In my recent piece, "The insider's guide to keeping up with marketing trends," I went into detail about how to get the most out of conferences. Some of the tips I offered were that you should plan your schedule diligently, spend quality time at the exhibit hall, and even pack a lunch.
In that guide, however, I overlooked the most important variable to consider when attending industry events: the people. Working the crowd can definitely be the difference-maker on how much you're able to maximize your time, gather knowledge, and network to ensure a successful outcome. After all, with all of the time and money spent traveling and attending these events, it's important for you to get the highest return from your investment.
Knowing how to best navigate through the zoo of characters you will meet at marketing conferences and expos is absolutely crucial. The following is a list of 10 common industry stereotypes you might encounter while attending industry events, along with the dos and don'ts for engaging with each animal personality.
Sharks are salespeople who have targeted you and firmly decided that that they are going to secure your business no matter what. The very best sharks might even try to set up a meeting with you before the event, regardless if you have a past relationship with them or not. Sharks come in many varieties from friendly angel sharks, who work the soft-sell angle of slowly building up rapport, to the most aggressive hammerheads, who try to corner you at a lunch table.
Don't be impolite. Like real sharks, they have to eat to live too. They play a very important role for their companies, and it's their job to find and convert prospects like you. You probably have salespeople at your organization that have to be sharks as well for your benefit. So, don't be rude unless they're rude first.
Do be direct. If you will never buy their product or service, kindly let them know that. Where many people go wrong is that they believe it's nicer to say "maybe" or "call me next week" as a way to get the Shark off the scent. Most salespeople appreciate if you are honest so they can just scratch you off your list rather than be strung along and waste their time with you.
Garden snakes are people who work for your competitors and are overly friendly as if no competition exists. They want to make sure that you know that they aren't one of the bad guys. No reason to get nasty just because they happen to work for Company A and you work for Company B, right? Sometimes that is true. Conversations with garden snakes can go two ways: Either you realize that these folks are actually just good people, or you will recognize that they are subtly trying to get information out of you.
Don't be rude. You might not like the fact that one of their executives recently bad-mouthed your company to a prospect, but that doesn't mean this garden snake holds any ill will for you. Remember, it's a small industry! Today's competitor is tomorrow's client, boss, or colleague.
Do watch what you say. Be careful what you say in front of garden snakes. He or she might be a cobra who asks you seemingly benign questions to help get a sense of what you're up to or other important information. What you say can and will be held against you!
Barnacles barely know you but for some reason act like you two are best friends. You can't get rid of barnacles, as they stick to you like glue for the rest of the conference. Even if you are able to break away for a moment, as soon as you enter a session room, the barnacle will sit down next to you as if you had reserved seating. He or she might be staying close to you for a professional reason (so people will think you are connected) or just a personal one (they're shy and don't want to walk the conference alone).
Don't confront the barnacle about his or her barnacle-y behavior. You might see each other at every conference for the next 20 years of your professional career, and there's no reason to create an awkward relationship.
Do find a way to maintain your personal space, whether it's sitting where there's one empty seat left at a lunch table or even heading to the bathroom if necessary. The good news is that a barnacle will eventually find someone else to stick to -- just wait it out!
Roosters are shameless self-promoters who think that every industry event is way for more people to have the distinct pleasure of meeting them. They're not paying attention to the speakers nor do they have any interest in the content. You can identify roosters easily as they keep their eyes low -- on everyone's name badges -- to make sure they don't let someone important walk by without shaking his or her hand and passing out their cards. To them, you are just another stepping stone to the digital marketing hall of fame.
Don't think that all strangers who introduce themselves to you are roosters. They might just be breaking the ice, and networking is an important part of any industry. You will know within a few minutes if he or she is a rooster, but don't be too quick to judge.
Do use roosters for your benefit. A rooster might have some very good connections and be able to get you in the door somewhere. Not all roosters are bad; this is just the path they've decided to take, and many roosters can be very friendly people who end up connecting the rest of us with each other.
Social butterflies seem to know everyone at the conference. As you are talking to one on the conference floor, person after person will walk by and say hello. Social butterflies might even have to pause your conversation to hug a long-lost friend or when someone wants to introduce the person to their colleagues. Unlike a rooster, social butterflies aren't inherently self-promoting. They're usually just interesting, interested people who happen to make friends easily both in the industry and in their personal lives.
Don't assume that just because someone is well-known that they are well-connected. There's a big difference between a conference buddy and a true mover and shaker.
Do connect with social butterflies if you two genuinely click. Not every interaction has to be motivated by business. There are so many interesting people in this industry, and it's really nice to see some friendly faces wherever you go. The conference circuit can get lonely sometimes, so having some folks with whom to hang out and chat is important too.
