Trade Show Commentary

Trade Show Displays | Trade Show Managers – The Evil Began Here

In Trade Show Displays on January 8, 2010 at 12:30 am

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Trade Show Marketing

Trade Show Marketing

Over the past 30 years, there has been dynamic changes in the trade show industry and trade show marketing; not only from the maturing of the product itself which many markets in the US enjoy, but in the way it functions internally to grow and sustain itself. But many years ago, deep inside the mechanism of growth and prosperity in the trade show industry, a cancer was spawned, which over the years, has become more and more insidious, and now this cancer’s exponential growth is becoming increasingly evident. The cancer that I’m speaking about is nothing less than basic dishonesty.

Where does it come from and where did it start? In the trade show industry it began perhaps in the 60’s or maybe even earlier, but when I came onto the scene in the early 80’s, it had metastasized and began spreading its’ tentacles in a variety of way. When it began, I’m sure it was nothing more than a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” sort of arrangement, and just like so many evils, the first step didn’t seem so bad at all, in fact it was probably looked upon as a smart move on the part of both participants.

Let’s go down that path for a moment. In the beginning, in order to make the budget work, one show manager asked his or her decorator if they could shave a few bucks off the cost of the pole and drape booths and in return, they could add a buck or two onto the cost of the drayage. Seemed pretty harmless at first, but as evil so often does, it grows and always leads to something worse. What was the evil you ask? It was the fact that show managers began misrepresenting themselves to their customers, the exhibitors, as their agents who negotiated with the facility management, the decorator, the electricians, and all the other service providers whose services are contracted for at a trade shows. The exhibitors had this silly notion that what they paid the decorator, their money would become profit to the decorator, and it was their association visa vi the show manager, who was representing them and working for their best interest; and they had no clue that the show manager was taking money under the proverbial table from the other side!

Trade Show Marketing

Trade Show Marketing

In the early 80’s, a pole and drape booth with I.D. sign normally cost the association about $12 per booth. I’d heard that in the past it had been as high as $45-$50 per booth, but by the time my career began in 1980, change had begun. By the end of the 80’s, it was pretty standard that show managers paid nothing for a pole and drape booth if their show had an appreciable amount of freight from the exhibitors, and decorators were expected to provide all the registration equipment, show management freight, and carpeted lounges etc. But who paid for all these services? Obviously the exhibitors and even sadder is the fact that they didn’t even know it. They thought that the booth fees and the registrations for the show paid for all that. Silly them!

Trade Show Marketing

Trade Show Marketing

In the minds of show managers and association executives, the temptation to take an easy buck has been too great. Show managers know that if they can cut a great deal with the decorator, they can not only justify their own position in the organization, but perhaps even elevate their position. By bringing home the bacon, the new dollars might help to add new staff, give raises to deserving personnel, and generally do things that otherwise couldn’t be done. Their position could quickly become the most important position in the organization. They’ve never once stopped to think that with each new pound of bacon they bring home it just adds to the burden of their exhibitors who are their customers, and restricts the growth of their shows by accelerating the incremental cost of adding new booth space or limits the number of booth personnel their exhibitors can afford to bring to a show.

All of us by now, have heard the rumors that the major show contractors such as GES, Freeman, Champion, and a host of others traditionally compete to get the contract for shows by offering large amounts of cash that go directly into the pockets of associations and show management companies. I used to look down on the decorators as villains, along with the unions who over the years have jacked up prices to ridiculous levels; but in all honesty, you have to look to the core of the problem and call a spade a spade. Show management has betrayed their own customers at the alter of self service and self gratification, and continues to up the anti each and every time they cut a deal that doesn’t pay the show contractor a fair price for each and every service that they consume. If they would do so, they could demand that the service contractors and unions do the same; but when your hand is eternally stuck in the cookie jar, you have no moral justification to ask the service providers to bring fairness and common sense into their pricing structures. It won’t be long before we see a service kit in Chicago with overtime I. & D. labor at more than $200 per hour; plus supervision fees!

It’s my belief that it’s only a matter of time until trade show  marketing will somehow correct itself; because when any business model gets skewed to this degree, it will create an opportunity for someone to figure out a better mouse trap!

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