Countdown to GAC: My 15 Years of Hits and Misses

jmsb@johnsanfilippo.com

www.johnsanfilippo.com

In less than three weeks, the 2015 installment of the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference will take over the Washington, DC, convention center and all surrounding hotels (not to mention Shelly’s Backroom). For vendors, it’ll be a two-and-a-half-day, non-stop schmoozefest. Give or take, this will be my 15th GAC (pronounced G-A-C, not gack).

For anyone who sells into the credit union space and hasn’t heard of GAC, I first have to ask you, WTH? Then I will tell you that GAC is the granddaddy of all US credit union conferences – although I say that with one caveat this year. In Denver this July, CUNA is combining America’s Credit Union Conference (their other big conference of the year) with the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) annual meeting. Especially if you have something to sell to an international market, this could turn out to be a pretty big deal.

Anyhow, back to GAC.

If you’ve never exhibited at GAC, you’re probably wondering why you’d want to blow five or 10 grand or more to show your cool technology at a governmental affairs conference. The answer is simple: All of the C-level people that you’ve been itching to meet will be there. Sure, there will be plenty of board members and their spouses trolling for pens and squeeze balls, but there will also be enough CEOs, COOs, CIOs and C-whatever-Os to go around. Trust me on this.

Over the years, I’ve talked a number of GAC newbies into exhibiting at this show. How many do you think have regretted the decision? None of them, of course. (Or I wouldn’t have asked, right?) It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. If you’re selling it to credit unions, you should be at GAC.

In fact, to be perfectly honest, you don’t necessarily have to exhibit – or even pay for a badge. I know a number of companies that show up in DC with meetings and dinners already scheduled with GAC attendees. Even for them, it’s a great show.

Many years ago, when GAC was still at the Washington Hilton and the exhibit hall was thus in the basement, I had a brilliant idea (believe it or not). This is when I worked for Symitar the second time. I’d just gotten a great deal on this very classy looking wooden booth and we’d decided to use “tools” as a theme for the graphics, as in, Symitar gives you the tools you need to be successful.

I had already decided I wanted to do something different for our booth drawing. I don’t remember what the 2001 equivalent of a Kindle or iPad was, but whatever it was, I was tired of seeing it given away in booth drawings. So in keeping with our booth theme, I held a drawing for a set of Black & Decker cordless power tools. I actually had them on display in the booth to get people excited.

And, man, did they get excited. In fact, our booth was a nuthouse for three days straight. It was awesome.

On the other hand, my biggest GAC flop happened my third time back at Symitar. I regrettably decided to get cute and clever, and created a cartoon character named Symon. The idea was, you could come by the Symitar booth, pick up a picture of Symon, email me a digital pic of Symon somewhere in DC, and the best pic would win something cool – although I honestly don’t remember what. Maybe a Kindle or an iPad.

This stunt was doomed from the git-go. First, nobody knew how to pronounce Symon's name. My intention was that his name would be pronounced just like Simon. However, since he was Symitar’s mascot, many people felt compelled to pronounce his name Simmon. Ugh.

Fortunately, we were able to announce a first-place winner. What I never told anyone publicly is that the same person came in last place. In case you’re really dense, what I’m trying to say here is that only one person took part in this fiasco. My bad.

So here are the three lessons I hope you learned from indulging me today:

  1. You should be at GAC. Even if you don’t have the budget to exhibit, show up and hang out. You’ll be glad you did. Find me at Shelly’s and I might even buy you a cigar.

  2. If you’re going to have a booth drawing, make it for something unusual. A couple of years after the power tools, I gave away a remote-control Corvette at the Bluepoint Solutions booth with similar results – even though our booth was in a tent outside at the Hilton and snow was beginning to melt into the back of the booth. (No joke.)

  3. People are busy. They come to DC with schedules already packed solid. If you expect them to do anything more than throw their card into a fishbowl – like taking pics of your stupid cartoon character – you’ll probably be disappointed.

That is all.

#GAC #tradeshows

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