Previously published on Reslife.Net, part 1 of this article is entitled Managing A Conference Exhibition: Advance Planning. Topics covered in part 1 relate to why conference planners should provide a conference exhibition, site selection, and facility arrangements. Part 2 of this article pertains to the actual process of producing the exhibition. The author’s thoughts on this topic area are as follows:
Producing the Exhibition
Selecting a General/Exhibit Services Contractor
While some campuses or conference centers may own pipe and drape and have adequate resources to produce an exhibition using strictly in-house staff, most do not. The employment of a good exhibit services general contractor will be vital for both the sponsoring organization as well as the conference services staff. These are truly the professionals in the exhibition industry. Contractors may belong to the Exposition Services Contractors Association, the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association or the International Association for Exposition Management.
The exhibit services contractor (ESC) may be contracted for by a conference center/campus Office of Conference Services or by the client organization sponsoring the trade show. This could depend on the host facility, which may decide to contract with an ESC and re-sell exhibit services to a client organization for a profit, not unlike any other provided conference service which is contracted out by the host site.
It is important to select an ESC well in advance of the exhibition and, preferably, before the marketing of exhibit space. If issuing a Request for Proposal from prospective ESCs, it should include at least the following:
• All of the sponsoring organization’s costs to install basic booth equipment (pipe and drape and vendor company name sign)
• Sponsor’s cost for registration counter(s)
• Sponsor’s cost for carpeting, draping for perimeter areas, decorating, additional signnage
• Sponsor’s electrical costs
• Sponsor’s costs for tables, chairs, basic booth furnishings etc
• The full menu of costs to be charged exhibitors for requested additional services, labor, equipment, utilities, advanced shipping/storage, drayage, etc. provided by the ESC
Beyond comparing costs when selecting an ESC, consideration must be given to the firm’s reputation for creativity, quality of equipment, personnel responsiveness and overall qualifications to handle your specific type of exhibition. The working relationship between the facility staff, sponsoring organization and the ESC must be close, communicative and trustworthy. The success of the show may depend upon how well the ESC relates to the organization and its exhibitors. The selection of a good ESC is another area where conference services professionals can use their experience to assist clients with their selection when they are contracting for these services.
About 90 days prior to the exhibition, an Exhibitor Services Kit should be sent to each participating exhibitor who has returned an application for space, the required payment/deposit, and the other contract/terms/regulations agreement forms which were included in the Exhibitor Prospectus. This Prospectus, mailed some months earlier, represents the primary direct mail exhibitor solicitation marketing piece utilized by most sponsoring organizations. The Exhibitor Services Kit should contain all the information and order forms an exhibitor will need to participate in the exhibition. Sometimes the ESC will produce the service kit with input from the sponsoring organization. More commercial and trade-show savvy sponsoring organizations will produce the services kit themselves.
What is most important is for exhibitors to be specific with their information and meet deadlines. This is to insure proper entry into the directory of exhibitors, to insure the ESC has adequate planning time for requested booth accommodations, and to insure the sponsoring organization will produce proper admission credentials.
An Exhibitor Services Kit should contain at least the following exhibitor information and forms:
• List of official service contractors: including in-house, the ESC and other contractors designated for special needs i.e. audio visual equipment, photography, floral arrangements
• A checklist of forms by deadline date
• Days, dates, and hours for installation, show time and dismantling
• General rules and regulations
• Labor regulations
• Order forms for furniture, carpeting, signs, labor, equipment, electrical, plumbing, telephone, audio visual services, photographer, floral, cellular telephones, computers, internet access, paging devices, etc., etc.
• Advanced materials shipping and storage. Drayage information. Drayage service refers to any storage and movement of exhibitor materials to or from their booth
• Order form for booth cleaning
• Contractors’ payment policies, liabilities and labor and material handling authorization
• Registration forms for vendor exhibit staff, dealers, distributors and “guests” (current or potential customers who may register at no charge or for a reduced rate)
Besides the order forms necessary for planning exhibitors’ logistical needs, the service kit may also contain information and order forms for promotional opportunities available to exhibitors. These promotional opportunities include access to conferee pre-registration lists, labels and disks for use in preparing pre-show and post-show direct mailings, broadcast fax, and email mailings.
Housing and Travel
Vendors should be sent information regarding hotels, room rates and instructions for making reservations. Information about special airfare arrangements with official airlines can be very helpful along with car rental discounts, train fare discounts and shuttle bus information.
Another form for requesting an exhibitor hospitality room may also be included. The sponsoring organization must be sure to specify guidelines for such activity. Most exhibitions prefer these events do not conflict with show hours, and they reserve the right not to allow certain types of hospitality functions as well. It is in the best interest of other exhibitors that show sponsors make every effort to keep attendees in the exhibit hall.
