Trade Shows and Business Conferences (Part 1)

May 10, 2013

Most discussions about trade shows in competitive intelligence focus on how to “work” the trade show. Here I want to attack it from a slightly different angle: how to protect yourself at a trade show.

The first thing to do is to check out the geography. Who will be in the booth adjacent to you, in back of you and across from you? The companies or individuals stationed there will have the greatest opportunity to overhear, whether on purpose or by accident, conversations and presentations in your space, as well as to make important observations as to your level of staffing, what potential customers or clients you deal with, etc.

At a business conference, who is seated next to you? Who is listening in on the chit-chat at the reception?

Second, secure your space. Working the space at a trade show was not easy, but you must take care that the area is never, I repeat never, left unattended. All the competitor, or even a thief, needs are 15 or 20 seconds to make off with competitively sensitive information, in the first case, or industrial samples in the second.

In the case of a business conference, do not bring a computer or tablet into the conference that has any sensitive information on it. If lost, that can cause real issues. Also, people get lazy about reading email or working on presentations so that they do not notice who is now sitting next to them.

Third, do not let fatigue cloud your decision-making. After about one full day at a trade show, most individuals tend focus on whatever is working well for them and to look, frankly, just getting through the event. It is at this time that you and your fellow employees are most vulnerable to elicitation (probing interview) efforts by your competitors. In particular, always make sure you know to whom you are speaking. If the badge is unfamiliar, do not automatically assume that individual does not work for the competition. Using a substitute badge is one tactic some use. Some may also give employees who are checking out competitors a badge in the name of a subsidiary that is not well-known, so they appear to be innocuous visitor to your booth. The same is true at a business conference.

Fourth, when you are cleaning up at the trade show, take a good look at the materials that you still have. Are any of your flyers not yet public, so that you would want to keep from the hands of competitors? Do you have scratch notes of discussions that might reveal things like pricing? When cleaning up the booth, make sure that such sensitive materials are not placed in the trash for disposal by the convention hall personnel. Take responsibility for them and bring them back with you or see that they are shredded and disposed of for you leave for home. At a business conference, if you have used a breakout room, the same is true. Also, see that the white boards are cleaned off. Do not assume that the hotel staff will get it done quickly.

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