Your trip to Vegas and the HR Technology Conference is booked. Your marketing collateral and booth are nearly ready to ship. You’ve stowed away some cash for the tables and are preparing yourself for some serious parties networking.
There’s one thing you haven’t done, though: Ask 16 of the brightest minds in HR tech what you should do to maximize your investment at one of the biggest events in our industry.
Don’t worry — we went ahead and did that for you.
In “Burn After Reading: The Vendor’s HR Technology Conference & Exposition Manual,” you’ll read all about:
• The art of selling at a crowded, busy trade show
• The key to building relationships that last beyond Vegas
• The perspective you need to make bold business and marketing decisions
• The swag people really want, and the swag that ends up in the trash a week later
Download the manual today and learn how industry luminaries like Laurie Ruettimann, Mark Stelzner, China Gorman, and Bret Starr want you to raise your game.
Burn After Reading: The Vendor's HR Technology Conference & Exposition Manual
The Vendor’s HR Technology
Conference & Exposition Manual
BURN AFTER READING
Each year, the annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition offers an
opportunity for more than 250 vendors to get in front of approximately
3,200 HR technology decision-makers.
Each year, exhibitors try to create meaningful impressions or experiences for
attendees, using a formula they think looks something like this:
If only it were that simple.
HR Tech attendees will be nobody’s fool. You’re talking about an
unmatched opportunity to get in front of decision-makers, from
directors of HR to CEOs and CHROs.
Booth + Swag =
Don’t get caught with
a pile of stress balls
and a profoundly vapid
As an agent of The Starr
Conspiracy, you have insider
access to the minds of vendors
who get it right and serial
attendees from the influencer
and analyst communities
who have seen it all.
Your mission, should you choose
to accept it, is to stand out at
the annual HR Technology
Conference & Exposition.
Use this Field Guide to
accomplish your task.
BURN AFTER READING
As part of your
training and preparation,
RSVP at the following
coordinates to receive
a free 2-hour strategic
debrief at HR Tech.
* Based on availability
HR Tech attendees are more
senior than the usual HR confer-
ence attendees — and some
are IT leaders.
The visitors to the expo hall
have actual shopping lists.
And budgets. And are
The usual HR conference
swag won’t cut it:
1. No to bottles of hand
2. No to Post-it note page-
3. No to stress-relieving
squeezy balls in odd shapes
4. No to stuffed toys — unless
your brand is an animal
5. Yes to high-quality logo pens
6. Yes to technology-related
gadgets (thumb drive, porta-
ble mouse, etc.)
7. Yes to gadgets that relate to
your business or services
8. Yes to a cool, useful thing that
no one has ever seen before
9. Yes to high-quality or
Best conference swag ever: Last year at HR Tech, an exhibitor had a caricaturist who worked on
an iPad. Not only was the portrait great, she printed it out for me AND
emailed it to me. It is now my social media avatar. Useful, cool, never
seen before. Winner!
China Gorman, CEO CMG Group
Exhibiting at HR Tech is all about the swag,
giveaways, and making real connections with
people. I always remember the brands that provide
a memorable experience during the conference.
People buy from people they like and from brands
they trust. Ready, set, go!
Teela Jackson, VP of Talent Delivery Talent Connections
How Visiting the Expo Hall at
HR Tech Could Be Like an Old
Episode on “Wheel of Fortune”
Look at these luxurious
prizes ... fabulous merchandise
just waiting to be won today on
“Wheeeeeeeeeeel of Fortune”!
I’ve attended numerous state
SHRM conferences, the SHRM
Annual Conference since 2001,
and the HR Technology Confer-
ence the past two years. Here
are a couple of thoughts I’ve
gleaned over that time with
regard to the exposition hall.
