Weekly Insights: Do Exhibitors Know Who Owns the Show?

Photo: © FreeImages.com/Bob Smith

Earlier this week, I came across a disturbing discussion in LinkedIn regarding an article on the CEIR blog titled “Whose Show Is It Anyway?”

It seems that based on a recent survey conducted by The New Hughes Group, an overwhelming majority of exhibitors are clueless about who owns the show they’re exhibiting in, and most mistakenly think it’s the general service contractor.

Now while your initial reaction may be “What? That can’t be right!” – just think about where this is coming from.

What happens at a lot of shows? The exhibitor pays their booth space fee to the show, then begins receiving an avalanche of paperwork from the GSC for everything from drayage to electrical to furniture and carpet rental. (Yes, I know some of those are branded to sub-contractors, but you get my point.) Then on site, the GSC’s branding is everywhere during setup. So perhaps it’s no wonder that name is top of mind with exhibitors, especially newbies.

Meanwhile, the exhibitor receives few, if any communications from the show organizer until perhaps a few weeks before the event. During setup, there’s no show manager presence – no floor managers checking in as exhibitors arrive, no show-owned booth where they can go for answers.

Now maybe you’re beginning to understand how so many exhibitors are confused.

But how can this sad statistic be avoided and corrected? Better communication and education.

For years, I’ve been working with show organizer clients to improve their exhibitor relations. And while there’s no one ‘magic pill’ for that, there are so many things that can be done to move in the right direction, starting with showing exhibitors more appreciation and having better communication.

Do a periodic exhibitor newsletter that keeps them up-to-date on what’s coming at this year’s show and where you’re at in the timeline of show-related deadlines and to-dos. Build anticipation for the show and be the central point of communication that points exhibitors in the right direction for all the tasks they need to check off before show time. Don’t let all the communication come from the GSC!

In addition to pre-show communication, have a solid presence on the show floor. Don’t hide in a back office somewhere! I love when show organizers do things like having ice cream carts travel around the floor on setup day, providing small tokens of appreciation to hard-working exhibitors. If you look at it in the overall scheme of things, that’s a small cost to score big points with exhibitors.

And of course if you know me at all, you know what I’m going to say next …

Provide education for exhibitors so they understand what your show is all about and how to be more successful!

When I get pushback on doing exhibitor education, it’s often because shows think “our exhibitors know what they’re doing.” Au contraire! The survey conducted by The New Hughes Group demonstrates just how little they do understand about how shows are run. And I can’t tell you how many times exhibitors have come to me to say how much they appreciate the education their show organizer is providing, even if they’ve been doing shows for years. Often I hear something along the lines of, “It’s the first time anyone has provided something like this for us, and it makes us feel valued.”

Perhaps if more show organizers increased the time and energy focused on their exhibitors and what they can do to help them be more successful, those exhibitors would be more aware that the show organizer “owns” the show and be delighted to be a partner in such a worthwhile event.

Want more perspective on the importance of exhibitor education, what it is (and isn’t), and why it matters for more than just the exhibitors? Download a free PDF copy of the Exhibitor Education Manifesto! (No opt-in required.)

Exhibitor Education Manifesto

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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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