September 2005 - Per Inquiry

A Bad Penny Always Turns Up

There’s an old saying that “a bad penny always turns up” and here at the ERA Annual Convention, it’s no different. Every conventioneer has one-that person who follows your every footstep throughout the show. They’re there when you go to check into the hotel-on every elevator you step onto-at every turn that person haunts you. I’m speaking, of course, about your trade show Bad Penny. Now ERA is all about networking and meeting new people, but the problem with Bad Pennies is they usually want to sell you something you have absolutely no need for and no matter how direct you are, the Bad Penny thinks you’re the one who just doesn’t get it.

Consequently, Bad Pennies keep trying to restate their value proposition in an attempt to get through to your apparent thick skull. So, how do you shake a Bad Penny?

The easiest response is the fake cellular telephone call. At the first sight of impending Bad Penny communication, withdraw your cell phone and pretend you’re on a very important call. For greatest effect, cover your free ear and nod aggressively. If this fails to work, try the hapless shrug or, if you’re uninterested in niceties, simply bat the air with the “not now” wave, and hope that the phone doesn’t ring in the middle of the “call.”

Since a Bad Penny tends to follow you from show to show, eluding your Bad Penny may require advance planning. This is why you should consider recruiting an Escape Buddy. A simple, predetermined signal-such as hand to elbow, a pull on the right ear, followed by the prayer sign-will tell your Escape Buddy that their services are needed immediately. The Buddy then approaches tapping their watch and mumbling about “that thing” you’re late for and you’ve got an easy out. Just make sure that the “thing” isn’t playing blackjack within a 50-foot perimeter or anything less than a 15-minute buffer. Bad Pennies tend to split face cards.

As a last resort, there is always the dash to the bathroom, although the dilemma presented by this scenario is that if you announce where you are headed, the Bad Penny is just as likely to invite themselves along with the rejoinder, “I need to go too.” Ditto on, “Excuse me. I’m going to get another drink.” You’ll need one.

I remember my first Bad Penny encounter. I was sitting in the back of a shuttle on the way to an industry event when I became acutely aware of someone out of my peripheral vision fixated like a dachshund on a mole hole. Later that week, as I sat on a hotel bed across from PowerPoint slide number 172 of the Penny’s presentation, I pondered that old maxim about no karmic debt going unpaid and vowed to be nicer to people. Then I remembered: that’s how I got into this mess.

Rick Petry, a partner with Downstream, is a consultant to the direct marketing industry. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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