1. Rethink the swag
Do you remember the shopping segment on the
old version of “Wheel of Fortune”? Contestants
were not able to keep their cash winnings. In-
stead, after winning a round, contestants would
have to spend the dollars they won on an array
of fabulous prizes — it might be a trip to Bermu-
da or a pair of motorcycles. Or, the options might
include a candy dish or a ceramic pig. In one
episode (from my hazy memory), the contestant
hated almost every option except one — a Mick-
ey Mouse clock — and bought seven of them. I
know your goal is to attract people to your booth
with the hope of turning prying eyes into future
customers at as low a cost as possible. However,
much like it’s better to make no hire than a bad
hire, it’s also better to have no swag than bad
swag. What seems attractive at first turns into
“swag remorse” a week later.
That cool pedometer? It no longer works after a
week and goes in the trash — with your name and
bad memories attached to it. Who doesn’t love
T-shirts? The reality is that your audience can
most likely buy their own shirts, and the one you
gave out will end up on sale for 25¢ at Goodwill. Is
this the branding you had in mind?
So, what will likely be the equivalent of that Mickey
Mouse clock instead of that candy dish?
• Gift cards. Emblazon your company name on a
gift card that can be redeemed for a cup of cof-
fee at Starbucks or has a code for a free tune or
app from the iTunes Store. Plus, it’s much easier
to fit into my luggage for the trip home.
• An external mobile phone charger. This might be
pricier, but given the demand for charging sta-
tions and the likely drain on phone batteries at
HR Tech, who would be a bigger hero than the
booth that provides a solution to this problem.
This is something most people would use every
day, and they’d associate peace of mind with
2. Treat students with respect
As with No.1, your goal is to create sales, preferably
short-term. However, there will be students in
attendance. They will be roaming the expo hall
looking to better understand HR technology and
the HR marketplace. While they might not buy in
the next six months, they will sometime in the future.
Today’s good interaction may be tomorrow’s newest
customer.On the other hand, students who have
a bad experience at your booth will not likely think
kindly about your product or service in the future.
Matthew Stollak, Ph.D., SPHR, Associate Professor of Business
Administration St. Norbert College
OPERATION No. 2
THE ART OF SELLING
Find somebody to work your booth who is the perfect mix of
farmer and hunter. You don’t want them in sandwich-sign mode
in the middle of the aisle, but you also don’t want them hanging out
behind the booth and only speaking when spoken to. If it were me,
I’d want someone leaning on the outside of the booth and actively
saying “hi” to people and using stage banter to draw them over for a
conversation. Harder than it looks, and not many people get it right ...
Kris Dunn, CHRO Kinetix
1. Greet with a smile. Extend your hand, introduce
yourself, and actually walk into the aisle to
make a personal connection.
2. Ask how you can help. If you do most of the
talking, you may miss an important opportunity.
Ask what brought them to the show and what
problem they’re attempting to solve.
3. Be specific. Don’t verbally burst the piñata of
HCM acronyms, but explicitly and definitively
state what you do and why you’re different. If
you aren’t a good fit, be candid and don’t waste
their (or your) time.
4. Use examples. Describe how your firm assisted
top brands like “XYZ Corp,” or even better, look
at the attendee’s name badge and think of
similar clients you are servicing to draw
5. Say “thanks.” Beyond stuffing their bags with
goodies or rapidly scanning badges for the big
giveaway, thank them for spending a few mo-
ments getting to know you and your firm.
Despite clever signage, a
well-placed booth, pre-existing
brand equity, or some combina-
tion thereof, a disproportionately
high percentage of HR Tech
attendees will not clearly
comprehend the value that
you and your organization can
provide. As HR service providers
tend to often employ the same
tactics, it’s important to use
personalization as a differentiat-
Simple human interaction can go a long way!
Good luck, and we’ll see you on the floor.
Mark Stelzner, Principal Inflexion Advisors
Vendors need to know the
basics of selling. Too often,
vendors today have this notion
that people no longer want to
be sold to. “Oh, this is HR Tech,
everyone coming here is bril-
liant! They know what they want;
they don’t want to be sold to!”
Bullshit! Everyone says they
don’t want to be sold to, then
someone tells them about this
fantastic new thing and shows
them how it works and bam! —
they buy! The problem is that HR
vendors don’t bring salespeople
anymore — they bring “solution
I get it. No one wants some
creepy used-car-salesman type
coming on strong in the expo
hall. But if you sit back and wait
for people to magically appear in
your booth, you’re missing out.
