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My travel schedule is set for another year. Every year I tell myself I’m not going to commit to so much travel but whenever I am asked to cover some event, it’s an opportunity for me to talk to people in diverse and burgeoning fields and get new ideas for products, so I don’t say no. And who doesn’t enjoy attending conferences? So I’ll be traveling to a conference every month from now until October with a break in September.
Does it sound like fun? There are pros and cons to traveling for work. If you like visiting different cities and enjoy meeting people and talking science all day long, you would love it. If you would rather chain yourself to the lab bench than talk to a hundred people in an 8 hour day, then this part of a biotech job may not be for you. Fortunately, it’s not required for all jobs and you can always decline.
I came up with my list of what I like and dislike about traveling for work. Maybe this will help some people considering careers in marketing or sales, because this is a big part of the selling life.
The Good: I love meeting scientists, hearing about their work, and getting compliments on our products by scientists
The Bad: Talking for 8 hours a day to strangers makes me want to go back to my room, be in total silence, and order room service for dinner. I avoid going out to eat except when I am taking a customer out. And even then, I usually can’t wait to get back to my room to be alone.
The Good: I get to travel to great cities like Washington D.C., Orlando, San Francisco, Chicago, San Antonio, Boston, and New Orleans.
The Bad: I never go sightseeing. I don’t feel like doing anything after working all day or want to be around people. I never attend the official conference party or social activities. But I am going to New Orleans for the first time in May so I’ll probably force myself to venture outside of the hotel.
The Good: I enjoy having time to myself with no SO to take care of, so I can get a lot more work done.
The Bad: There's no SO to keep me company and if it’s a weekend, that’s our only chance for quality time together. With all that time to myself, I just end up working far more, sometimes 18 hrs a day. I have a hard time quieting my mind at the end of the day.
The Good: I get to stay in nice hotel rooms with big comfy beds and I can watch whatever I want on TV. (My SO usually puts on TV shows about prison life, pawn shops, or survival in the wild.)
The Bad: Because of the time change, I usually sleep terribly in the hotel bed, no matter how nice it is, so I spend the first couple days with bags under my eyes from exhaustion. And there is nothing good on TV anyway.
The Good: I get to eat out every night and have really nice meals at nice restaurants.
The Bad: It takes 10X more willpower to resist eating rich foods, including juicy burgers and fries, muffins, and dishes with bacon in them, when I am traveling. It becomes a struggle to maintain a healthy weight. When I work hard all day, I have this tendency to want to “reward” myself with a heavy meal or dessert. It requires consciously avoiding those types of foods.
The Good: All the hotels have really nice gyms so I always make sure to schedule time to exercise.
The Bad: Depending on the schedule of talks or exhibit hours, it may be impossible to schedule time for exercise or stay motivated, especially after being on my feet all day in a booth. Sometimes the exhibits open early and I am still adjusting to the time change and sleeping in a different bed, so I can’t get up early to run. I make it work, somehow.
The Good: I get to meet up with many old friends in the industry who I worked with in the past.
The Bad: Nothing bad about that. That’s great. People in the industry working in sales and marketing move from one company to the next and as a marketer I made a lot friends. It’s a small world.
The Good: My immune system stays current
The Bad: Overworking, not sleeping, and shaking hands with all of those people often leads to getting a cold. I have found that getting enough sleep is key. If I get very little sleep one night, I’ll start to feel sick a day or two later.
That's my list. Any readers that travel frequently for work have anything to add?
I'm going to hit the bed early tonight, I gotta go nurse a new cold.
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What about the travelling process itself? Experiences that helped/that were terrible?
Any tricks to have a better time in the different conference venues?(like finding nice resting areas, or eating places in the conference venue that is not junk food, etc)
Sorry for a frantic list of questions...
Now usually you show up the day before the conference starts to get set up? Also is all your conference stuff shipped out or do you have to travel with it? Are you travelling in coach with the rest of us poor saps? And how often are you jumping from one conference to another? Do you have an expense account (and card) or do you pay out of pocket and get reimbursed later?
Hey Jade, great blog! We're always looking for fresh content for our biotech industry blog, The Looking Glass, and we think you'd be perfect for it. Any interest in cross posting?
In regards to the travel process, I am pretty efficient. I always wear slip on shoes to make moving through security faster, don't wear belts or jewelry that will hold me up. Dress for the airport, basically. I have one horrible travel experience which I will post another day. It was a trip to China during the worst snow storm in years and the airports closed.
