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Industry still striving for best practices

eicwebIn October 2009, in response to rising concerns from exhibitors about business practices in the exposition industry, five tradeshow associations formed the Exhibit Industry Council (EIC). The goal of the EIC was to unite the industry in support of exhibitor-focused best practices that would increase the value of tradeshows.

The founding members included the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association (HCEA), the Trade Show Exhibitors Association (TSEA), the Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA), the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (EDPA) and the Exhibitor Appointed Contractor Association (EACA).

In addition to committing itself to the development best of practices, the founding members agreed to meet quarterly and discuss issues aimed at increasing exhibitor value.

“Exhibitors are frustrated by confusing rules, lack of audited attendance information and inconsistent and archaic business practices at tradeshows – all of which lead to costs that escalate out of control,” said Margit Weisgal, president and CEO of TSEA at the time of the inaugural meeting. “We believe it’s time our industry worked together to create a customer service mindset that recognizes and responds to the needs of its customers – the exhibitors. In our opinion, it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It just needs to consistently meet their needs and expectations.”

Fast forward two years and the fight continues, as once again, 2011 saw its fair share of white papers and best practices aimed at unifying business methods throughout the industry.

In February, several associations formed a second group to explore opportunities for cooperation across common industry activities including best practices. This assembly is comprised of CEOs from the Exhibition Services and Contractors Association (ESCA), the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) and the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO).

Shortly after the group formed, they issued a statement to the industry that revealed their intentions.

“On behalf of the five organizations and the respective members that they represent, we are very pleased to announce the formation of what will be an effective working team dedicated to advancing the interests of all those who rely upon conventions and exhibitions. This is a particularly appropriate time for us to begin a new and exciting era defined by our mutual support and collaboration for and with each other.”

Also in 2011, an all-exhibition industry summit involving 27 representatives from different associations met in October. The meeting was organized by ESCA, IAEE and SISO.

Among the goals of the summit was addressing issues that can enhance the tradeshow experience for exhibitors and attendees, as well as developing industry standards.

Rob Cohen, president of the EDPA, commented on the teamwork that is now needed in the industry.

“This is a very important crossroad for all of us,” he said. “It is the first time I can remember when the broadest spectrum of interests in our industry came together voluntarily to begin crafting solutions to the challenges that we must address. We are all connected to each other and must actively collaborate with each other to make the exhibition experience as robust as it can be.”

At least one part of making the tradeshow experience robust for the exhibitor is falling more and more on the shoulders of show organizers.

Earlier this year, the EIC released a best practice guide for event metrics stating that exhibitors need independent, third-party marketing data to guide them as they choose which events provide enough return-on-investment for their marketing dollar.

The EIC believes a standard show audit is going to help the financial future of the face-to-face events industry and that general contractors, exhibit houses, third-party contractors and exhibitors should all be requesting the data from show organizers.

Amanda Helgemoe, CEO and owner of Nuvista, believes that third-party audits would have an immediate effect on the industry.

“Our exhibitors would have the knowledge they need to make intelligent decisions about which shows to attend,” said Helgemoe. “This will put exhibitors in a better position to meet their marketing and sales objectives, which will encourage them to continue exhibiting.”

In 2011, all of these associations worked toward putting standard practices in place for the tradeshow industry. But they aren’t the only ones that are attempting to get everyone on the same page.

In June, Global Experience Specialists (GES), producers of more than 2,000 tradeshows each year, announced the release of an industry white paper entitled Aligning for Success. The paper aimed at getting exhibitors, show organizers and exhibitor appointed contractors (EAC) on the same page with the general contractor at its shows.

“We are all competing for marketing dollars and we need to make sure that face-to-face marketing stays strong,” said David Saef, executive vice president of strategy and marketing for GES and the author of the white paper. “There are areas where we are going to compete, and there are fair ways to do that, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are a part of the event ecosystem, and we need to make sure that when people come to these shows during set up or dismantle, the things that they want to obtain, like information, are being collaborated on.”

GES gathered feedback from more than 700 participants and found some key areas where alignment is needed on the show floor.

The research revealed that exhibitors want to make more informed decisions, so tradeshow service providers should embrace best practices for product and service descriptions. The study also found that while exhibitors understand the need for competition, there is an expectation that industry participants will work together when it comes to their booth.

Although there is a need for unity on the show floor, especially from the exhibitors, Douglas Ducate, president and CEO of CEIR, is quick to point out that the tradeshow industry follows business practices common in all industries that rely on sales.

“The exhibition industry is not a troubled industry burdened by bad practices,” Ducate wrote in a white paper released earlier this year. “Our business model is one simply tied to the efficiency with which we produce events. Exhibitions are the last bastion of face-to-face marketing. It is the responsibility of the organizer to provide the greatest possible value for attendees and exhibiting companies at the most reasonable cost. As long as they are doing that, they should enjoy a prosperous future.”

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