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From show organizers to exhibit builders, each different segment of the tradeshow industry has an association that is advocating for the best interests of its membership. The leaders of these associations keep their fingers on the pulse of their portion of the industry, but they are also advocates for the entire tradeshow landscape.

Included among these associations are the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (EDPA), the Society of Independent Show Organizers and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE).

According to the brass at these associations, the convention industry has had a pretty good first half of 2012.

Steven Hacker

Steven Hacker

“We base the answer to that question on the metrics that are developed by the Center for Exhibition Research (CEIR),” said Steven Hacker, president of the IAEE. “For seven consecutive quarters, the exhibit industry has been outperforming the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). In some cases, this has been by a margin of 2 to 1. Now, before we begin the celebration, the U.S. GDP has been pretty puny, but nonetheless the exhibition industry is outgrowing the U.S. economy.”

Lew Shomer, the executive director of SISO, is also seeing these positive signs in business for his segment of the industry.

“We have seen an uptick in almost every industry sector that our members represent,” said Shomer. “What I am hearing from the members is that business is robust and exhibit sales and attendance are better than it was last year. The numbers range from 1 to 10 percent, depending on the industry, but when I talk to the organizers, everyone is very happy with the state of their business this year.”

Each of these associations holds annual meetings or conferences throughout the year as a means to stay connected with its membership and to provide networking and educational opportunities.

Jeff Provost

Jeff Provost

“At EDPA Access, we work hard to develop different themes and educational sessions and invite a variety of keynote speakers and presenters who shine a light on a different part of our industry,” said Jeff Provost, executive director of the EDPA. “This year’s ACCESS theme, ‘Connect and Create,’ is going to be brought to life in an exciting way. Connections, both in business and in life, are crucial to our success. ACCESS is the time to take advantage of those connections.”

SISO just concluded its Executive Conference. This gathering is for C-level and senior-level executives. At the conference, organizers discuss a range of content from marketing and new media to sales and digital components.

SISO also holds a CEO Summit specifically for C-level executives to examine strategic issues like globalization and what is happening with the industry.

Lew Shomer

Lew Shomer

“The way we serve the industry is giving real-time content to the delegates as well as an opportunity to network,” said Shomer. “The networking is the best in the industry because we are dealing with the decision-makers.”

IAEE’s Annual Meeting, Expo!Expo!, will be held this December. It is the largest collection of suppliers and buyers in the exhibition industry. The meeting features a substantial learning program for people at virtually all levels of the exhibition industry.

“This year we have taken extraordinary steps to nearly double the amount of educational opportunities that one person can access,” said Hacker. “We have also substantially ratcheted up the number of individual sessions. That, in combination with a really robust tradeshow makes it a must attends event for many people.”

The different goals that each of these associations have can vary widely, but they are all focused on making the exhibit industry stronger.

“The number-one initiative in our strategic plan is the aggressive promotion of the value of the face-to-face experience,” said Hacker. “In order to achieve that objective, we gathered together a war chest of over $1 million from our members to support an extensive, 3-year minimum public relations campaign that is gathering success stories from all kinds of exhibitions and feeding them into the media. Over time we are going to see an increasing momentum of stories that speak to the unique advantages and power of exhibitions.”

Although there has been an important movement to represent the exhibition industry with one voice with the creation of the Exhibit Industry Summit, it is still essential to have different associations advocating for different segments of the industry.

“There are a lot of unique needs and aspirations out there, and, clearly, one organization is not going to do as effective of a job as the niche organizations are going to do,” said Hacker. “What is gained in the process is that the exhibition industry is very well served by a number of different organizations.”

Provost agrees.

“We can’t and shouldn’t all be lumped together in a handful of association categories because each group has their own special needs and interests,” he said. “And as I’ve said to industry groups before: If your trade association doesn’t advocate and look out for its member companies, who will?”

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