Meals at the conference: It is hard sometimes- most of them have no decent food options. When I am working at the booth, often times I won't eat all day or I will just have to get whatever unappetizing option is available. There isn't a lot of time to be picky.
I NEVER eat in the booth. When they have those receptions in the exhibit hall I never partake in the food while people are around. Towards the end, if no one is stopping to chat, I might taste the remaining bits left behind, if there are any.
Same with breakfast in the exhibit hall. I will grab something for later and then if I can step away for 15 minutes, I'll try to eat quickly.
What some of us do is stop at the local coffee shop or starbucks on the way to the exhibit hall and buy a sandwich or a yogurt and then eat that for lunch later. You could try something like that too. If your hotel room has a frig, you could pick up some fruit and a sandwich the day before and bring it with you to the conference. This way you don't have to waste your time standing in long lunch lines.
A lot of smaller conferences include breakfast and lunch which is really nice to take advantage of. Then it's just a matter of not eating the big moist oatmeal cookie or the bag of chips and eating the apple instead.
I think if you can pick up a lunch before you head over or can go back to your hotel room and store a lunch there chilled, that is what I do. I like having time to chill and read emails and then refresh my make up or brush teeth again before going back to talking with people.
@GR- more good questions.
Now usually you show up the day before the conference starts to get set up?
Yes- because I am west coast, if I have to travel east, then I have to leave a whole extra day early because leaving at 9 am means getting to the hotel by 7 pm, most of the time, which is after the exhibit hall is closed for set up. So I am usually there TWO days before the exhibit hall opens if I am working the booth. I don't always have to do set up.
Then the next day is set up. That takes anywhere from 2-3 hrs for us. We don't hire union workers to do it. If we had one of those giant booths that you see at the conferences, those are set up by workers and not employees. After set up, I have the rest of the day all to myself. That is a good day to go sight seeing or plan dinner with colleagues. I usually go running and then work in my room.
Also is all your conference stuff shipped out or do you have to travel with it?
All of the conference materials (flyers, stands, table cloths, the booth itself and instruments) are shipped anywhere from 1-3 weeks before the conference starts. We use a freight forwarder (not UPS or Fedex) because everything is shipped on pallets. There is A LOT of stuff. Your supplies sit at the convention center loading area until set up day. The workers have to bring your pallets to your booth for you. We have to pay for everything- the carpet, the electricity, internet if you will have online access in the booth, and even the chairs and table. They are not included with your booth.
At the end, if you stored your pallets or cases with the convention center, you have to wait your turn to get your packaging boxes back and this can take hours (you can't tip the union workers to bring your stuff faster, no, that never happens). Think of a meeting the size of Neuroscience how big it is and each of those vendors needs to wait for their stuff.
Are you travelling in coach with the rest of us poor saps?
Definitely. No one travels first class. Maybe VPs and CEOs of public companies, but they don't go to conferences. This is really lean times. Many companies have cut back on the number of tradeshows they attend to save money.
And how often are you jumping from one conference to another?
I think sales people do this all the time. They are used to being on the road, have an extra set of shirts and pants ready at home so they can re-pack fast. I usually have time between trips. We've cut back some of them too. It used to be Experimental Bio and AACR were the same week and now they are a week apart. We will send different people to the two conferences so that someone is not having to be away from home two weeks straight.
Do you have an expense account (and card) or do you pay out of pocket and get reimbursed later?
I pay myself and get reimbursed but it is not the hassle you are used to. I usually get reimbursed the same day I submit the expenses. I've had a corporate credit card before, which is really nice. But it's fine because I use American Express and just keep piling up tons of points for free flights. And I have Marriott and Hilton rewards cards so I accrue free hotel stays with them too.
So it works to my advantage.
Thank you for your comment. I was on your site but I don't see anyone named Paul as one of the authors there. Are you a contributor to that site as well?
If you register on this site, you can email me through labspaces and then we can take this discussion offline.
I helped some friends work Comicon one year and it was ridiculous. It is an ordeal getting the guys to bring your stuff to bring your shipping boxes and pallets. I remember having to take my sock off and douse it with a bottle of water before putting it on my hand to shrink wrap a shipment.
With regard to travel, are they trying to make you folks drive more to stuff that is relatively close versus flying to save on $. Also how much marketing and research goes into choosing which conferences to present at? Do you all just do the same conferences year after year or do you try some new ones mixed in with your standard biggies (SfN, AACR, ASBMB, etc.)?
<i>"My SO usually puts on TV shows about prison life, pawn shops, or survival in the wild."</i>
AHAHAHAHAHA. Did someone clone my SO's brain?
