The Unsung Hero of Exhibiting: The Account Manager
If you work with an exhibit house — and we hope you do — there’s one person who could easily be your hero: The Account Manager. The account manager is at the center of all that goes on with your exhibit. From design to production to shipping to installation to final invoice, it’s the account manager who keeps information flowing to dozens of people. The one who asks the questions and gets the answers that solves the problems that meet the deadlines that make an exhibit a success.
And along the way, it’s the account manager that makes the demanding job of a company exhibit manager simpler and more predictable.
Christiana “Chris” Brooks is one such account manager. eConnections spent some time with her to get a deeper understanding of all that an experienced account manager can bring to a company’s exhibit program.
eConnections: Chris, you’ve been in the business for a while, tell us how did you get started?
Chris Brooks: Starting out, I thought portables were the only exhibits there were. Then I saw an exhibit being built in the shop at Exhibit Group Giltspur and I was amazed. I knew this was for me. I fell into it at a time where account manager wasn’t quite a role within our industry. We were first known as sales assistants. As account executives needed more specified assistance with show services and client relations, the role of account manager was developed. I joined MC2 in Atlanta 12 years ago.
I love trade shows. And when the client arrives at show site, most of the time it’s the day before the show, and walks up to their booth and says… wow this looks great! It’s a great feeling.
eConnections: What’s your typical day like?
Chris: It involves everything from client in-take and status meetings, internal communications with design and project management to initiate or obtain information on projects within the production cycle, to coordinating and finalizing show site particulars.
Right now, I’m working on contracts, show services, drawings for three upcoming shows in March. Doing the research on the show kits. And the logistics for a private event. Three more shows in February — one for a new client — and four more shows in March including one that is 6300 square feet.
eConnections: What do you feel is the key element of an account manager’s job?
Chris: Research is a large part of our service to clients. Research is ongoing and daily. I obtain and carefully review rules and regulations for every show our clients exhibit at and for many, I coordinate and manage all show services as well. Every convention center is different, every city is different, but I uncover all specifics necessary and ahead of time to ensure there are no surprises.
eConnections: What is your role for your clients?
Chris: My role is to work as an extension of the client’s team from project inception and signed contract, to production and fabrication all the way through to show site delivery and billing. The “client” tends to be exhibit managers who are either in the marketing department or in event department working hand-in-hand with the marketing department.
(Chris pointed out that awareness of “rules and regs” is vital for an account manager. There are rules and regulations that affect every aspect of trade show planning. Show management has rules requiring approval of drawings. The show contractor has additional rules to govern service orders. The convention center has rules that can impact an exhibit design. Unions have rules about who does what on the show floor.)
Chris: Some clients are terrified of all the rules and deadlines. I had one request that I handle all the show services orders (electrical, carpet, signage, floral, catering, internet, etc) because it felt so overwhelming. An exhibit manager has a lot of other responsibilities exhibiting at a trade show. I’m happy to arrange to take that off their plate.
eConnections: How do you stay organized with all this detail?
Chris: I work with medical companies and rules for regs for medical are very strict. I use a digital calendar for due dates and file the services forms for each client in a binder with tabs. Yes! An actual hard copy binder. Although everything is electronic and backed up on our internal server, I keep a binder as a quick reference, especially for weekend work, of set ups and as reference, just in case of emergencies.
Here’s an example where a binder comes in handy: On show site, the client wants more AV or different AV. The information on file with the supervisor or the labor crew may only have local AV contact information not have my AV rep’s info. With the binder, I can call my rep to give the ok for more AV. But I mostly use the binder as my back up for info when I’m not near my computer.
eConnections: How does research enter into what you do? What’s a real-world example?
Chris: I’ll call the show contractor if I have questions. I run out to the shop if I need to understand a technical point. I admit I don’t know and then go find out. And I’ve learned to be persistent.
We had a medical client who wanted to use a pig lung as part of their demonstration. A pig lung?! I didn’t know anything about handling pig lungs at a trade show. So, I researched and learned about biohazard rules. It was actually a relief that the plan ultimately did not go through.
Another time, a client in the construction industry was to move their heavy equipment — over 90 tons — onto the show floor without tearing up the carpeting. This is a fascinating process and takes a lot of time! We had to schedule especially for that.
eConnections: What does it take to be persistent?
Chris: Persistence sometimes means the AM has to just keep digging and find the right person who can give them the information needed. For example, I was trying to find out what type of internet service I needed for a particular piece of equipment. I ended up talking to the technical department vs the person who takes the orders. I also ended up scheduling a conference call with my client and the tech – because they both understood what they were trying to accomplish – more than I did. In the end the client did get the correct service and there were no issues or delays at show site.
eConnections: What advice would you have for a corporate exhibit manager?
Chris: Don’t go it alone. Use the resources of your team. Exhibit houses are very experienced and knowledgeable. Partner with your account manager. An account manager expertise is providing excellent customer service. I try to be detail oriented, organized, flexible, etc. And don’t be afraid to ask, ask, ask. I’m on the board of the EDPA (Experiential Designers and Producers Association) and even though we are all competitors, we ask each other questions.
In a complicated world, in a complicated industry, an account manager serves a valuable purpose. Fundamentally organized, eminently knowledgeable, and committed to supporting the success of the client, the account manager is the bedrock on which a successful trade show program can be built.