Trade Shows

Exhibitors Aren’t Feeling the Love

At ECEF earlier this month, exhibitors and show organizers discussed how listening can keep your trade show healthy.

"Our Exhibitors Speak" panelists Diane Benson, GE Healthcare; Dominique Cook, Marvin Windows and Doors; and Dana Tilghman, Minitab Inc.
“Our Exhibitors Speak” panelists Diane Benson, GE Healthcare; Dominique Cook, Marvin Windows and Doors; and Dana Tilghman, Minitab Inc.

When 200-plus executives from associations and independent show organizers in the audience at the 15th annual ECEF, the Exhibition & Convention Executives Forum — held June 1 at the JW Marriott Washington, DC — were polled about how well they or their staff know the objectives of their anchor exhibitors, only 41 percent said “very well.”

The poll took place during the session, “Our Exhibitors Speak,” and confirmed why three panelists from healthcare and construction said that they don’t always feel the love. Each said that show organizers had told them: “I don’t care about your feedback or objectives, all I care is that you pay your bills on time.”

But it pays to listen to your exhibitors, said ECEF’s opening keynote speaker, Karen Chupka. As senior vice president, CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and corporate business strategy for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), Chupka and her team are responsible for organizing the world’s largest annual technology show.

In fact, exhibitor challenges have been catalysts for changes at CES that have fueled the show’s growth. The very dilemmas facing both potential and longstanding CES exhibitors, Chupka shared, have forced her and her team to come up with creative approaches.

For example, several years ago, Chupka was confronted with the challenge of a company that wanted to participate in CES but didn’t yet have a product. After struggling with the question of how to “sell access to a company that wants awareness,” yet couldn’t exhibit in a standard booth, CTA created a space at the show — Eureka Park — specifically for startups. CTA provides companies with a cost-effective package (they can get space for $1,000) and a presence at the event. At next year’s CES, more than 600 companies will inhabit Eureka Park.

In 2011, it was major blow to CES when Microsoft, an anchor exhibitor for two decades, announced that it would leave because CES no longer fit its needs. “When a major exhibitor pulls out of your show,” Chupka said, “you need to ask if you have done all you can” to work with them.

In Microsoft’s case, Chupka and her team explored alternatives to exhibiting. Their solution was to create customized meeting space in a separate area of CES, where Microsoft provided its customers who were attending the show with a VIP experience.

At CES 2016, Microsoft had no presence on the CES show floor — but plenty at CES.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.