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Going to a conference or trade show in another country? Here’s what you need to know

Enterprise Edmonton executive director Kent McMullin shares his overseas experiences

Mar 3, 2014

by Jim Kerr

So you’ve decided to bring your company’s product overseas for a trade show in another country – now what?

There are plenty of things to take care of before you take off, from figuring out your travel arrangements to setting up meetings once you reach your destination and determining the best way to make an impression.

Enterprise Edmonton’s Kent McMullin is no stranger to this type of trip and shares four tips to help you make the most of your time overseas:

Make sure your trip has a clear purpose

“What are your goals, objectives and the purpose of your trip? It’s a long way to go and it’s awfully expensive, so you need to make sure that you have a clear idea of why you’re going. For instance, if we developed a position that we can use natural gas as a feedstock for petrochemical development, our goal would be to identify companies who are making petrochemicals and who are looking to invest in North America. We would then work with the Alberta government, the department of Foreign Affairs, foreign embassies and consulates to develop a pool of companies that would be potential meetings for us, whether it’s at a conference, trade show or a private meeting afterwards.”

“I always refer to the Alberta offices of anywhere I’m travelling, because we have superb personnel in those offices who are there to help. They’re under the department of International and Intergovernmental Relations and there are offices in Korea, Japan, China and many other locations, with more on the way. If you’re going overseas to meet a company and you want some intelligence on them, the embassy or the Alberta office can meet with them in advance and really be your ally there.”

Develop a business case and make a mission binder

“Once we’ve identified a company we’d like to meet, we’ll develop a business case for why that specific company, with their particular product or business initiative, would work here in Edmonton. We would give them that beforehand so that when we meet with them we’re not just exchanging niceties; we’re actually starting to engage in the business process. It depends country to country though because of cultural sensitivities. In North America, you can send something in advance, while with an Asian country you need to develop relationships of trust before you start talking about business.”

“In planning and preparation prior to departure we put together a mission binder, which will have several sections including a list of goals, objectives and the purpose of the trip, the travel itinerary, a list of hotels, and also the itinerary that you set up for yourself for when you touch down. If you’re just going to a conference or a trade show that’s easy: you go to the hotel, you take the metro, you get to the convention centre and you participate in the cultural activities that they offer. If you’re in a foreign country going from business meeting to business meeting throughout the city though, you’ve got to make sure that you leave ample travel time so that you’re not late for your appointments.”

Develop collateral tools

“When doing business abroad, you have to develop collateral tools that feature your key messages, whether it’s on a PowerPoint, information on an app, your website, or a dedicated website just for that company. We like to develop a message map with claims that are substantiated by newspaper articles, by studies, by reports, so it’s a third-party verification or validation of ourselves. We have our collateral tools messages based on those other testimonials.”

Understand the cultural sensitivities of the region you’re visiting

“One of the things we do, especially when we’re going somewhere outside of North America or western Europe, is look at the cultural sensitivities of the region, the etiquette, what their business practices are, what their customs are and what gestures are appropriate or inappropriate. For that, we turn to a great guide called “Kiss Bow or Shake Hands,” which is a great cultural guide to 50 or 60 countries with an overview of the culture and the sensitivities of each, right down to the type of adapter plug you need to bring with you. It’s a great resource on cultural overviews and behavioral styles, protocols, business practices and those types of things.

“Another thing we do is we work with our travel agent to get an assessment of whether the country we plan to visit is safe. You can go to the foreign affairs website to check if a country is safe, or check the travel blogs to find out if there are a lot of pickpockets in the area. Basically you need to assess your personal safety. You generally want to stay in a brand hotel that’s in the central business district or in a safe business area. You wouldn’t want to risk yourself and your information.”


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