Weekly Insights: How Secure is Your Trade Show?

Graphic © FreeImages.com/Ambrozjo

Graphic © FreeImages.com/Ambrozjo

This week at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, a handful of protesters were able to use fake badges to enter McCormick Place. Their goal was to speak to the NRA president regarding minimum wages in the restaurant industry, but they were turned away.

While this potential conflict ended peacefully and most attendees never even knew it happened, it’s not the first time protesters have descended on a trade show. For shows that are prone to having very vocal opponents, this is likely something that’s covered in pre-show meetings and a crisis plan is in place. But for shows like NRA (restaurants, not that other NRA), it’s not so common. So how can any show be prepared for a mob of angry people?

Start by being more cautious about who gets badges in the first place. What credentials, if any, are required? Are suspicious attendees flagged in any way at registration?

And perhaps some social media monitoring could be helpful in a case like this one. Was there chatter ahead of time when the group was planning their protest? Could this have been discovered by using some basic Google alerts for the name of the show?

While this isn’t a daily issue most shows face (thankfully), it still deserves discussion. Like any other disaster planning (weather-related, terrorism, etc.), it should be a part of the pre-show planning conversation.

So have you been part of a show that drew protesters? If so, how was that situation handled? Please share in the comments below.

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With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. Exhibit Design That Works (the first book in the YES: Your Exhibit Success series) debuted in July 2017. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community.

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