Over the last nine years on the road we have worked with countless clients, taken exhibits to 48 states, and been exposed to a diversity of industries. While no two tours are the same, there are some national events that tend to draw in our customers each year. You can always count on at least one program visiting the Minnesota State Fair, one of the Maker Fairs, and the National FFA Convention. In those nine years we have been to them all, finally.
In my youth I was an active member of both 4-H and FFA. These organizations shaped who I am and gave me not just skills and experience but the confidence to reach for some large goals. I know that attending the National FFA Convention as a high school student broadened my view of the world and the opportunities in it. You see I’m from a very small town and it can be hard to leave that comfort for what adventures may be found. Sixteen year old me certainly didn’t envision a life where I get to help companies create a message and sell it.
So it is only fitting that the last show we do after nine years is at this same event. LAST SHOW, WHAT?? Yes, Josh and I have made the decision to set down some roots, in Portland Oregon. We are also making some moves in our careers that will take us off the road. This was the first time we have taken a program to any FFA event, not going to lie I brought my jacket. It was actually useful, one of the other event sponsors had a scavenger hunt challenging students to find poelpe who fit into a number of categories (Like a former FFA member). It is things like this that make FFA a great club, give members challenge to go interact with professionals and they will rise to the task.
There was one group of young leaders in particular that I was hoping to meet, the members of the Brown County FFA Chapter. I happen to be a very proud Alumni and having these exceptional students come by my exhibit will forever remain a career highlight. They were able to stay for a bit and talk to me about the chapter along with what they are each doing in the club. I’m inspired. The chapter is in the rebuilding process and as part of that alumni are coming together to support that organization. I was already excited to take part but now I can’t wait to be a help. There are so many ways to give back to a community, I feel lucky to now have a way to repay a group that gave me a solid foundation for success.
Josh was able to find a group attending that were all former students of his mother, this was truly a special event.
It’s not every day that one of us has to crawl under a counter to work on plumbing but believe it when we say there is no typical day on a marketing tour! At a recent event we had a little tiny leak one a fixed coolerJ. Had that drain failed during a show we would have quickly found a wet floor and can unhappy client. Lucky for Team Van Gelder, Josh has the skills and patients to keep on top of all the moving parts.
Neither of us are strangers to a toolkit. Abigail’s father was an electrician and plumber like many of his ilk the last thing he wanted to do when he got home after long days was to have to fix something. Thankfully he taught his kids more than the basics and it’s that comfort that has made a big difference of tours, just a few weeks ago she rewired some speakers to custom fit on a new build. As for Josh’s hand skills he’s just that, handy. His love of learning to build things started in the Boy Scouts and has never ceased. When still teaching he spent a summer off as a handyman. Part of the lure of marking tours is the need for diligence in maintenance and there are always new problems to work through.
One of the best parts about summer when you work in the experiential marketing field is the prospect of taking out new tours. So many programs launch as temperatures rise and the opportunity to be a part of events that draw people out comes. When looking at new programs there are a thousand things to learn about the equipment and how the actual shows will run. Something that is hard for new people to the industry, at least those who travel with the tours is that you also have to “live the brand”. The moment you step near that marketing vehicle you represent that brand; fueling, stopping at a rest area, even pulling into a hotel. You, as the road team you are part of the visible element for your client. This should be reflected not just in how you act but also how you present yourself.
Guests to a mobile experiential program don’t know and aren’t going to be understanding that you are “just the driver” or don’t work for the brand on display. It is crucial that you match the image clients to reinforce their message. One of the programs we currently work with is a high-end firm hosting training seminars. It’s key that anyone coming in sees us as a person they can engage with, that we are supposed to be there.
On the other hand we serve two roles when in the field. when setting up the truck or moving down the road we also represent our employer. You never know when a random contact could turn into a long term program. We are careful to look professional even when setting up an exhibit. Years ago we met a gentleman while setting up a trailer in Washington DC, that brief contact put my firm on his radar and a few years later he was a driving force to put a tour on the road. What he saw of us ensured that we would be the right choice to representing that brand on a national scale.
Living the brand goes deeper than that, it takes very little effort to be knowledgeable about the industry your client operates in. It’s as easy as taking a gander of PR Newswire a couple of times a week just to see what is going on with a client’s customers and their competition. This can help you talk the talk as you walk the walk.
During dinner a few weeks back we started to both bring up examples of times we have broken the rules. Looking back at our early days in promotional marketing, there were many times we joined crews of brand ambassadors handing out fliers and giveaways. Rarely did we have a permit to be there. To be frank it was a highly unauthorized promotion that led us down the path where we found MRA and started the adventures in marketing tours.
We drive the wrong way down roads, illegally park, take up handicap spaces, put up signs without permission. How often do you send out event staff as a field team to drive in traffic? On a recent call with city planners office some strange questions started coming up. About half-way thought the process I realized that she had at one time worked with a different firm who widely misrepresented their event and left the city with damage and cleanup. She wasn’t trying to get more permit funds from me but instead to make her local police and park employees aware. Maybe too often we view people in those positions as an obstacle versus a partner.
We recently had the opportunity to help out with some planning on tour run by our employer but outside of our client portfolio. They needed help to secure a year’s worth of tour stops in three weeks. This was a great opportunity to put forth a concentrated effort treat the contacts at locations like they were a preferred vendor, a partner. By expressed our excitement to be in the community and to use their facility. It was a striking difference, out of the entire list only one location said no. We were able to give the client exactly what they asked for. It has been a great opportunity to grow professionally from this and noticed immediately how differently it felt to work some of other vendors.