HR Tech has buyers coming to
the expo floor. This isn’t SHRM.
At any point, you might have
someone with a big checkbook
walking by who can be sold on
what you have, but you better
have someone out there shak-
ing hands and kissing babies!
Tim Sackett, President HRU Technical Resources
The problem is that HR vendors don’t bring salespeople
anymore — they bring “solution providers.”
The folks strolling the Expo
Hall floor are not the same ones
you encounter at a typical HR
conference who tend to be more
interested in grabbing a plush
toy with your logo on it and a
piece of chocolate to get them
through the next session.
Rather, you’ll encounter in-
formed, interested, and knowl-
edgeable HR professionals who
have already done their home-
work and are looking to make
technology decisions … soon.
These are the HR leaders who
understand SaaS, are often
savvy about social media, and
realize that HR technology can
not only meet their HR needs
but, if deployed correctly,
can also link directly to the
strategies of their business.
HR Tech attendees want real
details and real solutions — not
buzzwords and platitudes — and
that’s why they’re stopping at
your booth. But a piece of candy
will be nice, too.
Robin Schooling, Owner/Consultant Silver Zebras LLC
HR Tech attendees
want real details
and real solutions.
HR Tech is the human capital
management industry’s version
of a CES or SXSW — anyone who’s
anyone, whether vendor or buyer,
is there, and it’s easy to get lost
in the crowd on the expo floor or
in the noise in content and social
marketing. To make sure you re-
ceive ROI, here are three things
every vendor needs to know to
get the most bang for their HR
Tech buck and generate the kinds
of leads that translate into sales
and industry buzz.
1. Don’t rely on giveaways to drive booth traffic.
From Tiffany’s gift cards to iPads to cold, hard
cash, every exhibitor is trying to drive booth traffic
(and leads) by actively promoting a giveaway.
This is fine from a lead-capture perspective, but
focusing on the giveaway prize as the explicit
reason that attendees should stop by your booth
detracts somewhat from the technology you’re
there to show off, which should really be the cen-
terpiece of your marketing and promotion efforts.
Everyone can give away an iPad, but standing out
means using that iPad to showcase your tech —
that’s what buyers are there for, after all.
2. Add value to the conversation. There’s nothing
more annoying than the flurry of tweets and so-
cial content from the event hashtag that are thinly
veiled sales pitches and poorly constructed prod-
uct marketing CTAs (e.g., “Stop by our booth to
check out the coolest product at #HRTechConf!”).
Instead, use your corporate social media and
content marketing efforts to add value, insights,
and perspectives to the conversation. Whether
you’re live tweeting the best stats and takeaways
from a session or creating blog posts positioning
you as a thought leader, it’s way more effective
to build visibility as an active part of the industry
rather than just being the dudes behind a booth
3. Scope out the competition. One of the biggest
misses at HR Tech is that many exhibitors are too
focused on hyping their product to actually look
at the bigger picture of where that product sits
in the market. HR Tech is far and away the best
show to see what the competition is up to (and
who they are). Pick up as much collateral and
have as many meaningful conversations with
other exhibitors as possible — they’re generally
really open to showcasing their stuff, and it might
be the only chance you’ll have to get a demo or
insight into their product, road map, and competi-
Matt Charney, Writer/Producer Brookledge Entertainment
OPERATION No. 3
If you want to engage the press and analysts at
HR Tech, you aren’t going to do it in half an hour,
sandwiched between a dozen other briefings.
I’ve come home with notes from HR Tech that
look and read like lecture notes from 400-level
It’s good information for me, but if you really
want to engage, offer to do the actual briefing
before or after the show and offer to just connect
in person at the show. Buy them a drink and just
talk about the industry, sports, or the crazy stuff
you saw on the Strip. Relationship first, then you
can push information later.
JUST TALK ABOUT THE INDUSTRY,
SPORTS, OR THE CRAZY STUFF YOU SAW.