This is really interesting. I like the idea of travel, but the reality is usually (not always, but usually) more stressful.
@Becca: it's like some genius finally figured out what reality shows men like to watch on TV and just cram packed cable with shows meant just for them. How about that Gold Rush show about the people trying to find gold in Alaska? That's the new favorite.
The reality is stressful but at a big company, you don't always deal with these details. Sometimes you can just show up and everything is ready for you and you just do the selling thing. And sometimes, you can even trade shifts with other people and get a couple hours off each day.
If I make out to the West Coast, you SO and I are totally hanging out. Sounds like we watch the same shows so there won't be any arguing over the remote.
They re play those shows like crazy though. There's a "catch up" marathon every other weekend! I'll watch Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Auction kings, etc only if there's nothing else on, but them I'm addicted for hours...
I'm right there with you Brian, those things are a huge time suck.
With regard to travel, are they trying to make you folks drive more to stuff that is relatively close versus flying to save on $.
The only sites that hold conferences that are close enough to drive are Los Angeles and Anaheim. After that, the nearest big city that holds conferences is San Fran, so we would not drive there. That's about 8 hrs drive. I don't know about east coast companies but I would guess it is the same deal. Probably within 4 hrs drive would be ok but more than that would be a flight. It takes 5-6 hours to drive to Vegas and I would fly there before driving.
Also how much marketing and research goes into choosing which conferences to present at? Do you all just do the same conferences year after year or do you try some new ones mixed in with your standard biggies (SfN, AACR, ASBMB, etc.)?
There are the ones we always do. The reason you want to keep going back is because you build a presence and people remember you from last year. It takes time to build that brand awareness and corporate recognition. The big conferences get the most leads but there are also all the competitors there so it is difficult to differentiate yourself.
When a new conference appears, and we have added a couple new ones this year and last year, they are usually small, so they cost less, and are targeted so we are reaching the key decision makers much easier. Every person we talk to is a potential end user and would consider buying. Chance of a sale is much higher.
At a giant conference, for example neuroscience, only a subset of people actually do your thing. Some people are MDs, some are protein people, some are clinicians, some are doing ELISA, and some genotyping. Well, if all I care about is the genotyping people, then I have to sift through a lot of irrelevant leads and talk to way more people who are not going to buy. Also, you talk to a lot of students who don't have any authority to change a method in their lab, so even though they may like what you have to say, nothing comes of it.
When we decide to attend a new conference, or a conference organizer approacahes us and asks us to consider sponsorship or exhibiting, we get their stats on the number of attendees last year, the break down of what they do (how many are molecular biologists, how many are toxicologists, etc.) and what the titles or positions of the attendees are (students, PIs, Postdocs, Directors, etc.). Then we decide. The show also has to have a focus in our area.
We dropped neuroscience after last year because it really isn't an area of enough focus for us.
At the end of the conference you tally up all your leads or badges scanned and divide the cost of the entire event by the number of leads. This gives you the cost per lead. If it costs $10,000 to be somewhere (including travel and hotel and shipping) and you get 250 leads, that's $40 a lead. Not bad. But when you spend $10K and you get only 50 leads? (And this would happen at the very small, targeted conferences), now we're talking $200 a lead. So we really need to turn those leads into sales to cover the cost of the show. Otherwise, we would take it off the list next year.
Those giant booths that are 40 x 40 feet are in the range of $100K-$200K. Add on all the travel and meals for all that staff. You're looking at up to $250K for the conference.
American Pickers- the worst show ever that is always on my TV. What about this Storage Wars show with the auctions about people's storage units? Oddly, it's entertaining.
But I hate the idea that someone's stuff is getting raided because they couldn't pay their rental fee. Seems unfair to me. But I guess they get enough warning.
I loved that Survivorman though. He always had his shirt off. That guy has some hair on his chest! They should do more shows like that. :-)
Great post Jade! A real eye opener, I had no idea all it took. Sounds rather fun but tiring. Had no idea that just ho winvolved it was. Do you do a lot of conferences overseas as well? And if so how does that work? Are your booths smaller?
Overseas- not so much. Companies have offices in the various countries or distributors to handle that. I could go if I wanted, but usually I travel so much here that I don't. I may be in Asia in June.
In the case of a conference in Europe, the office in that country would pay for being there and handle the shipping and details so that you would not need to ship pallets of materials from the States. I've been to Biotechnica in Hannover, Germany and the booths were actually bigger than the ones I've seen at US conferences. But it may have been that particular conference and the fact that vendors bring a lot of display products because it is so general.