Engagement is the Business … is the Essence … of Tradeshows and Events

By Drew Powers

“Business and human endeavors are systems… we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system. And wonder why our deepest problems never get solved.”


How is Starbucks one of the world’s most powerful and recognized brands even if, in comparison to other companies its size, it does very little advertising? How is Mary Kay the sixth largest direct sales company in the world even though it does next to no advertising?

The primary reason that Starbucks and Mary Kay are so successful, and so well known, even though they don’t spend much on advertising, was explained in a keynote address delivered recently by Jack Meyers, Chairman and Media Ecologist at MyersBizNet. Mr. Meyers is among the most in demand media and marketing strategists, and futurists.

Mr. Meyers, an author whose work in film documentaries has been nominated for Academy and Emmy awards, presented his speech in July, in Boston, at E2MA Red Diamond Congress, one of the exhibit and event industry’s premier networking conferences.

“Engagement” was the theme of the conference.

In his talk, Mr. Meyers discussed and provided examples of how the practice and economies of advertising and media are undergoing a sea change, a revolution; he talked about where the opportunities will be in, and the nature of, the future of advertising and marketing.

Mr. Meyers made the case that companies like Starbucks and Mary Kay are able to so cost-effectively connect and communicate with customers, and to sell so much product, on a miniscule advertising budget, because they are all stars in engaging people; they are engagement hall of famers.


In every industry and endeavor, there are strategies and buzzwords and the new thing; they take precedence, for a while … then they retreat in our consciousness and our attention, and in the focus and prevalence and intensity of their application … and, while they don’t go away, soon enough there are other strategies and buzzwords and new things.

“Engagement” is receiving considerable attention lately. It is a hot concept.

Yet, for companies and organizations that have long been winning, engagement has long been more than a concept; it has not been ephemeral – for it has long been fundamental to the way these groups function.

Without a focus on and commitment to engagement, Willwork, Inc. Exhibit Services would not have come close to the growth and success we have achieved.

Willwork has been “doing” engagement since we launched more than 25 years ago, for as long as we have been operating. We understand fully the elements and substance of engagement.

Engagement is holistic, and involves a constellation – a system – of human and organizational connectivity, in which all players and components are networked, in varying degrees of proximity and influence, with each other.

Working and effective engagement confers value and competitive advantage throughout this constellation.

Engagement focuses on strengthening and making more valuable the relationships between a company and its clients – and between a company and its vendors, industry and trade organizations, facility managers, and government.

Engagement involves – and this is necessary for, and paramount to, optimum engagement – internal employee engagement. If employees aren’t engaged, not consulted and listened to, not encouraged to participate, not provided continuous professional development … and if they do not feel invested in the process, then the company for which they are employed will not win, and will not deliver winning products and services.

Engagement is about listening, asking questions, responding – and caring about your job, and feeling that there is worth and importance in doing it.

Engagement is about committing the resources and time to developing and making your organization the best, and making the best readily and easily available to everyone for whom and with whom you work.

It is because engagement is so important, and will continue to be so important, that the future of shows and events is bright, as is the future of job opportunities and job openings for show and event planners.

Engagement Makes Companies More Profitable

Exhibiting, events, and shows are, at their essence, the business of engagement.

Bruce Bolger will tell you this. Promoting and teaching engagement is his business; he strongly believes both in the value of engagement, and that shows and events are venues and paradigms that are particularly hospitable to, and fertile environments for, engagement.

Mr. Bolger, managing director of Enterprise Engagement Alliance, also presented at E2MA Red Diamond Congress. Enterprise Engagement Alliance develops and makes available “open source” engagement strategies, available for free, to all, at the organization’s website.

In his seminar, titled, “Engagement Essentials,” Mr. Bolger said that engagement “is so important it should be a formal business practice and field – and that we should be applying the same rigor and discipline to engaging people that we do to advertising … that we do to a tradeshow exhibition … that we do to an event”

Mr. Bolger full believes that organizations are sacrificing tremendous profits in not embracing and practicing engagement – and that the sacrifice is widespread and deeply institutionalized.

