SISO Executive Conference Day 1: The Art of Tradeshow Negotiations

CHICAGO, IL—Professionals from the tradeshow and events industry landed in Chicago this week to discuss best practices to grow their businesses in the challenging landscape of 2012 at the Society of Independent Show Organizer’s Executive Conference, which boasted its highest attendance in the last four years. Keynote speaker Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, gave the event planners in attendance important tips to enhance their strategies for reaching targeted audiences.

Pulizzi told the business leaders in the room that providing valuable content year round through websites, newsletters, social media and partnering with other sites or content providers can enhance events.

SEE ALSO: Pulizzi’s Tips for Creating Year-Round Engagement With Your Event Audience

While the keynote speaker delivered numerous strategies to engage and capture audiences, one notable panel of the day was “Mastering The Art of Negotiation.” In this session, Denise Medved, CEO of The Tiny Kitchen, Inc.; Robbi Lycett, vice president of conventions and conferences for the Biotechnology Industry Association and Kellie Shevlin of Shevlin Associates, dived into to ways to enhance a company’s event portfolio not through content, but through negotiations.

Here, EXPO magazine provides an excerpt of the panel’s discussion, which highlights the best tips for negotiating sponsorship packages, negotiating with your own internal teams, and potential criteria for what is negotiable versus non-negotiable.

Denise Medved: Negotiating takes a lot of discipline and a lot of practice. Having been in business for myself for about seven years, I’m a much better contract negotiator now than I was when I first started out. It takes discipline and practice, especially if you’re the type of person who just wants to cut things off of the to-do list, you may not be getting the best deal. Kellie, from your perspective from the revenue side, what is the key ingredient to negotiating?

Kellie Shevlin: The key ingredient is listening and questions. It sounds like basic sales 101, but you really need to be able to take the time and discipline to find out what someone is looking for and what they need, and try to create something that sounds like a win-win approach for both sides. In terms of discipline, my dad is the greatest sales person in the world and he taught me from a young age that the first person that speaks loses. If you have the ability to get what you need from them and ask a question and stay quiet, they’ll tell you what they need and once they do it’s the easy part—now you need to package it because they’ve already told you what they need.

Denise Medved: Robbi, how would you say that you create a win-win situation from the beginning? How do you set it up, because you know you’re going to give and you know you’re going to take? If you’re sitting across the table from a smart negotiator, they’re going to give and take. How do you set it up from the beginning so both people can give and take, but feel like they’re walking out and still winning?

Robbi Lycett: I think in the tradeshow industry over the years there have been lots of models around these kinds of things. In order to have good partners that will be there for a long time in your career, and to learn to protect your exhibitors and organization, it must be a win-win for everyone. If you understand how your vendors make their money, you also need a good understanding of what exhibitors will pay for services at your show.

That changes from city to city, and show to show. Everything is different, but, if you have a good understanding of that and you can protect your exhibitors while also meeting budgets that your organization requires without making the vendor lose or not make money, everyone will be happier in the end.

The way you get there is through lots of conversations with vendors, and have them understand how what you’re asking for is going to affect their business, how what you’re asking for may affect what your exhibitors get charged, and maybe doing things differently and letting the vendor understand the various ways certain things can be accomplished. It’s got to be a win when everyone walks away from the table—everyone has to have their profitability and meet their budgets at the end.

Denise Medved: When you’re setting your list for negotiating criteria do you have the negotiable and non-negotiable list? Do you give it back to the contractor and say, “This is what I want,” but you know you have some things on the list you’re willing to yield on?

Robbi Lycett: Yes, I think you have to understand the costs of your event and what things will cost from city to city and what kind of expense budget you have. Generally, most of us are starting from that sort of point—“How much money do I have to spend on these various things?” Maybe you can shift budgets around to get to the bottom line but there are things that you absolutely need to do based on your event and at a certain quality level or way, which are probably non-negotiable items.

I don’t ever go into a meeting with a preconceived notion of what I will not necessarily be flexible on. I think as conversations go, we learn more about ways to save money, do things differently and ask questions and ask for help. Negotiations sound like such a negative word, but from my experience it’s not negative usually.

Denise Medved: Kellie, from your perspective as you’ve talked to a potential sponsorship candidate and you’ve listened to them, you must sort of wave your magic wand or they do to come up with deliverables they would like for a particular budget. As you put proposals together, what are you putting into them and what’s negotiable and what’s not negotiable?

Kellie Shevlin: I start by telling and creating a story. Our events are just stories and sponsorships are opportunities for companies to tell stories. Always ask the question, “If you could spend an unlimited amount of money on our show what would you want?” I have them write these things down because they’re telling me what they want to spend their money on and now I know. I’m planting seeds in their head and they’re thinking, “Well, maybe?”

As the person selling this, I always tells my sales staff or anyone I’m consulting that sales people have to be cognizant of what the deliverables cost.  If they don’t know what something costs then it needs to be team selling, working closely in conjunction with the operations and marketing departments. There could be stuff that your organization values at $150,000 but only costs you $10,000 to fulfill. If someone thinks they can give you $50,000 for something that only costs you $10,000, figure out a way to make it work. If you understand what the costs are. and you understand their wish list, you can meet in the middle a lot of times, which is how I’ve been able to package my sponsorships.

I tease them with the expensive packages and I always tell people, “I will write up three packages—a moped, Toyota and your Cadillac package.” They’re looking at all three and the “moped” package is what they told me they could afford, but the Cadillac is really exciting. They’ll show that to their boss and say, “If we can get some extra money, we can do these things.” I already know what these costs were and moreover, on my moped package, depending on the way you structure them if you know what your costs are, sometimes I can make as much money on the moped then I do on the Cadillac because I’m offering top dollar deliverables. That’s really important because if you’re getting $10,000 and it costs you $200 to fulfill, that’s a really nice return in terms of profitability.

Denise Medved:
That brings up another part of the negotiation process, which is internally with other departments. Having been a sales person primarily my entire career, a sales person wants the money and sometimes it’s difficult to fulfill the deliverables, though not impossible. I have found in my career that sometimes the negotiation really happened internally between the operations department and the marketing department. As a business owner now, I sympathize with the sales person but also with the operations and marketing folks. Kellie, can you talk about having to negotiate with the internal teams?

Kellie Shevlin: I never understood the dynamics between departments until a few years ago when I was at NTP (National Trade Productions) and one of the operations people told me, “You sell the dream and I sell the nightmare.” From that point on it was important to me to bring everyone in. If you get buy-ins early on from the proposal stage—if they feel like they’ve been part of this—it becomes a creative process. Operations is in a very creative department and they have to fulfill things that are structured. This gives them opportunity to be creative and have buy-ins on the sponsorship package. Also, it gives the operations person face time with the sponsor person because they will spend a lot of time together on site fulfilling this stuff. I would say get it done early in the stages and it works really, really well.

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