Teaming Up to Reinvent Trade Shows

Promote collaboration between show management and exhibitors.

By Marlys Arnold, Exhibit Marketing Strategist; Speaker, Author, Consultant; Trade Show Insights Blog/Podcast Host

Too often trade shows become an “us vs. them” conflict between show managers and exhibitors. But the truth is that each would not succeed without the other and with a bit of collaboration, both parties can experience much greater success.

So why is there so much finger pointing? Often it comes down to a lack of communication. Exhibitors may complain that they don’t feel appreciated by show management, or perhaps never even hear from them after the contract has been signed.

Show managers on the other hand commonly feel frustrated because exhibitors don’t pay attention to details regarding the show and then blame show management for added costs or other consequences.

And some of the stress stems from one side feeling like the other is stuck in outdated practices that inhibit the effectiveness of the show.

What can be done about all these conflicting perspectives? It starts with one thing that’s so basic, yet few shows are doing it – create an Exhibitor Advisory Committee/Council (or whatever you want to call it). Often shows resist the idea because they fear it will become a source of endless complaining, but that’s not the purpose. An EAC is the place where ideas are welcomed, then sifted to find the gems (like panning for gold). Let ideas flow freely, then create a mind map to find common threads and determine which ones hold the most potential for improving the show, whether related to logistics, cost, overall experience, or something else.

Likewise, when show managers have ideas this provides a great forum to share them and get feedback. Why not put it out there and fine-tune the idea before rolling it out, only to discover exhibitor resistance or a huge cost that could have been minimized?

But don’t expect this process to be all rainbows and unicorns! An EAC can also be a platform for challenging the status quo and turning long-held traditions on their head. Why is a certain aspect of the show (such as priority points or sponsorships) always handled in a particular way? And why can’t they be tweaked … or completely reinvented, if there are other ways that make sense?

It’s often said that the trade show industry is very slow to change, and if that continues to hold true, it could become a dinosaur in danger of extinction. But by opening up the channels of communication between show management and exhibitors, there’s no reason why we can’t make major strides forward as an industry while reinventing trade shows for the future.

What are you doing to promote collaboration between show management and exhibitors? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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 SystemExhibit 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. Opinions are her own.

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