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Making Trade Shows Better For Trade Show Exhibitors

Trade show hallTwo Shows Choose New Venues To Help Their Exhibitors

When I first sat down to write this post I started thinking about topics.  There are so many things going on in this wonderful, crazy and insane industry but one idea stood out among the rest.  I recently went to a local Trade Show Exhibitors Association (TSEA) chapter meeting and all the talk was about Chicago recently losing the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society trade show (HIMSS) to Las Vegas because of the high cost of electrician services at McCormick Place.  Then just a few days later NPE – The International Plastics Showcase announced its intention to relocate to Orlando, FL.  Our official response as the TSEA was as follows:

“The Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI) announced that NPE – The Intl. Plastics Showcase will move from Chicago’s McCormick Place, where it has been since 1971 to Orlando, FL at the Orange County Convention Center in 2012.  Last week, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) chose Las Vegas, NV for their 2012 show.  This caused the city of Chicago and McCormick Place to lose two large exhibitions in the last few days.  Both cited high costs for exhibitors in Chicago as the primary justification for their relocation.

Exhibitors have been bearing the brunt of increasing and, often, outrageous labor rates for far too long, held hostage to single source providers with no competitive options to act as checks and balances.  The Trade Show Exhibitors Association (TSEA) understands the business choice made by HIMSS and SPI to choose other venues.  In this world of electronic communication and instant gratification, trade shows are still wildly popular, a medium like no other, providing a unique opportunity for face-to-face interaction with customers.  When marketers have to cut participation – not for strategic reasons but simply because the rising costs make them impractical or impossible – the whole industry loses.

Chicago is a great city for exhibitors because of its ability to generate attendance and host meetings. McCormick Place is a world-class exhibition facility and the choice of HIMSS and SPI leaving for other locations should not be a reflection on either McCormick Place or the city but on labor rates that give both a bad reputation.  We hope the loss of these shows will motivate leaders in Chicago’s exhibition industry to adjust the cost of doing business so that they can compete on a level playing field with cities like Orlando and Las Vegas for shows.  TSEA members enjoy the experience of exhibiting in all three cities because of the variety of attendees and experiences each bring.   They want Chicago to remain part of their event rotation.

Bravo to HIMSS and SPI for finally taking a stand on behalf of exhibitors.  There is long way to go until they are afforded the respect they deserve but this a good start.”

While TSEA would like to say “bravo” to the HMISS and SPI for taking a stand on behalf of exhibitors, I would never want to say we should just blame the unions in Chicago for the troubles in the exhibition industry nor should we just blame the general contractors or the show producers.

Advocacy for Exhibitors

When TSEA formed its Advocacy Committee to act as an exhibitor advisory committee on behalf of our members, we knew the only way we could accomplish the goal was to create a forum where exhibitors felt safe sharing what affects their ability to maximize their returns at trade shows and events.  Exhibitors have long felt that if they voice their complaints and concerns to show management they will be labeled as “troublemakers.”  We were careful not to disclose their names or companies.  To ensure they can provide necessary input to change the status quo, individual members of the committee cross all industry sectors and their mandate is to speak with exhibitors of shows in which they participate to garner support and build a united voice of exhibitors everywhere.  When the committee held its first meeting and started receiving submissions from it members via our email address, two key items kept coming up: convention housing and independent, third party audits.

Convention housing deposits are rising.  Exhibitors are being asked to pay high deposits and make them earlier than ever.  While I understand that show organizers need to cover their attrition clauses, concessions need to make to make a true partnership between both sides.  They need to listen to their exhibitor customers to learn what will work for them and come up with a middle ground that both sides can afford.  I know of at least one show that no longer has a block of rooms for his show because he realized his customers, both exhibitors and attendees, can find great room rates by simply going to the internet and it’s less of a headache for him as a show producer.  Why don’t more shows do this for their customers?

Marketers are being asked to commit to exhibiting in shows without unbiased audits done by third parties like BPA Worldwide and Exhibit Surveys, Inc.  An independent third-party audit is an event organizer’s best marketing and selling tool to retain and increase exhibitor participation at face-to-face events. This is the open, honest communication exhibitors want and need for justification to internal customers.  Without solid information from show organizers, how do their customers who purchase exhibiting space know the audience they want will be there?  Many organizers say that their customers should “trust them,” but how can they when they are under increased pressure to do more with less?

A task force was convened yesterday to look all aspects of doing convention business in Chicago. Members included the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority; the convention bureau; representatives from the offices of the Mayor, Governor, Illinois House speaker and Illinois Senate president; labor leaders; show contractors; and hospitality industry leaders but they are missing one key player, the exhibitor.  If their views are not taking into consideration then all their efforts will be wasted.  If you, the exhibitor, were sitting at that meeting what would you say to them?

There needs to be an equal partnership between all sides… exhibitors, labor, destinations, general contractors, suppliers and show producers… for the exhibition industry to be strong.  All the sides need to come together and listen to their exhibiting customers to learn what they need from the other sides to produce ROI for their companies.  If this does not happen, the exhibition industry’s customers, face-to-face marketers, are not going to worry about complaining to show producers… they are just going to disappear and look elsewhere to find their customers.


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About the Author

David Brull is the Vice President, Marketing and Membership for the Trade Show Exhibitors Association (TSEA). David has over 10 years of marketing and sales experience in both the hospitality and non-profit sectors. He is a member of the Association Forum of Chicagoland and the Taskforce Chair for the Forum’s Holiday Showcases’ Exhibitor Education Program. He holds a B.A. from National Louis University and joined the staff at TSEA in July, 2008. David can be reached at (312) 949-5795 or

2 responses to “Making Trade Shows Better For Trade Show Exhibitors

  1. From some of the trade shows I’ve been to, I have found it more successful when people can actually do something other than watch and listen, such as test something out or participate in the demo.

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