It is a good idea to offer exhibitors a chance for an exhibition orientation session just prior to the start of the show. It is also a chance for the sponsoring organization to engage in some public relations and thank the exhibitors for coming and perhaps talk up other upcoming promotional or sponsorship opportunities.
Another exhibitor educational opportunity is an exhibitor-training workshop just prior to the start of the show. The show’s sponsor, to give exhibitors tips and practical advice on how to work a booth effectively, may retain a specialist in exhibitor booth staff training.
At set up and at the show the exhibitor services contractor is responsible for providing an exhibitor service center where exhibitors can place or check up on orders. The ESC insures the orderly and efficient installation and removal of pipe, drape, exhibits, decoration, signage etc. They assure the distribution of labor to all exhibitors according to need. The ESC also avoids any conflict with local union regulations and requirements.
In short, the exhibit services contractor will “run the show” and is the best place to refer most problems. More of the functions they will perform include: storage of empty boxes and crating materials during the show in an on-site or off-site area referred to in the industry as the “boneyard”, lay aisle carpet, return empty crates at end of show, oversee the labor to pack the exhibitor’s materials, pick up the freight and deliver it to the loading dock, reconcile invoices for individual exhibitors and collect payment accordingly.
Planning security for an exhibition hall requires knowledge of the facility and the areas within the hall that have potential security risks. Starting with the floor plan of the hall and the building, and the hours of the exposition, you and your Security dept. (or security contractor) should identify the areas and times of greatest concern and plan coverage accordingly. Issues of greatest concern may include: locking and close monitoring of the hall when the show is not open and products and equipment are exposed; proper identification of those exhibitors and conferees with access; close observation of those who carry packages or equipment from the hall before, during and after show hours; and security coverage for freight doors, registration area and entrances/exits.
Planning Quality Exhibit Time
The average exhibition operates over a three-day period. However, some may last only two days, while others may last four or more. The objective is to provide an adequate amount of attendee traffic during whatever amount of hours there are in a show. The worst thing an exhibitor can see is another exhibitor’s face across empty aisles during extended periods of show time. It is best therefore not to overlap exhibit hours with hours scheduled for workshops, sessions, and meetings. Try to avoid the exhibits’ competing with other planned events. Instead, plan activities, give-aways, events, refreshment breaks, and reasons for attendees to visit the exhibit hall. Exhibitors have paid for the opportunity to meet the conferees, and the sponsoring organization has a responsibility to facilitate that as much as possible.
The more opportunities an exhibitor has to interact with the organization’s members, the better he/she may feel about the show and the organization. Inviting exhibitors to special conference events, a luncheon, or reception, or to give a non-commercial seminar are all viable methods to afford vendors “face time” with potential clients. Recognize the exhibitors, and they will appreciate the effort and support the organization.
One word of caution must be stated. While conferees should be made aware of the financial value of the exhibitors to the organization, at the same time, they should not hesitate to assertively state a lack of interest in a sales approach at any function outside of the exhibit area. Most vendors will recognize boundaries in this regard, and, over time it is not unusual for some to become corporate partners with an association as well as familiar colleagues.
On-Site Sponsoring Organizer’s Role
The sponsoring organization (exhibition committee or chairperson) needs to be highly visible to both exhibitors and attendees. Some of their responsibilities at show site will include: managing and monitoring the exhibit floor from the first day of move-in to the last day of move-out; enforcing show rules and regulations; supervising the registration area; overseeing the service contractors, and managing special programs and events in the exhibit area.
Circumstances may arise that require the show organizer to intervene in some uncomfortable situations. Vendors, contractors, attendees and other show personnel can become upset or irate and emergencies can arise due to no one’s fault. Regardless of the predicament, it is very important for the organizer to handle all matters professionally, fairly and calmly.
Evaluation and Closure
One of the easiest methods of determining exhibitor satisfaction is to develop a survey. The survey can be distributed and collected at show’s end, or it may be mailed immediately after the show. However, the more fresh the feedback, the better. Ask how they felt about the quality and number of attendees. Ask for their opinion about the attendance promotion program. How did they feel about the exhibit services contractor, the facility, the location, etc. Ask exhibitors for their recommendations and comments in general both on an evaluation form and, informally, throughout the exhibition.
Be sure to communicate with a thank you letter along with an exhibition wrap up with statistics, etc. Again, exhibitors feel comfortable when they can see and hear that the organizers are concerned about their needs.
All of the responses and feedback you receive will help to produce a better exhibition in the future. Not unlike any conference, meeting or event, even though every detail has been checked and rechecked, every exhibition has room for improvement the next year. When the show is over and all is said and done, treat yourself! You deserve it!
Submitted by Ronald C. Diment, M.Ed., Director of Conference Services, Villanova University (PA)