Trade Show TalesBlog

Some Days You’re an Artist. Other Days You’re a House Painter.

April 24th, 2015 1 COMMENT


Artist or House Painter?

You probably didn’t choose the exhibit industry. It chose you. But you stayed for any number of reasons including the people, the creativity, and the marketing challenges. New projects present themselves, each with a unique personality, each an evolving, moving target.  On your best days, you get to be an artist. It doesn’t matter if you’re in design, production, account management, sales, marketing, or even accounting. You soar on those days. And when the clock hits 5 or 6 or 10 pm, you walk out of the door with a smile.

Then there are days where none of us have the luxury of being artists. We’re house painters. Good house painters mind you, but ones where the colors, the canvas, and the guidelines are chosen by someone else, usually your client. If you’re in sales, account management, or design, you know exactly what I mean. Decisions are made (or not made) that may negatively impact the success of a project. Below are the most common. You’ll recognize each one… like a knife to the heart.

Budget Over Strategy

All clients have budgets. We understand that. It’s our business to maximize their trade show ROI based on that budget. Too often, budget trumps any consideration of a coherent marketing strategy. The client says, “I have $9,000 to spend on a display, exhibit space, travel, and shipping. What can I get for that?” We know that the conversation should be “What do you want to achieve?” But that’s not where the client wants to go. At that point we have a few choices. We steer the conversation back to strategy. We tell them to forgo the trade show until they have a reasonable budget. Or, we grab the big paint brush and show them the options in their budget.

Convenience over Function

How often have you heard a client say, “I need to purchase a display that’s portable and easy-to-assemble”? In fairness to your client, that may be exactly what they need. They may be participating in 20 Chamber of Commerce events, and portability is paramount. Then again, they may be exhibiting at their industry’s largest show where driving new sales is critical. In that case, what does portability and ease-of-assembly have to do with the client’s trade show strategy? We get it. Trade shows are expensive. Drayage and labor make it that much more expensive. However, those decisions should be a part of the larger discussion of the client’s overall goals. But you already know that.

Poor Design over Stunning Design

slackerThis one is always a landmine since everyone thinks they’re a designer. Which would be fine if everyone was a good designer (or even an artist like you). When it comes to display design there’s considerable latitude, so let’s ignore that. Graphic design, however, is fraught with mistakes, dead-ends, and just plain dumb choices on trade show exhibits. Often it’s not the client’s fault. They are relying on a graphic designer who has no experience with trade show graphics. They see it as a magazine ad or website. Sadly, neither of those apply. So you do your best to guide them to make changes. But it’s tough especially if they don’t have a budget for graphic design. In this case, the best teacher is abject, utter failure.

Procrastination over Planning

This is the bane of our existence. We pray for clients who plan months in advance when purchasing a new booth. We revel in delight when they give us time to stage and prep an exhibit for a show. We are happy campers when our clients complete the show forms before the late deadline. Let me know when you meet one of those clients, and I’ll introduce you to Bigfoot.

Sales over Marketing

Calm down! This is not an indictment of sales. We love, love, love sales. Too often, exhibitors hang their hat on the effectiveness of sales at the show to the detriment of pre-show marketing. It’s the “if we build it, they will come” philosophy. You know all too well that those days are long gone. So, you counsel your client to employ every available tool to drive potential customers to their booth space. As an exhibit artist, you tell them to use social media, email marketing, press releases, phone calls, and even snail mail. Do they listen? Maybe a little. But not as much as they should. See previous section — Procrastination over Planning.

If only our clients understood that we’re ARTISTS not HOUSE PAINTERS, DAMN IT! Sigh! … While we wish each and every day we could put on our artist apron and create a masterpiece, on most days we’re donning a Tyvex suit and grabbing a paint roller to start on another house. Yes, it comes with the job. But it doesn’t hurt to dream.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or



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One Response to “Some Days You’re an Artist. Other Days You’re a House Painter.”

  1. g Camarato says:

    Great read Mel.
    In consideration of design – my experience is the best graphic/exhibit designs are closer to interior design than magazine or website design. Retail store designs are super cool when transitioned into an exhibit space.

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