Drawing a crowd at a conference stand

WHENEVER I THINK ABOUT PROMOTION I’m reminded of the old Covent Garden street artist’s mantra:

Make ’em Stop
Make ’em Stay
Make ’em Watch
Make ’em Pay

Some people feel 2017 will be a year of uncertainty. Some businesses are worried about the uncertainty itself. Will their business cope with Brexit? What about the Trump effect? How should they promote their services in such a world?

Personally, I find myself thinking about silhouettes and trade shows. Silhouettes are a unique promotional tool in an uncertain world.

Anybody who has ever tried to sell their services at a trade show or conference knows what a soul-destroying experience it can be. Does your company, like many others, routinely spend thousands on elegant and eye-catching conference stands? Do you then stand there all day, watching delegates walk past your stand, and wishing you were back in the office?

Some delegates walk by with a mobile phone glued to their ear, or deep in conversation with colleagues. They may barely even glance at your stand. The reason you are there is to interact with these potential new clients, but how to make them stop? A few make a point of politely visiting all the stands, but many don’t. Can you really rely on them to do this?

Delegates with mobile phones glued to their ear. What promotional tool do you need to make them stop?
The problem with trade shows – how to make them stop!

Buskers and Street Artists

In asking these questions you may surprised to learn that you just became a street artist. Buskers have the same problem: how to make the public stop and watch. It’s a problem I’m very familiar with. I began my career as a street artist in Covent Garden, drawing portraits for visitors to London. Although I took pride in being one of the best, I soon discovered that this wasn’t enough to make a living. In order to draw people I first had to make them stop and talk to me. I learned how to do this from the Covent Garden buskers, who use a interesting mantra to test each other’s acts:

“Make ‘em Stop
Make ‘em Stay
Make ‘em Watch
Make ‘em Pay”

Next time you find yourself watching a street performer do think about this. You will soon realise how universal it is. The successful ones think carefully about all four stages of this mantra, they consciously use it as a promotional tool.

First, the artist needs to build their audience: the public simply needs to stop walking.

Having stopped, they need to make a conscious decision to stay, if only for a while.

Once they stay, they can’t be allowed to get bored: the audience needs to keep watching until the end.

Finally, they need to pay: the most brilliant of acts will never survive if their audience walks away without paying.

For the performer, the last stage is the most important of all.

Charles drawing portraits in Covent Garden. Evert aspect of street art is a promotional tool.
Me, drawing portraits in Covent Garden in the 1990’s

Making ‘em Stop at a Trade Show

Street art is the most micro of micro businesses. Yet this simple mantra can be applied to many businesses, and perhaps most directly to your company’s conference stand.

Sadly, even the most beautifully designed trade-show stand cannot, on its own, even achieve the first stage. The success of your stand is entirely down to the people on it. They need to think like street artists. They need to look at all four stages of their act and test it against the busker’s mantra:

Make ‘em Stop: delegates need to physically stop walking past your stand.

Make ‘em Stay: having momentarily stopped, delegates need to make a conscious decision to stay and talk to you. If they are walking as a group, all of them need to decide this.

Make ‘em Watch: delegates can’t be allowed to get bored. They need to listen to what you have to say and understand your business.

Make ‘em Pay: although you are not asking for money, delegates do need to give you something. At a minimum their contact details, and preferably a promise to meet up and continue the conversation at a later date.

For you, the last stage is the most important of all.

Using a silhouette artist as a promotional tool

Employing a street artist as an attraction on your stand may seem like an unnecessary extra. Conference stands are notoriously expensive and you are probably trying to keep it cost effective. However, a good silhouette artist will come with a plan, a way to bring delegates onto your stand. You’ll get far more than souvenir silhouettes, the art itself can be used as a promotional tool. Consider the following:

Make ‘em Stop: how will you do this?

My own approach is simply to ask “Excuse me, have you had your silhouette cut yet?” At, say, an insurance conference this question is random and unexpected enough to make most people stop in their tracks.

Make ‘em Stay: you have about 3 seconds before they remember where else they have to be.

I show them a silhouette and then explain that the process takes about 60 seconds. I also add that they’ll get a free silhouette – the best freebie in the show (which it will be). Usually, they stay.

Make ‘em Watch: it’s you they need to watch, not me.

To cut a silhouette I need to see the subject’s profile. I position them so they are looking directly at your stand and begin cutting. This is your cue to approach the subject and begin to engage them in conversation. You have about 60 seconds to talk, while I cut, but in that time they are – almost literally – a captive audience. It’s amazing how much you can say about your business in 60 seconds.

Finally, I produce their silhouette and mount it on a presentation card branded with your logo.

Make ‘em Pay: are they any use?

Most people will happily give you a business card in exchange for their silhouette. What happens next is really up to you. If they seem like a useful prospect you could then offer them a drink and invite them to talk some more, Or, perhaps arrange to meet up next week. If not, they at least walk away with a silhouette and good impression of your company. You can ask them to show their silhouette to all their colleagues (some of whom may be more use). Or, you could later photograph all the silhouettes for an artistic social-media campaign.

Delegates chatting about a silhouette. Making contact with delegates is the most important promotional tool.
Sales staff and a delegate joking about a silhouette

Let’s talk

If you enjoyed this post – but don’t organise your company’s conference stands – please do forward it to the person who does. Ask them to get in touch. I am always happy to meet up and discuss these ideas further, either in person or over Skype. I will both demonstrate my art and explain how to use it as a promotional tool. Conference stands are challenging environments; the key to success lies in making the artist a part of the sales team. This takes a little advance planning, but the rewards can be huge.

At the end of a conference you should be feeling that you’ve talked to as many people as you possibly could, not that too many people walked past without noticing you.



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