Lance Haun, Editor The Starr Conspiracy
The most important thing for
vendors to know about exhib-
iting at HR Tech is that it’s not
about generating sales leads —
it’s about making connections,
starting new relationships, and
enhancing current ones.
Too many vendors stay glued to their booths, trying
to entice attendees inside for a pitch. While that will
always be part of the show floor, the real value of
HR Tech is making connections with the large and
growing community of buyers, sellers, and practi-
tioners who work with HR technology. And making
those connections takes many forms — show-floor
selling is certainly one, but not the most valuable.
Attend the opening reception and mingle with peo-
ple you haven’t met — make a
connection and try to follow up, either during
the show or after. Attend parties — and don’t
drink so much that you can’t make real business
connections that can be developed. Go to meal
and refreshment functions in the expo hall and
mingle — don’t just hang out at your booth. If you
are not a full conference registrant, buy a ticket to
the opening day luncheon and sit at a table where
you know no one — and get to know someone or a
whole lot of someones.
The widely diverse world of HR technology comes
together at HR Tech. The show floor is great, and
the conference program is great. But the real
value is the people who come together to do
business with each other. Build your network.
Be an active part of the community. Get out of
your booth as much as possible and leverage
the entire experience.
Claude Werder, VP of Corporate and Product
Development Brandon Hall Group
The best way vendors can exhibit at HR Tech is to forget everything
they know about exhibiting and throw a party.
People do business with brands they like.
Cultivate leads through relationships, not generic demos on the expo
floor. Show gratitude to your buyer through vodka martinis, not swag.
And always ask yourself, “Bass! How low can you go?”
Laurie Ruettimann, Founder TheCynicalGirl.com
When it comes down to it, the HR Technology Conference is all about
relationships, whether it’s building new ones, cultivating existing ones,
or reconnecting with network acquaintances. Exciting communications
and product releases can provide great value; however, we live within
the HR community and discipline, where it’s all about cultivating and
building meaningful relationships.And it’s through this relationship-
building that you realize the true value of events like HR Tech.
Chris Brablc, Marketing Manager SmashFly Technologies
Live events are the No. 1 source of qualified leads
for HR technology companies. HR Tech is the pre-
mier conference for companies in this industry.
Therefore, if we apply the transitive property of
equality in marketing, HR Tech is the No. 1 source
of qualified leads for HR technology companies,
right? Nope. Not even close.
Here’s the truth that dare not speak its name. HR
Tech is not the best demand generation event in
our industry. Not even close. It’s a beauty contest.
It’s the Catalina Effing Wine Mixer. It’s a cocktail
party. But it’s not a great demand generation
event. There are better events for that.
Before Bill Kutik launches a cruise missile at my
house, I will tell you where this event succeeds
like no other. It’s the premier brand awareness
event in HR technology. If you want to be
somebody, you’d better make your mark here.
You don’t do that with lots of kiosks pimping your
demo or squooshy balls with your logo or slick
product brochures. Too many companies spend
too much time communicating their functional
capabilities. Bell X does this. Whistle Y does that.
Creating an emotional connection is how you
make your mark. Remember the Sonar6 cardboard
box booth? It’s probably the most talked about
booth in the history of the show. I’ve heard CEOs
talk about it in the hushed tones usually reserved
for IPOs and Bugatti Veyrons. And I’m pretty sure
Mike Carden got everything he needed for that
booth at Big Lots. Cardboard box? Check.
Flat-screen TV? Check. Magic Markers to write
on the walls? Check. All right … let’s do this!
Yes, Sonar6 stood out because they did something
so different from everybody else. They came across
as incredibly likable, idiosyncratic, and innovative.
They established an emotional connection with
their buyers — and they got noticed.
That’s it. Want to succeed at HR Tech? Dare to do
something different and authentic.
And don’t forget to follow up on your leads.
Steve Smith, Partner The Starr Conspiracy
Creating an emotional
connection is how you
make your mark.
To be successful as a vendor at HR Tech (or any show, actually) the
one thing you need to absolutely know is that just being there isn’t
enough. If you don’t have a pre-, at-, and post-event strategy, and
know how you’re going to communicate, captivate, and interact with
your prospects at those three stages of the event, you might as well
throw your money away. And remember, every event registrant and
attendee is not created equal — identify who you really should be
focusing your time and dollars on.
