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New EXHIBITOR year, new CTSM initiatives

To grab the attention of a whole new crowd as well as welcome some familiar faces, the Certified Trade Show Marketer (CTSM) program booth is increasing its EXHIBITOR2014 visibility.

Right after attendees pick up their badges at registration from Mar. 16-20 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, they’ll immediately spot the booth of EXHIBITOR’s university-affiliated professional certification program. Even if they walk pass it, CTSM staffers have already implemented other ways to build booth traffic.

CTSM logo“We have show bags filled with postcard invites,” explained CTSM-certified Jan Nelson, executive director, CTSM program, EXHIBITOR. “The CTSM website was redesigned. Our goal is to get graduates to work with the new website and get new people to enroll on the spot. Anything they do to work with the website a bit will allow them a chance to win a Gold Passport, which is valued at about $2,000.”

Having a Gold Passport at EXHIBITOR2014 allows the user to attend 13 conference sessions and three Peer2Peer Roundtables. The CTSM program is also attracting visitors through pre-show marketing strategies, and at its booth, it is hosting graduates who volunteered to give insight to newcomers.

An area on the third level of the Mandalay Bay conference hall will allow attendees to take quizzes and network with CTSM hopefuls and graduates.

“We already have 60 new enrollees since the show brochure went out, and we usually get around 200 through the show,” added Nelson.

Many of the more than 3,000 currently enrolled CTSM hopefuls are still learning about what this program can do for their career.

Gaining the certification could lead to an 18 percent wage increase, according to EXHIBITOR, and provide other benefits after passing an exam and then successfully completing a Candidate Portfolio that is reviewed by experts from the program’s staff and a graduate advisor.

“The portfolio is the written and application piece that sets [the CTSM] apart. The portfolio shows how they applied what they learned at their job, such as how they improved tradeshow and event marketing programs,” said Nelson. “I don’t believe there are other certifications in the tradeshow industry where students do a portfolio. Most people look for a job, and they send a resume; you’re telling them what you’re doing. [The portfolio] really demonstrates knowledge, and it is a help. It’s show and tell.”

ECN-032014_show-floor-(10)-(Web)Since the CTSM program started in 1992, 450 have graduated, with Nelson being graduate No. 16 in 1997. When developing the curriculum for the program, Chief Learning Strategist Dee Silfies provides customers and attendees with what they need as she balances among seven learning tracks, according to Nelson.

“We want to provide well-rounded education in all aspects of tradeshow and event marketing,” said Nelson. “We require classes that have key information from all of [the seven tracks.] Corporate Events was added because [some] marketers are responsible for both tradeshows and events. The Measurement and Results track helps them prove their value.”

Other tracks for the program include Planning and Execution; Marketing and Communications; Personal and Career; Exhibits and Experiences; and Global.

Changes in the program highlight how far it has come over the years. When Nelson started the program, it took her three years to complete it because CTSM sessions were only offered at EXHIBITOR. The advent of EXHIBITORFastTrak, additional conference sessions in other locations, and EXHIBITOR eTrak online sessions fixed this problem, leading to some being able to finish their studies in one year.

This makes one wonder what the program was like in its early days.

“I believe it was early board members who said we should have a certification to elevate the industry. A board member had a connection to San Francisco State University, and it developed from that,” explained Nelson.

Starting five years after the first EXHIBITOR, the CTSM program mushroomed and needed a full-time director. Then in 2001 came Nelson, who has a teaching background. Switching the university affiliate to Northern Illinois University Outreach (NIU) that same year helped the program become more technologically efficient.

“NIU studied our program and approved our curriculum. We meet their academic standards,” said Nelson.

To fulfill the requirements of the CTSM, students are required to pass 28 sessions and complete a panel-approved Candidate Portfolio. This year, 44 people have successfully surpassed these stages and will be honored at EXHIBITOR2014, a face-to-face training conference and expo for tradeshow and event marketers.

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