Hard work is the answer I would give! During my final years at Philips I was involved in three Trade Shows, two big ones and a smaller one. The purpose of Trade Shows was, of course to advertise and promote the company’s new products due for release in the summer months and perhaps give a taster of some products due much later in the year. Hopefully this will produce advance orders, attract new customers thus assuring the success of the business……well you get the idea.
One problem of course is that you really need to get the orders in early so all the products due for release in the summer need to be seen at the beginning of the year. As we all know, the weather in UK is somewhat unpredictable and during January and February is downright awful. What with potential travel difficulties and the inclement weather, visiting a Trade Show is not a pleasant prospect. Philips had the answer to this…..hold the Trade Show somewhere warm! Arrange the show in a suitable hotel, provide flights and accommodation for the dealers in a warm country and you have a situation that provides a relaxed atmosphere where people can wander about the various exhibits in a leisurely manner. They will also enjoy slap-up meals during their stay and the wine will flow freely, in the literal sense and hopefully there will be much signing of contracts and advance orders…..
Sounds very good but what about the actual Trade Show? Organising something like that took months and planning usually started around October. The last one I did was held in Lisbon, Portugal. I was involved in helping out on the actual displays and it started off by getting two huge flight cases of cables over to head office from our stores in London. We were given plans of the actual displays, how many TV’s, DVD’s, audio products and Hotel TV’s were to be displayed. From this we could work out what and how many types of cables were required, specialist equipment (some TV’s were connected to a PC so that video material could be switched through as necessary). Some of the new HD sets had to be fed from HD generators (no HD programmes in 2008) so all of this had to be accommodated behind panelling so potential customers only saw the product, not the generator.
Very often, extra bit’s and pieces needed to be ordered. Things like small amplifiers with speakers so that information announcements could be run on continuous loop with particular products. All the leads, sometimes hundreds, had to be checked beforehand, the HD generators had to be updated with the latest HD promotional film clips and on the last show I did, a true 3D TV that hopefully would be a show-stopper, required special video material since nothing was being broadcast in 3D. The TV was being set up in a special area and the PC equipment was discretely hidden behind panelling. No 3D glasses needed for this set!
In other areas of Philips, others were doing the same as us for audio, accessories and small appliances. During all this activity, the flights and accommodation were being arranged, invitations to the dealers were being sent out and last-minute changes to the Trade Show layout were being dealt with. Sometimes it was necessary to set up ‘dummy runs’ to make sure that certain pieces of equipment worked with others. Other very important pieces of equipment were the UPS’s (uninteruptable power supplies). These were required for the PC’s that ran some of the equipment. Bitter experience in the past had taught us not to rely entirely on power being maintained continually in the exhibition hall so now several UPS’s always came with us to avoid the need to reboot PC’s that provided the video material. The reason for this is that after we techies have gone back home, salesmen will be operating the equipment and just want to press the ‘go’ button…..!
So now it’s just after Christmas, all the equipment to be taken over to Portugal is in flight cases and we fly out on 6th of January for a week of setting up. This will include weekend working and for the first time (at Philips anyway) I was getting in a taxi to Gatwick on a cold Sunday morning. Having met up with my fellow techies in the departure lounge we discuss the week ahead and then our flight is announced and we are on our way!
Arriving in Portugal, it was about 18 degrees (as opposed to below freezing in UK) and the prospect of a full seven days work didn’t seem to be so daunting, Amazing what a bit of sun and blue sky can do. Once on the coach to the hotel we could sit and relax and even enjoy some of the Portuguese scenery. It was late afternoon by the time we got to the hotel, checked in and sorted ourselves out so nothing would get done until the next day anyway.
