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russian conference in chicago or how not to go global

Monday 14 December, 2009

I attended the 1st day of this Russian National Exhibition @ McCormick Place.  I was invited by & RSVP’ed to World Business Chicago, but when I introduced myself at the registration desk, they had no record of my registration.  They gave me a badge upon which to write my name & sent me on my way.  I attended the 1st conference to give me a feel for the economy in Russia today which started a 1/2 hour late “because of the weather in Chicago.”  I found a sparsely attended session given mostly in Russian, with softly worded simultaneous translation provided.  I walked the barren exhibition floor, spoke briefly with the organizers, & stuck around for the cocktail reception.  They trotted out the typical appetizers as we were greeted with a musical extravaganza right off of a Las Vegas stage.  Scantily clad dancers made many many costume changes & danced to many different styles of music.  I can honestly say this was the 1st time I’ve seen a show quite like this.

My distinct impression is this was an event organized by a foreign group who took very little input from local organizers.  It appeared to be a conference by Russians for Russians, but Chicago is 1000’s of miles from Russia.  Because much was done in Russian, my thought was maybe the organizers were targeting Russians living in Chicago, but according to people with whom I spoke, that wasn’t the case.

Hand-written name badges are not the professional standard at McCormick Place.  Weather in Chicago is not a valid reason to waste people’s time & start late.  Normally simultaneous translators are in a booth so that you can’t hear them.  At the conference they were in the corner of the room & had to speak so softly that we couldn’t hear them well at all through the headsets.  (1 of the translators actually said “I don’t know this business dialogue.”)  The online catalog contains numerous misspellings (can you figure out what “metallutgy,” &  “farmacy” are?) & grammatical errors.  All of the advertising in the hardcopy catalog is in the back, about which I would not be happy if I were an advertiser or even a reader.  The organizers said they had budget constraints in promoting the exhibition, but there’s a lot that can be done for free.

Some decent content was provided in the conference, & I feel a little bad about not writing about it here, but the bigger story is how not to put on an event in a foreign city.  The organizers seem to have run the event just like they would in Moscow, but that’s not the way things are done in Chicago.  I heard Mayor Richard Daley attended an event in Russia earlier this year & this event was supposed to be Chicago’s act of reciprocity.  I fear many American firms do the same thing in other countries & it doesn’t reflect well on us as this doesn’t reflect well on the Russians.  The lesson of this story is:   listen to the locals.  They know best how things are done.

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