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Keep One Ear to the Ground: Essentials for the International Exhibitor
Doing business in the global marketplace requires exhibiting overseas. Participating in international shows helps establish your company’s presence as a global player, and is perhaps the single most valuable tool in forging new, valuable relationships with your foreign counterparts.
But there is an element of risk in international exhibiting. While the United States enjoys a relatively high level of political stability, the same is not true around the world. Riots happen, terrorism happens, strikes happen, even natural disasters happen. Obviously, these events can not be predicted, but there are certainly things you can do to minimize your company’s exposure to risk. It is not realistic to simply avoid any location that might be potentially dangerous. One must weigh the perceived risk against the possible rewards and make a reasoned judgement call. To do that, use the MAP formula:
M: Maintain Awareness: Keep abreast of current events in your destination country. The media can be your ally in this task, although it is good to remember that the camera crews don’t arrive until there is something to film. A crisis may have been brewing for a while before something sets it off – and you want to be aware of what’s brewing.
Pay attention to local media. Do not rely solely on American television or print media to give you a perspective on what’s happening. You’ll get a clearer, more authentic version of events from either the country itself or that of nearby neighbors. Getting accurate information out of some countries is notoriously difficult – former Soviet Bloc countries, China, Korea, and some African dictatorships for example – so you’ll be forced to be more proactive in your research.
Additionally, the State Department regularly issues reports updating conditions in various locations for Americans abroad. They will also, when conditions merit, urge travelers to leave or avoid a particular destination. Make sure you check this information regularly, and take any warnings issued by the Government extremely seriously.
A: Ally Yourself: Partner with local vendors, suppliers, and customers. These people will be your eyes and ears on the ground in your destination country. After all, they live there every day, and will have valuable first hand knowledge of what is going on. This can be more valuable than any information gleaned from news reports, as local residents will be able to place things in perspective. They’ll know if the rumblings between Faction A and Faction B are elevated or are just at a regular level but in the spotlight.
While it is important to view media skeptically, as they have a tendency toward sensationalism, it is also important not to rely too much on the advice of any one foreign ally. Some cultures are structured in such a way that people will go to elaborate lengths to avoid saying “no” or having to deliver unpleasant news. This can be misleading, and give you the impression that things are perhaps better than they really are.
One last caveat: The majority of your allies have a financial stake in your show participation. Remember that they will be making judgements and giving advice with one eye on their own interests. Additionally, they may assess risk differently. People who live with the daily threat of car bombs and drive-by shootings learn to take these things in stride, while a visitor may find themselves terrified. That is why it is important to combine your allies’ reports with objective media information.
Have your allies brief you on the area before you arrive. Where are the ‘safe’ areas, and what sections of town are to be avoided? Are there local customs that you need to know? There can be regional differences within a country – metropolitan areas may be far more liberal than the rural countryside. You want your people to fit in as much as possible. Being noticed on the show floor is a good thing – being noticed as a potential target by an angry crowd outside, not so much.
P: Plan: Have a ‘worst-case scenario’ plan in place. Where will you go if the convention center is attacked? It is prudent to have an off-site go-to spot designated, even if you’ll never use it. Airports, municipal buildings, embassies or an unaffiliated hotel are all good choices for this task. Decide on a meeting spot to regroup if your party gets seperated during chaotic events.
Each member of your team should have their own travel documents with them at all times. Make sure everyone has everyone else’s contact information. A phone list may seem like one more bit of paper to manage, but it could come in invaluable if one or more individuals gets lost.
Have a code of behavior in place for your booth staff. Now, more than ever, they are acting as your company’s ambassadors. People are often highly aware of the strangers in their midst – who they are, and how they conduct themselves. It’s tempting to kick up your heels and have a wild time, especially in a strange, exotic locale – but acting like the ‘Ugly American’ can be bad for business. Worse, wild times can have fatal results. Visitors who are obviously out of their element – and intoxicated – are easy pickings for the criminal element that lurks in every city.
Using the MAP formula doesn’t ensure that nothing bad will ever happen. However, it will help your team be prepared for what might happen during your next overseas exhibit.
This article was posted on November 28, 2005