Early start next morning, first thing was to get all the flight boxes of cables opened and then wander round the venue to see where best to start. I omitted to say that the real workmen, the ones that built the displays, false walls and sort out the drilling, sawing and lighting effects had arrived the week before and the build was already well under-way. The problem with this particular show was that most of the TV’s hadn’t yet arrived as they had been used in another Trade Show in Austria…. We knew what sets were going where so the usual thing was to start running cables, mains, signal, amplifiers etc behind all the false walls. A certain amount of dexterity was required for this typically someone laying on their back in a confined space while someone passes a cable down to you so you can thread it through a hole behind the wall to an HD player or PC.
It was not unusual to find that part of a display had to be modified due to incorrect measurements or even a last minute change as to what TV was being displayed. Some of the builders had been known to make completely new podiums or display turntables due to last minute changes. There was a display of Hotel TV’s and business equipment and I spent two days running cables to various computers and we’d got a PC running in a mock hotel foyer. Other hotel TV’s were running in mock hotel rooms and the PC was running a program that allowed the demonstrator to ‘book in’ guests to a ‘room’ and then display a welcome message on the respective TV. It was a brilliant, well thought-out display area but boy was it hard work to get it all wired up!
We’d aim to start at about 7am and work through until about 6pm. That gave time for a well-needed shower before the evening meal. We’d work like this from the Monday through to the Saturday by which time all the displays should be wired and working. If all went well, everything would be installed and working by Saturday afternoon leaving last-minute tidying up and final adjustments for Sunday. Usually the sales team would switch on amplifiers, radio microphones and Power-point slideshows and run through their presentations.
This particular year, there were an uncomfortable number of vacant displays as the rest of the TV’s had not yet arrived including the 3D set and it was now late Saturday morning….! Apparently they were still on their way and had finally been cleared by Portuguese border officials. Another three hours were to elapse before they finally arrived. It was going to be a late evening…..! Around 4pm, a call from the reception desk announced the arrival of the TV’s. All hands to the decks and even the guys that had built the displays helped get them into position leaving us to set them up and get them working. By 7pm, all the TV’s were in place but there was one that refused to work, the supposed show-stopper 3D set. There was power but everything else was dead. By 8pm we’d decided to leave it until the morning. If we couldn’t get it working at all, someone in Eindhoven would be tearing their hair out and it was the only one of it’s kind…..
Sunday morning I wandered down to the 3D display room to find my manager had disembowelled the set and had meters connected to various points. He’d established the power supply wasn’t running but couldn’t figure why….and there was no circuit available. Not a lot I could do so I wandered over to the Hotel TV displays and noted that they were all working well. Idly I switched on the PC that ran the mock reception desk and the monitor it was connected to announced that it was waking up. A sudden thought flashed through my mind and I ran back over to where my manager was looking dejectedly at the 3D set. ‘Does it require a wake-up from the PC like a PC monitor’? I asked. He looked at me and suddenly something registered. He went over to the packing box and extracted a cable with a ‘D’ plug at each end. It had a label ‘special for 3D’ tied to it. We connected this cable with the other end to the PC, switched on the 3D set and then the PC and a few seconds later, the 3D set woke up! There was almost a party atmosphere as the test video started to run and the 3D worked. Within 15 minutes everything was back together and the 3D set was in its rightful place in the display area with impressive-looking 3D pictures. It later transpired that the special lead had some reversed connections and had been deliberately rewired so it couldn’t be used with a conventional set. Pity they hadn’t told us!
We could all now relax a bit and wandered round the various areas of the venue looking at the other exhibits. It would take visitors a good day or so to get round everything and we felt a sense of achievement that we’d got it all set up in time. Most of Sunday was spent clearing up, cleaning marks off podiums etc. and generally making sure that everything looked good. The final touches like drapes, concealed lighting and advertising logos were applied and by late Sunday afternoon it was all finished.
It was a tradition that the managers took everyone out on the last Sunday night so showered and refreshed we got on the coach to one of the local clubs. No need to go into the details of this but it did involve some rather scantily dressed pole dancers and topless waitresses…..OK it was a bit of a jolly on the last night but I think we deserved it don’t you?