Forward Thinking

Rewarding Exhibitor Loyalty

Here’s how to reward exhibitor loyalty by taking into account everything that they bring to your show.

Most trade-show organizers use a priority-points system to help determine the order of booth-space selection for next year’s expo — and that system has usually been in place for quite a while. Over the past couple of years, we’ve studied dozens of priority-points models to formulate best practices for progressive expos. We’ve found that significant spend increases or decreases don’t have as big an impact on the order of selection as they should.

If your points system is collecting dust and having little influence on exhibitors’ spend decisions, consider a loyalty program that rewards the three R’s: recency, reoccurrence, and revenue — and allows for a wild card, partnership. Here’s how it works:

RecencyAmerican Airlines couldn’t care less that I’ve been a member of its loyalty program for 30-plus years. It only cares about my loyalty and spend this year. On the other hand, many exhibitor priority-points systems look back 10-plus years — and I’ve seen some go back 75 years. We recommend a three-year rolling point system. This simplifies tracking while allowing new disruptive companies to jump up the list.

Reoccurrence and RevenueThis is where the points are earned. Be sure to allow multiple ways of accruing points — points per 10 x 10 booth and points for sponsorship, promotion, and/or advertising spend (e.g., one point for every $5,000 in integrated marketing spend).

PartnershipConsider awarding points to exhibitors who help with attendance promotion/acquisition. If you have a category for supplier or affiliate members, award points for that, too.

Punitive PoliciesSome shows impose penalties for skipping a year, not staying in the contracted block, breaking down early, etc. Keep this stuff out of your points system and deal with it in another way. Simplicity and carrots work better than complexity and sticks. Your system should influence spend decisions.

Mergers and AcquisitionsMany organizers have weird policies on this one. Most will default to whichever party has the larger points balance. We believe a better practice is to allow the points to be combined. When your points are viewed as an asset to an industry deal, that’s a beautiful thing. Your job is to try to protect spend of those mergers and acquisitions.

Transparency Rules

No matter what priority-points system you adopt, be sure to create documents that describe how it works along with FAQs, and publish them on your show website or exhibitor portal. Provide a listing of each company and its current number of points. Create two versions of the list: 1) alphabetically by company, with total points, and 2) company listing sorted from highest to lowest points earned. Use the priority-points system to set the stage for an orderly and fair booth-selection process.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.