We wear a number of different hats within the company and it will be a long time before again seeing anyone as a road block versus a partner again.
We often make references to “Living the Brand”, which covers not just how you present yourself but also how you approach working on a new project. To create and maintain dynamic programing you will want to “know the brand” throughly and also have some insight into the industry. While we did extensive research about our German Headquartered client’s unique attributes, it was also essential to understand their American competitors. Had we developed the program with a narrow view there would definitely have been small elements we would missed that participants expect.
It is rare that you will be given the opportunity to reach new consumers who have zero exposure to your client’s segment. Whether they know your brand already, or at least some part of it, there are going to be expectations. Understanding how the competition approaches their marketing and programing allows you to not miss out on any triggers. But how do you find this info? The best place I have found to not only gather industry info but also what those top companies are doing is via a website called PR Newswire. This is a clearing house for organizations, PR Reps, and marketing firms to share press releases. There are also a number of research and statistical groups that contribute.
For example my firm has partnered with Target in the past to showcase products from specific brands via a “sampling” truck. While Target is a unique brand with some very distinct attributes it was necessary to also merge that with special features of the other brands. Not only was it key to see what the other product lines in the segment were doing that summer but what sampling events had been done at the specific location the new program planned to visit. Guests don’t get the full effect of a program if they don’t understand what is going on or how they are supposed to participate. By doing a little research we could shape the experience in a way that consumers would be excited to enter and hopefully come out with a full enriched impression.
With a jumping off point it’s easy to get started and also figure out what questions you should be asking. Checking this site or one like it should become a habit, knowing what is going on around your client puts you in the position to give them solutions before there is a problem. Keeping a program fresh sets you apart as a vendor, keeping the client happy.
I mentioned Sunday that we have been able to connect with a bunch of friends and family over the last few months. If we are lucky our route crosses with the great folks at GoPetFriendly.com and a dinner full of “have you tried this ensues”. Outside of our coworkers, there aren’t many people we know who really understand the love and difficulties of living and working on the road. We usually exchange woes and any cool gadgets but this time it was a little more focused on what we have been trying to maintain a healthy diet.
Amy and Rod are always looking at new options for low-calorie, high protein, whole foods that are convenient. After looking at their list of gems and some of my own staples I thought it might be interesting to share a little on here. It is a struggle to maintain a healthy diet when so many of our meals come from a restaurant. Like many of my fellow road warriors we often start the day with a shake, having access to a refrigerate in our truck these have gotten fairly good by adding things like coconut water and lactose free milk. Using a protein powder is all well and good but no one wants to haul those giant container around, so my pro-tip here is to invest in a powder container like this one from Jaxx, this gem holds three days worth of powder.
Now that breakfast is covered lunch is a whole different struggle. When we are set up for a show it is easy to take the time during lunch to make a good choice and many of the places we end up are nearly amazing restaurants. The hard part is staying on pace during travel days. Truck stops are not known for their low-calorie selections, I’m not going to claim we don’t eat fast food (some days you just need fries) but we always have other options in the cabinet. We love GoPicnic meals, Josh is addicted to the hummus one. I’ve preached about these before and highly recommend trying one. They are moderate in calories and match a number of dietary needs. We also pack plenty of meal bars that are made with whole ingredients. Seeking to stay organic and simple.
And this brings us to dinner time. Now after a shake for breakfast, a bar for lunch, and a light snack it’s time for something hot. I will admit that 90% of the time we order takeout, thank you Grubhub!! This is where we struggle, often ordering too much food and the wrong kinds. I would like to say that we make the better choice and stop at a grocery store after work instead of ordering pizza but it just doesn’t happen enough. That is actually a great option for itinerants like us, take advantage of the portioned fresh choices and even some spectacular deli options. We do try but after a long day we often just want to get check into the hotel and shower, figuring out dinner comes second.
The one thing I would absolutely recommend adopting is the use of a calorie counter, at least when you start making diet changes. Not only will you get a picture of your calories but some trackers like MyFitnessPal are full of nutritional info. Being a pescaterian I struggle to get enough protein.
I don’t think there is any one perfect method but putting any effort into maintaining a balanced diet is going to make road life better. No one enjoys a day of driving with a funky tummy. I’d love to hear tips you have.
***This is part of a series of posts called “Travel Tuesday“, each covering topics unique to our lifestyle***
It’s a long running joke with people we work with, that we know someone in every city. We are lucky to have a large family but most of all it’s friends we have gained. This week we will be getting to see some of our favorite people while making the trip from Seattle to Albuquerque.
Courtesy of Google Maps
Song of the Week: Shortyville – Trombone Shorty
Week in Review:
We had a pretty wild week. Spend a fantastic couple of days with friends in Seattle, they used to do the same job we do, now their adventures are a whole lot more fun. During the first few years we were on the road a great deal of effort was put out to find live music or catch acts we liked on tour. It quickly got frustrating to be a day behind some group for months. While we aren’t the best at seeking out the bands see live, there are times it all comes together. That is how we got to see Trombone Shorty in Portland on Friday. While the actual venue wasn’t ideal (Keller Auditorium) he put on a good show. Really makes you want to hit Jazz Fest and see all these guys in their element. Our quick trip back to Portland afforded the opportunity to do a tour of local breweries via bike, something we have wanted to do for a while. I will admit that after the second stop I was much more comfortable on the bicycle, wonder why? It really was fun and I think we could easily go again, hitting more of the 65+ breweries in Portland.
Fun Photo of the Week: