IRA: “I’ve Got My Booth on My Back!”

After two years with very little booth traffic, we decided not to buy booth space at the International Reading Association Conference this year. However, we didn’t want to miss speaking with at least some of those booth visitors.

So, last week, I went to Orlando, FL with “my booth on my back.” Quite literally, I put f&gs of the Fall 2011 list, plus a few key Spring 2011 titles into a backpack and walked from hotel to hotel to convention center (OK, I did take a cab or two in the 95 degree heat), sharing the books and talking about other books with teachers and university professors from all over the country.

This was a great use of time and money. I had real, indepth conversations with the leaders in literacy education. Longer conversations than I ever would have had in a booth.

I did visit the exhibits several times. For the most part, the hall was very empty, with other publishers telling me signings were small and booths slow.  However, there were a few publishers who felt they really did see a lot of people. They were, however, all in the same aisle — clearly a convention hot spot.

Because the show was in Orlando, my sister, a fourth grade teacher near Orlando, and her colleagues attended the show.

Florida teachers on the road (my sister on the right)

This was really fun for me, but it was also a great chance to see the show from the classroom teacher perspective.

They all attended several sessions a day and were diligent in finding sessions that applied to their day-to-day work. However, the exhibit hall was a search for “What’s free?” I think this is the cruz of why publishers are cutting back (or leaving) the exhibit floor. The majority of the attendees don’t view the exhibits as a place to search for materials and other classroom items. It’s an opportunity for free stuff.

Fair enough.

After all, most teachers spend hundreds of dollars of their own money (and this on their small teacher salaries) on their classrooms and even what little school money they do have is being cut dramatically. Exhibits also love to provide that free stuff. However, this does not make exhibiting at IRA a good marketing choice. Simply put, attendees are not their to shop.

That means, as marketers, we need to find new and betters ways to reach teachers. In the meantime, I think carrying your booth on your back is the way to go.

IRA: “I’ve Got My Booth on My Back!”