He cited a Gallup poll statistic that 28 percent of U.S. employees do not feel engaged in their work, and a Nielsen survey that revealed 78 percent of U.S. consumers are not loyal to a single brand.

Engagement, Mr. Bolger testifies, is the key to happier and more productive employees, and companies forging a stronger bond with the public, one that facilitates loyalty to a brand,

“ … the whole idea of enterprise engagement … is that everybody is united under a single mission, a single brand,” said Mr. Bolger. “It’s about fostering the proactive involvement of the people who can help you achieve your goals. …. Tradeshows are a magical place to build alignment between your employees, your customers – they’re all there – your vendors, your management,”

He also noted that, “’The new model in business is that you involve your community and your customer in an ongoing conversation about every part of your business. Where can you have that conversation better than at a tradeshow or an event?”

Advertising and Marketing – The Engagement “Sweet Spot”

A primary reason that engagement, when properly applied, will make your company more profitable, is that it is the most cost-effective advertising and marketing-communications programs available to companies.

As Jack Meyers detailed and elaborated on in his speech, engagement is a force shaking up the business of advertising, driving, across many industries, a seismic and cosmic review of advertising and marketing budgets and appropriations.

Mr. Meyers referenced in his talk that ongoing, this past summer, some $30 billion in media budgets were under review in the U.S. That’s a lot of money – 30,000 times $1 million in money. So much media expenditure is under review because, as Mr. Meyers explained with so many new ways for companies to connect with consumers, and build brand loyalty, there are necessarily many unanswered questions about the best, the smartest, way to spend advertising dollars.

Technology, and big data, in the estimation of Mr. Meyers, have not necessarily done much to improve advertising and marketing.

To highlight and support this contention, he presaged his talk with the following quote, which he calls his “favorite of all time,” offered by the English essayist Samuel Johnson in 1759: ‘The trade of advertising is now so near perfection that it is not easy to propose any improvement.”

Reflecting on the Samuel Johnson quote, Mr. Meyers said, “And I think it probably was – and it’s been downhill ever since. How do we deal in a world where technology is not necessarily making advertising any better? In the world of advertising that Samuel Johnson was operating in, it was a world in, it was a world where advertising was making a very personal connection. It was very close … you were communicating with your neighbor through the media or through the choices that they were making, on who they learned about the world, how they learned about business – and they were consuming advertising as something that was meaningful and valuable to them.”

Improvements in technology, and the ever building and growing mountains of data foisted on decision makers and planners, are not, in the estimation of Mr. Meyers, necessarily helping to improve the effectiveness and efficiencies of advertising, buying, and selling.

Brands and customer loyalty are being devalued, said Mr. Meyers, and, he maintains, the antidote to this weakening of brand strength and customer loyalty is for business to become reacquainted with the strong interpersonal and closely and poignantly emotional advertising that predominated in the mid 1700s, in the day of Samuel Johnson.

Mr. Myers, did stress, though, that technology will be an important and critical mover in the improvement of advertising and marketing – especially a category he terms “Emotion Tech, which is populated with devices such as wearables, beacons, and “invisibles” – which connect and transmit the emotions of consumers directly to marketers and sellers.

(Willwork clients benefit from our proprietary mobile and beacon technologies, which we have developed in house, that enable show personnel, on show site, to instantaneously capture a variety of specific and valuable information that allows for smarter, faster, and more targeted marketing, and communications with customers and potential customers.)

Speaking to the show and event professionals, Mr. Meyers said that the future of marketing and advertising is “one that I really believe will be your strength. It will be your sweet spot.”

“Let’s move to the future ahead of everyone else,” continued Mr. Meyers, “because you’re in a business where relationships are at the forefront, and all the legacy media and advertising that we look at, their fundamental core business models are embedded in the past – are embedded in mass; not focused, not individual, not taking advantage of new technology to reinforce what you’ve always done which has been about making connections.”

Kronos Incorporated and Willwork, Inc. Exhibit Services, an Ongoing Exercise and Demonstration in Engagement

Engagement is demonstrated in the Willwork relationship with our client Kronos Incorporated, a world leading management software and services company. Kronos invented the microprocessor based time clock, and was a pioneer in developing PC based time and attendance products.

