Help Out Your Exhibitors

The Exhibitor Advocate recently released its 2023 Annual Survey of Exhibition Rates. This report compares material handling, labor, and equipment costs across 24 major U.S. destinations. Here are two takeaways you should consider.

Author: Dave Lutz, CMP       

Not only is the Annual Survey of Exhibition Rates a handy tool for comparing exhibitor costs in one city vs. another, it offers other helpful insights for event organizers. Two of which stood out to me, according to an exhibit leader insights survey referenced in the report: Three out of four exhibitors are getting pressure to cut costs; and 82 percent say they plan to exhibit at fewer in-person shows.

These findings align with what we have been hearing from exhibit advisory groups and qualitative interviews. Beyond delivering on audience, you can counter these challenges to attracting exhibitors to your event by 1) demonstrating that you are doing everything you can to help control their costs, and 2) increasing transparency.

Controlling Costs

According to Freeman’s 2024 Exhibitor Report, 63 percent of exhibitors feel that support from the event organizer is extremely or very important, yet only 39 percent of them reported that the support they received was extremely or very effective. Some of the ways you can demonstrate that you are actively helping them control costs include:

  1. Benchmark pricing — Identify a few events occurring in the same location that are similar in size and scope. Many shows include links to their exhibitor manuals and order forms. Compare pricing for material handling, labor, internet service, and booth furnishing. Make sure that the costs you’re negotiating are comparable or better for your exhibitors.
  1. Re-evaluate show-management benefits — Many exhibit-service contractor and registration/lead retrieval vendor agreements include significantly reduced costs for show management. To counterbalance that, higher costs are usually charged to your exhibitors. Moving forward, it’s wise to reevaluate these agreements and ensure that you are negotiating favorable pricing for your exhibitors.
  1. Site visits — Some larger shows host an exhibitor site visit nine to 10 months prior to the event. In addition to helping these investors expedite decision making for hotels, off-site venues, and on-site branding opportunities, supportive organizers also are looking for opportunities to help them get the most bang for their buck. They’re enlisting the help of their key vendors to provide advice for better budgeting and controlling of show expenses.

Increasing Transparency

When you increase transparency, trust follows. Exhibitors and sponsors want:

  1. Pricing Integrity — The ability to access inventory and pricing. If you require them to provide contact information to receive this information, some will believe that you’re hiding something.
  1. Truth in Attendance — Make sure that every number you communicate can be backed up with proof. Exhibitors care less about how many people pre-registered — they want to know how many attendees actually showed up. If you have lots of students, they want those separated out. Some folks recommend getting an audit, but I don’t think that’s necessary if you have a good attendance verification process in place.

Turnkey Booth Packages

According to Freeman’s 2024 Exhibitor Report, nearly seven out of 10 smaller exhibitors want exhibit packages that are inclusive of all costs — booth furnishings, labor, and material handling. Smaller shows can take this to another level by offering turnkey kiosks. Kiosks often include branding, an electric outlet, a computer monitor, and barstools. Most exhibitors can arrive shortly before opening, plug in, and be ready to go. While this is more costly for the show organizer, it supports the desires of the exhibitor and can improve the attendee experience.

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

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