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What’s changed in guidelines for display rules and regulations

ecn 20th badge_flatCan you imagine tradeshows not having display guidelines? That was the case many years ago. Not only was it frustrating for the exhibitor to find one’s display would not fit into all facilities or convention centers, but many exhibits were interfering with sightlines and encroaching into the aisles. Tradeshows were getting out of hand with each exhibitor trying its best to attract attention with exceedingly loud sounds, obnoxious lighting and sightline distracting displays, creating an unfair environment instead of a level playing field conducive to conducting business.

Hubbard Erickson Jr., inked the first guidelines for tradeshow display rules and regulations.
Hubbard Erickson Jr., inked the first guidelines for tradeshow display rules and regulations.

Hubbard Erickson, now Chairman of Hall-Erickson Inc., a tradeshow management company, took on the challenge of developing the industry’s first set of guidelines for display rules and regulations for tradeshows in the early 1970s.

“What brought the need for the standard rules to the forefront was the advent of the large, high ceilinged, convention hall such as McCormick Place and the introduction of a modified European type major display fixture to tell the exhibitor’s story,” said Erickson.

“Some of the major display houses started selling major corporations on the idea that bigger was better and that all exhibit spaces should be treated like a full page ad in a trade magazine and used right out to its boundary with no height limitations. Many started selling the idea of a second level without height restrictions as well. They soon found out the exhibitor was very often wasting a lot of money when the show moved to a different location with a lower ceiling the next year or, in the case of McCormick Place, they had to accept space on the lower level when they didn’t happen to win in the space drawing the next year.

“From the show manager’s viewpoint, once I got across the understanding that the future growth of any industry show is not in the major exhibits but in the new, little guy with the 10 x 10 booth who is able to build a distribution network and reach buyers he could never get into their office to see in the three or four days he spent on the show and that, in reality, it would be his new and different product line that would make the buyers feel his time spent was not only worthwhile, but necessary if he was to keep up to date and not miss out in seeing what might be new and different in his industry.

“And, if we permitted the new or smaller exhibitor to be ‘boxed in’ with walls to the aisle on both sides where they could be easily overlooked, we would lose them in the future since their participation would not be worthwhile.

“I met with two of the most respected display builders in the country who were most vocal about the ‘full page,’ and when they saw what I proposed, they were sold. We then went together to present them to EDPA (Exhibit Designers and Producers Association) where they were quickly adopted. These guidelines were then endorsed by NAEM (now known as IAEE) and eventually by all our industry associations.”

As a result, the EDPA honored Mr. Erickson as the first recipient of its Hazel Hays Award.

Not much has changed in the more than 40 years since the first Guidelines for Display Rules & Regulations were presented for the tradeshow industry. Changes come with progress. One of the more significant factors impacting the change in display rules are the height limitations on island and perimeter booths.

With many more state-of-the-art convention centers today, most can easily accommodate higher displays. When the guidelines were first developed, it was determined that a 12-foot height regulation would allow an exhibitor to take his display to almost any tradeshow and be comfortable that the facility could accommodate an island booth 12 feet in height. While some low ceiling facilities still exist, island booths today are usually permitted to rise to 16 or 20 feet high and perimeter booths may be allowed a 16-foot height.

Today’s guidelines also require exhibits to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Hefty fines are imposed by the U.S. government if exhibitors are found to be non-compliant with their displays. Attendees can report an exhibit to the ADA, and they can be hit with significant fines. Exhibitors need to be conscious about ramping raised exhibit flooring or providing the same experience on level one of a double-deck display as experienced on level two, or having monitors positioned at low levels, or providing written handouts of what is being presented in audio. Those are just a few examples of how plans and designs must now accommodate people with wheelchairs and mobility devices, hearing or sight challenges.

IAEE logo
Since those first set of guidelines were established, the International Association for Exhibition and Event Management (IAEE) has established a committee that periodically reviews the current display guidelines. Over the years this committee has adapted other changes to the guidelines as well as those mentioned above, such as:

  • Hanging signs in island booths once were required to be no higher than the display; today hanging signs may go to 16 or 20 feet high, or even as high as the ceiling allows, depending on what the organizer allows.
  • End Cap and Split Island (Peninsula) booth guidelines were added for shows allowing those types of exhibits.
  • Safety is paramount today:
    • Quartz halogen lighting fixtures are not allowed in most convention centers due to fire safety issues.
    • Displays using fabric must use flame retardant materials.
    • Enclosed ceilings may require fire extinguishers, smoke detectors or sprinklers depending on size and fire marshal regulations.
    • Vehicles may only have one quarter tank of fuel and may require a locking gas cap.
    • Storing of empty boxes and other items behind drape or display walls is prohibited, among many other safety rules.
    • Fire hose cabinets (FHC’s) in the exhibit halls must be visible and some facilities require exhibits to be three feet away from these FHC’s.
    • Building permits may be required for double-deck exhibits. Structural engineering approval may be required for double-deck exhibits or very high exhibits. Exhibitors should local requirements with their general service contractor.
  • Use of live and recorded copyrighted music in booths are subject to laws governing use of copyrighted compositions. License fees apply and are payable to ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, etc.
  • Full cubic content is common now at certain types of tradeshows, eliminating the line-of-sight requirement. Cubic Content is not allowed for the majority of shows, but for those that do, the International Association for Exhibition and Event Management (IAEE) has published a White Paper outlining issues pertaining to use of cubic content.

While generally not considered a rule but as a guideline, exhibitors are encouraged to utilize recycled, renewable and energy efficient materials whenever possible. Most facilities today recycle exhibitors’ materials left behind albeit at a high cost to the show organizer.

Carol Fojtik, CEM, Hall EricksonGuidelines for Display Rules & Regulations are ultimately at the discretion of the show organizer to decide what to allow or what to add. In general, most show organizers adhere to IAEE’s Guidelines for Display Rules & Regulations. However, there are shows where a certain number of these display guidelines may not be allowed for whatever reason, perhaps due to the show’s unique industry or venue, and other rules may also apply. It is important for exhibitors to check each show’s display guidelines before proceeding with designing a display.

Carol Fojtik, CEM is the senior vice president of Hall-Erickson Inc.


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