The first edition of The Profitable Trade Show by Michael Hough ...
is now sold out. But we are working on the next edition which we hope to publish in late 2004. Meanwhile, this web site provides practical, "how-to" information for all who produce face to face events such as exhibitions, trade shows and conferences.

Profit Tips
White Papers
Large Show Roundtable

Also Available

White Papers Index

W1 - All is Not Well

W2 - Sample of a Memo to Content Partners

W3 - Ten Commandments for Speakers

W4 - 100 Tips in 75 Minutes

W5 - All About E-Newsletters

W6 - The Other Two Legs

W7 - Five Mistakes Associations Make

W8 - 15 Attendance Promotion Tips

W9 - Ten Questions to Ask When Considering a Launch

W10 - 15 Cost-Saving Tips

W11 - 15 E-Marketing Tips

W12 - Strategic Review of a Show

W13 - Launching a New Event

W14 - Avoiding Attrition Penalties

W15 - The Case Against Audits

W16 - Co-location for Fun and Profit

W17 - Improving the Association Show

W18 - International Attendance Promotion

W19 - Helping International Visitors Obtain Visas

W20 - Fixing the Machine

Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum

Large Show Roundtable


Fixing The Machine

by Michael Hough

Nothing is more powerful than a good idea whose time has come.

Last week Doug Ducate sent out an allegorical tale titled "The Machine." If you did not receive it, contact Doug at

Being an engineer, I needed to translate this into terms I could understand so here is my interpretation of what Doug is saying:

  1. The Machine is the entire exhibition/trade show industry which includes event organizers, contractors and suppliers, venues, CVBs, hotels, airlines and even union members, taxicab drivers, waiters, etc.
  2. The Machine (industry) is sick and needs fixing; however, the following elements are not stepping up to help:
    • the organizers themselves because they only want to fix their own part of The Machine be it gift shows, building shows, industrial shows, etc.
    • the contractors because the problem is too big for them to solve themselves and besides, the industry has always demanded they be the sole payer for past efforts to fix the industry.
    • the clubs (that is, IAEM, PCMA, SISO, etc) because they are focused on keeping themselves healthy even at the expense of the industry that gives them life.

Doug urges us to do our part "to restore The Machine to her former glory." I agree with him that our industry needs help so here are my suggestions on how to do this.

Everyone seems to be going off doing their own thing without regard for the greater good. For example, there are now four competing ad campaigns to promote our industry—CEIR, CIC, IAEM and even ABM (American Business Media). And no one is cooperating in any meaningful way.

We all need to concentrate our efforts (and finances) behind one strong umbrella group that will successfully represent all our common interests. And the primary common interest is to return exhibitions/trade shows to their former position as the premier business to business learning and marketing communications channel. This umbrella group should:

  1. Undertake relevant studies of attendee behavior that will help identify what is needed to motivate more buyers to attend face to face events. (This is the root of all our problems, in my opinion).
  2. Translate this information into a successful ad and PR campaign that touts the benefits of face to face meetings to both attendees and exhibitors. For more on this, see my op ed piece in the November 24 issue of Tradeshow Week. To access this article go to and click on "All is Not Well" white paper.
  3. Also represent our other generic, industry-wide interests such as lobbying and government affairs. For example, the visa problem has become a huge drag on international attendance.

I recommend that the Convention Industry Council (CIC) be this umbrella group because:

  1. CIC is the natural choice since it already has the backing of 30 industry groups ranging from the Air Transport Association of America to the Trade Show Exhibitors Association.
  2. CIC has a good reputation for accomplishing its missions (for example, APEX). As Meeting News recently said, " ... when people think about ways to get something done for the good of the industry, they think about calling CIC."
  3. CIC is generally considered to be neutral in the various turf wars and does not have an agenda of its own.
  4. CIC is already in Washington, DC where most trade associations are located.

However, CIC has never taken on heavy lifting like this so I would make the following improvements to beef it up:

  1. Change its name to the Face to Face Council (FFC) to better reflect its new direction and to attract more broad support, such as from those who only do conferences (eg, American Management Association).
  2. Replace its Board with strong individuals who directly organize or support trade shows and other events. The Chairman should be a real heavyweight who is respected throughout the industry (such as Gary Shapiro or Chuck Yuska).
  3. Appoint a Chief Marketing Officer who would be our outside spokesperson at such venues as the Lou Dobbs show on CNN or before the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Someone like Jason Chudnofsky.
  4. Add qualified staff in such areas as behavior studies, promotion & PR and lobbying/government affairs.

FFC would have a simple mission: influence and promote the greater participation in face to face events (particularly exhibitions and trade shows). And FFC would not hold any industry wide events nor be anything more than a trade association. The IAEM Annual Meeting each December should remain the primary gathering place for everyone in our industry.

How to finance such as beefed up FFC? Definitely not by taxing our exhibitors as the Voluntary Contribution Plan does. And not by asking Don Freeman for another $500,000 donation. Instead, all elements of this industry must come together to find a fair and equitable way to fund it. The organizers get the most benefit (on a profit basis) so I think the event producing associations and for profit firms should contribute at least half of the funds necessary. And everyone should be taxed at the same relative rate, based on an agreed upon formula. For more on this, see my white paper previously referenced.

This new streamlined umbrella group may very well cost the industy less overall than the mismash of individual efforts now going on. In my opinion too much is being done at cross purposes (for example, the four ad campaigns).

Some may argue that either IAEM or CEIR should be this umbrella group but I do not agree. I think IAEM has not succeeded in convincing the industry that they should represent the interests of non organizers. There are large and powerful segments who would not contribute if IAEM were put in charge. The same holds true for CEIR—their past efforts along these lines have not been successful. But I would recommend that we as an industry engage in a free and open debate that first discusses whether this umbrella group is needed; second, who should fill this role; and third, how to finance it.

Whether you agree or disagree with my suggestions, please contact the elected officials (not staff) of your various industry associations and urge them to start this debate at the principal level. (In my experience some association staff will opt for either the status quo or a few "small bore" fixes)

The clock is ticking and we need to fix The Machine very soon. Who will step up and put the interests of the industry ahead of themselves?

Michael Hough
860 677 5568

P.S. I expect some will question my motives for being so out front on this issue. But those who know me understand that what I truly want is to Fix The Machine!


Michael Hough is an industry consultant and author of The Profitable Trade Show ( He also co produces the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (

Copyright 2003 MRH Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.