU blog. Make it a point to stop by Marathon, booth 135 and check out their complete product line and the services they offer.
- Visit the WPPI website: Find out BEFORE you get there, who's exhibiting from your vendor/supplier lists. Your goal is to meet at least one staff member at every company on the list. This is a critical component to building an effective network. Here's the link.
- Check out print competition: Arrive early enough to attend print judging. It's one of the most valuable educational experiences you can have. Pick any judging room and go in and sit down for an hour at least. Listen to the comments from the judges and think about your own work.
- Walk through the print exhibit. This is a terrific time to get a feel for the trends in imaging because you'll see just about everything in the images submitted for competition.
- Walk the trade show, aisle by aisle! One of the best things about any convention is finding out about companies you may not have worked with before! Start in one corner of the show and work your way through EVERY company exhibiting, even if they're showing products you don't use.
- Wear comfortable shoes! Mandalay Bay is enormous, and you're going to be on your feet all day.
- Bring business cards and some images. I've always liked being shown a 5x7 or 6x9 collage of a few images on a postcard, with the photographer's address and contact information. Unless you've made an appointment in advance, most exhibitors won't take the time to look at a portfolio, or a laptop chocked full of images. However, leaving a card stock piece or brochure with a vendor and contacting them after the show can have a lot of impact.
- Make plans for breakfast and dinner meetings NOW. Reservations don't come easy in Las Vegas anymore, and if you're going to be headed out for dinner, it helps to know where and when you're going. Think about making a couple of reservations in advance, even if you don't know who you'll be having dinner with!
- Update your phone book! Make sure you have the cell numbers for friends and associates you want to catch up to. There are few things as frustrating as wanting to meet somebody is at a convention, but you've got no way to contact them.
- Put the "social" into social media. So many of you have friends you talk to all the time online, but have never physically met. You hang out in various Facebook forums with them and share a lot of great discussions about photography. Check to see who's going to be at WPPI and set up time to get together. It's a lot of fun to physically meet people who you've talked to regularly, but only in cyberspace!
- Lunch is tough to do at WPPI because everyone hits the food court at the same time, along with the restaurants. That doesn't have to be bad, just plan who you're having lunch with and how much time you need.
- Come talk to me! Look, I wanted to make this the first point in this post, but it was going to look too self-serving...as if boldfaced in red isn't just as bad! LOL I'm doing two short marketing programs at Panasonic, booth 934. I'm speaking at noon on Wednesday and 3:00 pm on Thursday. The first program is about "low-hanging fruit" and things that are easy to do to make the year ahead stronger, and the second is fifteen tips for a better blog! And, I'm going to be sharing parts of my presentation thanks to PhotoTexting.com - one text message to my special education hotline after each program and you'll have the tips from my presentation in an immediate text!
- Check out special programming going on in the various booths. For example, Panasonic (934) is launching the new S1 series camera at WPPI, and there are 24 different programs going on over the three days, in addition to my marketing/business programs. And, Tamron USA, booth 335, will have their speaker schedule posted as well. Here's your chance to meet some of the finest photographers in the industry!
- You snooze you lose! Look I was young and stupid once too, and there are few things as fun as going out with friends and bar-hopping in Las Vegas. However, you're at the show for a reason and if you need to sleep in late the following morning, your evening out with friends might become the most expensive investment you make in the show if you miss appointments or presentations you had planned to attend.
- "Growth only happens outside your comfort zone!" Look over the programming — plan which speakers you want to hear in advance. Plus, always pick at least 1-2 programs entirely out of your comfort zone.
- Bring a camera...a real camera. Phones are fine, but you want to get some images you might want to use later on for press releases, your blog, Facebook, etc. You don't need your regular gear, but a decent camera will always produce better images than your cell phone. Look for opportunities for pictures with vendors and those speakers you admire.
- Call your insurance agent! If you're taking any serious camera gear with you, check to make sure you're adequately insured. I remember one year a woman leaving all her camera gear in her room, but not checking to make sure the door closed completely when she went out for dinner. Everything was gone when she got back and she was NOT covered by her insurance. Another photographer had two lenses lifted out of his camera bag while he was listening to a presentation.
- Publish a couple of press releases! Let's talk about those pictures you're taking while at the show - use them for your own publicity campaign. For example, let's assume you want to expand your business and you're attending a few programs outside your comfort zone. Get a photograph with you and the speaker and then write a short post about expanding your business into that new area of expertise. The same goes for any new equipment you might be looking at and buying at the show. A large format printer, for example, would be a great topic for expanding your services to the community. In the same respect, working with a new lab would give you access to new products to talk about.
- Utilize their assets without depleting yours! Get yourself approved with a leasing or credit line before you leave for Vegas. If you're going there to shop for new gear, it's so much easier when you know what you can afford before you hit the convention floor.
- Talk to the people around you when you attend any program. A photography convention like this is unique because you're all there for the same reasons. Make it a point to get to know the people sitting on either side of you. It's amazing what you can learn by just talking to each other.
- Talk to the icons! I'm always amazed by how many of you are intimidated by your favorite photographers. The truth is they're there to teach and meet other photographers interested in their work. Just walk up and introduce yourself and thank them for whatever inspiration they've given you. They don't bite!
- Analysis Paralysis: Take time at the end of each day, before your head hits the pillow to do a quick overview of who you saw, what you learned and what companies you an scratch of your list. If you wait until you get home after the convention it will be too late!
The one thing I find most frustrating with attendees at a big convention like this is they just haven't planned their trip. They got their tickets and made it to Vegas, but then everything falls apart. Plan your WPPI experience so you're not wasting time and even more important, your money.
Nothing beats the experience of a great trade show and convention, but it's up to you to get the most out of it.