Young colts are newbie marketers who are overly enthusiastic about attending one of their first industry events. After spending every day at the office grinding away at reports and other entry-level work, being at a show is one of the most exciting things that has yet to happen to them professionally. They can feel the magic in the air! Walking the action-filled exhibit hall makes them feel alive and reminds them just how cool this industry can be.
Keep on the lookout for the rare young colt running wild, who is traveling for the first time in his or her professional career and possibly without adult supervision. These colts have had this date circled on their calendars for months, and the entire experience of getting on an airplane, staying at a hotel, and meeting other industry folks is almost too much for them to handle. Look for the big grin and wide eyes when they receive their first cocktail party drink ticket!
Don't say anything to a young colt that you're not OK with being repeated. Many of them don't yet understand the concept of confidentiality, and if you make an offhand remark that might be misconstrued out of context, there's a chance it could get back to the wrong ears.
Do share your veteran advice. Young colts are eager to learn and most likely have shown some promise (or their bosses wouldn't have incurred the expense of sending them). Plus, it's a chance for you to influence the next generation in this industry. I still remember some of the lessons I learned from my first few conferences.
Old broncos are the exact opposite of the young colts. They are industry vets who have been to every event since the early 2000s. They've seen it all and done it all. They've been part of startups that have exploded and big companies that have imploded. Nothing shocks them, and they don't expect to learn anything from the conference content. They're there to do business, and that's it. They know how to be part rooster, part shark, and part social butterfly when needed. Some are jaded, and some are not.
Don't engage old broncos with industry conversation. No matter what you say, you could end up coming off foolish, as something you believe to be true could actually sound ridiculous to their ears. Stick to music, sports, and current events.
Do try to get old broncos talking. It might take a few glasses of Scotch, but that's a very wise investment. Remember, they know all of the secrets and where the bodies are buried. If they start telling their battle stories, just listen and don't interrupt. In one hour, an old bronco can give you more valuable insights about the inner workings of our business than you could learn in a year.
Wolves love to party at industry events, especially at multi-day conferences. Yes, they're there to work, but they live for the cocktail parties, late-night hotel room poker games, and afterhours events. They're the ones in the mornings of Day 2 who are shuffling their feet like zombies, wearing sunglasses to hide their red eyes, and making a beeline for two venti-sized coffees. Wolves could also be old broncos or social butterflies, but the main difference is that their priorities are life first, work second. Many times, these are middle-aged men who are off the leash for a few days and are reliving their college years.
Don't immediately think that wolves aren't also very concerned with business. They could be very intense about business, but it just so happens that they're also passionate about having fun. FYI: Some of the smartest and most connected people in our business are werewolves: ultra-professional by day at their office, but wolves by night at industry events.
Do be a little cautious about coupling too closely to wolves; they might have bad reputations that could rub off on your by association. Make sure you're not hanging out with a hyena (i.e., the village idiot) who could ultimately hurt your professional status.
Worker bees are those in our industry who find really no joy or excitement in our business. They're there because they were asked or expected to be there. These are the same folks at your company who could basically be in any industry but happened to just land in advertising. They are the clock watchers, the 9-5ers, etc., who do their jobs without much interest and just figure they'll get a promotion every four years as long as they fly under the radar and do their jobs. At the conferences, they're sitting at booths with empty looks on their faces, working on their laptops during every panel, and simply putting up with the rest of us who are actually very interested in what's going on.
Don't bother engaging with these people. Learn to recognize the worker bees early and know that they don't want to be bothered. Killer bees might actually attack if provoked.
Do ask them for their drink tickets to the cocktail party that they don't need, as they will be cutting out early to go back to their hotel rooms and complain to their spouses about how boring their jobs are.
Turtles are generally marketers from small to mid-sized agencies or in-house advertisers who don't usually attend conferences or even spend too much time reading the trades. They're a bit removed from the epicenter of the industry and are usually found in smaller marketing organizations without a mature digital advertising community. Turtles might even still approach online marketing like traditional advertising and use rather dated media tactics and strategies. They could really be great marketers; they're just a bit behind the times. Turtles are generally dazzled by the latest innovations and ask a lot of rudimentary questions as they try to figure everything out.
Don't look down on these people, and certainly don't make the mistake of thinking that they're small fish just because they don't know what a DSP is. Some of them are with mom-and-pop marketing organizations, but there are many turtles who spend millions (or tens of millions) online and actually drive a ton of revenue for their companies.
Do answer their questions and try to include them in conversations around the lunch table and lounge areas. They might have very interesting points of view on their corner of the world.
This is a list of just some of the common stereotypes that you'll find at industry events. What's important for you is to be able to recognize them quickly.
There's an old adage that says, "Either you handle the situation, or the situation handles you." It's always good to be prepared and know what you're getting into -- that's the best way to be ready for any situation.
It can be a jungle out there, so be ready to tame the beasts!
"Business team member goofing off" image via Shutterstock.