Rob Catalano, VP of Marketing Achievers
PRE + AT + POST
Don’t treat the HR Technology
Conference Exposition as a
“point in time” marketing event.
If you approach it like that, look-
ing to scan as many badges as
you can and divvy up the “leads”
later, you’ll just be another failed
marketer trying to justify next
year’s trade show budget after
generating no results.
Treat this conference as a touch point with your
customers, advocates, badvocates, prospects,
analysts, partners, influencers, investors, and
It’s a branding opportunity, a messaging testing
ground, an opportunity to make an impression, and
one of your best chances to understand how you
can differentiate yourself in the current market.
You need a plan for pre-, during-, and post-show
execution for each of the audiences. That plan
needs to fit within your overall marketing strategy
Turn the HR Technology Conference Exposition
from a “point in time” marketing event into one of
your most important touch points between you
and all of your audiences.
George LaRocque, President LAROCQUE Inc.
Remember that a trade show is
frequently the first and only time
that a prospect sees a physi-
cal manifestation of your brand
in very close proximity to your
competitors. Intuitively, people
transfer positive and negative
perceptions of a physical exhibit
to perceptions of the brand.
At a trade show like HR Tech, that’s even more
important because the prospect is in a unique
context to compare your physical space to that of
your competitors. If your booth is lame compared
with your competitor down the aisle, they will
know it instantly and they will assume your com-
pany is lame as well. A lot of people get wrapped
up in the lead generation dynamics of a trade
show and neglect the brand recognition and recall
dynamics. In reality, trade shows are one of the
most expensive demand generation tactics in the
world. But they are a relatively inexpensive and
high-impact branding opportunity.
The opportunity for a big win at HR Tech is not
driving 10 more leads than your goal — it’s creat-
ing an experience and impression that is talked
about for years afterward. In the long run, that
explosion in brand recognition and recall will
have a much more significant impact on your
business than a temporarily inflated pipeline.
At HR Tech, if you can’t afford to show up in style,
don’t go. People are judging you. Spend the money,
unleash the big idea, and focus on the quality of
the experience rather than the quantity of leads.
I want to emphasize that leads, of course, are im-
portant. But when that’s your only metric for suc-
cess, you’re inclined to reduce the scope of your
ideas to hit some magical cost per lead. Go big. If
you want to see what’s possible at a trade show,
go to an auto show, or a boat show, or a bridal
show, or a home furnishings show, or a consumer
electronics show. You’ll be amazed at the ideas
that get pulled off at these types of events. The
stuff that scares you now about your big-idea ex-
hibit wouldn’t even register at those events.
Our market segment is maturing. There will be
more people at HR Tech this year than ever
before (including more exhibitors). It’s time to
raise the game of the entire industry. Don’t
show up at HR Tech with a safe concept,
because safe means invisible.
Bret Starr, Founder and CEO The Starr Conspiracy
You shouldn’t have to pay an agency to get to
know your industry. The Starr Conspiracy already
knows your market segment, who you are, and
where you fit in. We’re a strategic marketing and
advertising agency devoted exclusively to enter-
prise software and services. When you partner
with us, it’s to build market share, multiply brand
awareness, and drive sales leads — not to bone
up on the basics. We’ve been “out there” for more
than a decade, so you can hit the ground running.
Founded in 1999 and located in Fort Worth, Texas,
The Starr Conspiracy has won eight best places to
work awards and countless creative awards. Visit
us on the Web at www.thestarrconspiracy.com.
ABOUT THE STARR CONSPIRACY
THANK YOU TO OUR CONTRIBUTORS
St. Norbert College, True Faith HR
Kinetix, HR Capitalist
HRU Technical Resources,
The Tim Sackett Project
Silver Zebras LLC, HR Schoolhouse
The Starr Conspiracy, Between
Brandon Hall Group
The Cynical Girl
The Starr Conspiracy
The Starr Conspiracy