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Negative perceptions about Chicago

Chicago has been in the news a little too much lately and that’s not a good thing. When we’re in the news something is wrong, or outsiders perceive something to be off beam. Or worse yet, ambitious individuals will create the impression something is wrong for their own personal gain.

Recently, Illinois passed legislation aimed at addressing some of the problems Chicago faces in the tradeshow industry.

This labor reform package included some much needed changes but also some political grandstanding as well.

Frankly we’re sick of the media attention, we’re sick of political vultures circling overhead waiting for any sign of weakness to swoop down for an easy meal and we’re sick of defending our right to make a decent living in a very difficult business. We’ve been under the microscope far too long and it’s time to go back to doing what we know best; the setting up and dismantling tradeshows.

Our name has been dragged through the mud and Chicago’s competitor cities have been gleefully sitting in the background watching the major players scratch each others eyes out. This exercise in self-mutilation has been a boon to them, and I’m sure it couldn’t last long enough as far as they’re concerned. They suffer from the same issues as Chicago, but want to convince the rest of the country these problems are unique to us.

The obvious question is: What comes next? How does Chicago repair its image? Especially, after power hungry politicos tried their best to convince the whole country there are much better places to hold a tradeshow. The initiative should start from the very highest levels, and they must understand the administration of McCormick Place is far too important to be left to the political patronage hacks which got us in to this mess in the first place.

The person in charge of McCormick Place for the next year and a half is Jim Reilly, a familiar, but controversial figure here in Chicago. He’s a veteran political appointee who spearheaded the first attempt to politicize the workforce at the convention center over a decade ago. After he was unsuccessful at this, a large yellow billboard was erected on the side of a nearby building touting the quality of the work force they just finished slandering. To tradeshow workers it was an ironic and shameful attempt at character assassination.

The administration’s job is to get and retain shows, and should be held accountable if they aren’t successful. They can begin by dropping their worn out tactic of blaming the poor working stiffs who do the dirty work and put in the shows. This is both counterproductive and has lost it’s credibility with even the most condescending fat cats.

They need to use their considerable skills at spin and change, the dialog from an exaggerated diatribe of what Chicago does wrong to an honest assessment on the advantages we have over other cities. It seems as though the main benefits of holding a show in Chicago seems to be a secret to the very people who are responsible for disseminating this information to others.

Certainly, lowering the prices of the items exhibitors complain about the most would be a good start, and it is well within their power to do so, but getting into a price war isn’t the answer. They need to convince associations, exhibitors and attendees this is the place to hold more shows.

How do they do this? They should take a cue from the bottled water industry that has successfully convinced people that drinking tap water out of a plastic bottle is superior than getting from their own faucet. Even though the origin of the bottled water is stated on the label as coming from municipal sources, in other words, tap water people continue to buy it because they believe it is better.

The art of salesmanship is to convince a skeptic that their product is better than the competition. Yet, somehow Chicago has convinced the entire nation of the exact opposite.

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