Co-location for Fun and Profit
Michael R. Hough
For many years event producers, both association and independent,
have been co-locating their conventions, exhibitions and tradeshows
with other compatible events. Back in 1993, an ASAE report suggested,
“… look for co-location possibilities with other shows.
Consider co sponsorship with other associations …”
This trend to co-locate has been further accelerated due to
these recent events:
- A downturn in the economy which has decreased participation
in shows by both attendees and exhibitors.
- In general, exhibitors are cutting down on the number of
shows they are doing. The larger exhibitors are pressuring show
management to beef up the size/clout of their shows.
- And there are just too many shows out there, each attracting
a diminishing response.
Thus, there is much more interest in joining with others.
Note there are several variations of “joining with others”,
- Two (or more) shows agree to co-locate in one venue over the
same dates but keep identity/brand, ownership and finances completely
- One show locates as a Pavilion within another (usually larger)
show. This can also include clearly defined educational tracks
added to an existing program.
- Two (or more) shows merge completely – both ownership,
finances and a new identify/brand.
- A standalone conference locates within a larger event (such
as a tradeshow).
In this environment, co-location is good for both parties because
a stronger, more comprehensive event is higher on the radar screen
of the key exhibitors (who take the mega booths). The dominant
show attracts geometrically more attention, meaning more attendees,
more press coverage, more financial analysts, more international
visitors, and thus a larger exhibit. This makes for a much more
Another advantage of co-locating are the economies of scale.
For example, promotion costs are reduced because crossover registrants
come at no cost. Other possible economies include:
- Using the same general services contractor
- Combining registration services
- Combining security services
Basically, appending a 300-booth show to an existing 700-booth
show is much more cost effective than running the 300-booth show
as a standalone event. The 1000-booth show is considerably more
profitable than the two individual shows. The same holds true
for adding a 1000-attendee convention to a larger 10,000-attendee
Other benefits of co-location include:
Being able to use this sales pitch to both attendees and
exhibitors: “Come to this mega event and you will use
your time and dollars much more effectively.”
Two co-located events get better sites and/or dates. A convention
center and convention bureau will always treat one 1000-booth
show better than two 500-booth events. If one show already
has the prime location and dates, joining your show to them
makes sense. Also, a meeting-heavy show can take advantage
of another that may have surplus meeting rooms.
Co-locations are also attractive to sponsors who get to market
to two different audiences at one time.
Attendees get higher quality special events, such as a star
Co-locating your show with another allows rapid entry into
a market, particularly internationally.
Finally, co-locating is a good way to “box out”
your competition. You can co-locate directly with your competitor
or with your competitor’s competitor (the enemy of my
enemy is my friend).
But there are cautions, including the proviso that the co-located
event must have a logical reason to exist. Specifically, the attendees
must benefit from being able to visit both shows at one time.
In fact, the best co-location is one where there is 100% compatibility
for the attendees, but 0% for exhibitors (so as not to create
competition for the exhibitor base).
How to Make It Happen
The first question is how to find events to co-locate with.
Here are some thoughts:
You should be aware of all events that occur in your market
niche – other exhibitions and conventions, shows, conferences,
etc. Get on all mailing lists and also continually talk to
exhibitors, press, industry gurus, etc.
Check the Tradeshow Week calendar regularly, particularly
12 months out.
Ask the venue and Convention and Visitors Bureau which other
event is in the facility or city at the same time as you.
Many times this may be a compatible event, and you can establish
a relationship with them.
If nothing surfaces, consider creating your own event.
Next, how do you approach the other event? Here are some points
2+2 could be 7 if we came together and here is why …
The co-locating event will not be lost within the larger
event and here is why ...