Our main point of contact at Kronos, and the person who stewards the company’s relationship with Willwork, is Alena McMullen (CTSM), Events Manager for Kronos.

In a note that Alena recently sent to Willwork, she described the system and network of valued support that we deliver to Kronos.

Elucidated in the note is the strong dedication to customer service and client support which is a hallmark of Willwork culture and the way we do business.

Willwork employees cited in the note are Chuck Texeira, Danielle Clark, and Shannon Cushing.

The Kronos and Willwork relationship commenced back in 2012 when Kronos hired us to install & dismantle a series of its custom exhibits. Kronos was, as Alena described, ‘thrilled with the service” we delivered.

Yet Kronos was not aware that Willwork was a full service tradeshow and event company, with a rapidly growing general contracting division operating from coast to coast.

Kronos might have continued to remain unaware of our expansive roster of capabilities if not for an engaged and caring employee, Chuck Texeira. It was during the 2012 Exhibitor Show in Las Vegas that Chuck and Alena talked, and she told Chuck about the corporate events Kronos ran and the company’s event general contracting needs.

Well, at the same time the Exhibitor Show was going on, Willwork was providing the general contracting service for an IBM show at the MGM Grand. Chuck seized the opportunity to take Alena over to the MGM and provide her a tour of the GC work Willwork was performing.

As Alena noted, she was “impressed” with Willwork as a GC, and “grateful that Chuck took the time to leave Exhibitor to go to another hotel and show me around. When I got back to the office I let my team know all about Willwork and what they could do.”

Then there is Danielle Clark.

“Danielle brings something very unique to this business – she cares,” wrote Alena. ‘She cares about the client being happy; she cares about the image of her company in a way that is refreshing.

“Danielle can answer any question..even ones that she shouldn’t have to.  For example, I was trying to come up with new sponsorships this year at our event.  I was having a creative block.  I decided to reach out to Danielle and in about an hour she had a list for me of about 10 different ideas!  That is a true partnership …. There was nothing in it for her but she took the time to help me out.  That to me says a lot about her and her dedication to maintaining a strong relationship with her clients.

‘Danielle feels my pain.  When I am onsite and things aren’t going as fast as I expected (which isn’t often) she doesn’t try and make excuses.  She acknowledges issues and fixes them.  Again, very refreshing.  I trust her completely.  If she says something is going to work, it will.  If she says not to worry about something, I won’t.”

Alena also had laudatory things to say about Shannon Cushing.

Alena wrote, “I have had the pleasure now of working with [Shannon] at two events.  Wow!  Where do you find these amazing people.  My co-worker even said to me, about Shannon, ‘She’s like a Danielle in training.’ You couldn’t get a better complement than that and I agree.  Shannon in my experience goes the extra mile.  No matter what you ask, her answer is, ‘Absolutely, not a problem.’”

In the estimation of Alena, exceptional customer service and high-level and effective engagement are evidenced across Willwork.

“I can’t end this email without mentioning your entire organization.  I don’t know them all by name but everyone I have come in contact with or worked with at Willwork has been fantastic.  Everyone is very good at what they do and seem to complement each other’s skills.”

Engagement and the Future of Shows and Events

There was considerable speculation and prediction that the online world might diminish the importance of shows and events and meetings. In person interaction would decrease in frequency, and become less important.

Easily and instantaneously accessible and available data and other information would nullify a need to meet on site and face to face.

This has not come to pass. Indeed, the meetings and events industry is booming, companies are increasing their meetings and events budgets – and, as mentioned earlier, employment and job prospects in the industry are as strong and sunny as in almost any sector.

It is a time of great change, globally – across all of society, all industries.

The manner and nature of business, of buying and selling, are undergoing as profound and penetrating change as any aspect and element of our civilization.

Those organizations that most intelligently, precisely, and consistently integrate and apply engagement in their operations will be those that will own the future, and seize most of its opportunity.

Drew Powers is Director of Sales for Willwork, Inc. Exhibit & Event Services. He has worked in the events industry for 45 years.