The larger event will benefit from having the smaller event
and here is how …
Once you get consensus on the concept of co-location, here are
the areas to discuss and agree on:
l Divide up the major tasks among the partners. For example,
one does the promotion while the other handles operations
(each with input from the other). However, do not share responsibility
or the task won’t get done effectively.
l Create a budget for the co-location and agree what expenses
can be charged to it. For example, can staff salaries and
overhead of the partners be charged? Suggest not – only
direct expenses should be charged to the co-located show account;
all other costs would come out of each partner’s profit
l Decide what the overall promotion effort will be. Typically,
each show does promotion for its own event and then contributes
to a promotion effort for the combined event. Also, what will
be done on site and who pays the costs (for example, banners,
l Strongly encourage crossover attendance – make it
free, make it easy, publicize it heavily and offer an incentive
(such as a free seminar pass or tee shirt). Do not force the
crossovers to re-register; the simplest way is to run their
badge through a reader at the crossover point and put a colored
dot on their badgeholder. However, this presupposes there
is a common registration/lead inquiry system for both shows,
since exhibitors will require this.
l Agree on who owns the names of the attendees who crossover.
l Decide which common areas and meeting rooms each show may
use. Also, divide up the hotels/sleeping rooms.
l Agree on common days for the exhibit (but not necessarily
hours). Generally, attendees will not come back the next day
to attend a co-located event.
l Do not allow “poaching” each other’s
exhibitors. The $20 per-square-foot show can’t approach
the exhibitors at the $36 per-square-foot show and say, “Come
to our show and save $16.” Again, the best co-location
has no competition for exhibitors between the shows.
An alternate to the above is to agree to charge the same
rate so that exhibitors have no incentive to jump ship. However,
you must agree who “owns” each exhibitor –
so the revenue split can be decided.
Agree not to compete: what is the period during which each
show may not hold their event pre and post show? For example,
can their show be held one month before in the same geographic
Agree how to handle the dissolving of the partnership. There
should be a first right to buy out the other partner if that
one wants out. A non-compete clause must be included –
the partner who wants out is prohibited from re-entry into
the market for a period of time.
Here are some financial considerations where two events simply
No funds change hands except for sharing of costs such as
registration and security. These are shared equitably –
such as based on the size of each show’s exhibit or
However, there could be a situation where one show benefits
more than the other. In that case, a fee would be paid by
the benefiting partner.
These financial considerations apply where one show is a
Pavilion inside another:
If the floor space is rented from the prime show, what is
the discount off the posted rate that is charged to the pavilion
sponsor? In most cases, the same rate should be quoted to
exhibitors inside and outside the pavilion. Note that the
sponsor makes its money off the differential between the posted
and discounted rate.
If there is a revenue split, what is the percentage going
to the prime and to the pavilion sponsor?
In this case, the following helps determine what the split
Which will pay to promote exhibit-only attendance?
What on-site operations costs will be borne by each?
What help will the prime provide in exhibit sales (for
example, will the overall show prospectus include information
on the pavilion)?
Who is responsible for collecting from the pavilion
Thus, for example, if the prime is responsible for all promotion
and operations, the split might be 60 (prime) - 40 (sponsor).
Here are the financial considerations where the two exhibitions
are completely integrated:
What is the common exhibit space rate that will be charged?
Usually it is the higher of the two shows.
What portion of revenue does each organizer keep for those
exhibitors unique to each show?
How do you share revenue for common exhibitors? Also, who
sells key accounts?
l What does each do to promote the common event as well as
their own event?
Who pays for operational costs and other expenses?
Here are the considerations when a conference is involved:
Will the conferences be completely independent or will they
be “passported” (that is, attendees can pay one
fee and go to any session)? If the latter, how is the revenue
Who gets which meeting rooms? What directional signs will
Is there an overall conference promotion brochure? How is
the cost shared?
What are the common costs and how are these shared?
Making It Work
Here are some suggestions on making a co-location work:
The idea must be driven from the top and supported by all
levels in both organizations.
The duties of each party must be clearly spelled out. The
financial terms should also be understood by all.
Neither party loses control of their part of the event.
Each considers the other partner an equal (no matter what
the differential in size).
The interaction between the parties is frequent and at all
Finally, there is a point person on each side who has the
big-picture responsibility and can arbitrate the expected
If the co-location is successful, there will be enough money
to go around. If it is not successful, then all will have been
for naught. Thus, all parties should work on making the entire
event a success.
Michael Hough is an industry consultant and author of The
Profitable Trade Show (www.profitabletradeshow.com). He also co
produces the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (www.eceforum.com).
A version of this paper will appear as an article in the July,
2002 issue of Convene.
Copyright 2002 MRH Associates, Inc. All rights