Five Mistakes Associations Make
by Michael R. Hough
Most associations run very professional exhibitions at their
conventions, but some make fundamental mistakes that result in
a less successful event for everyone. This could mean that less
revenue drops to the bottom line or that the attendees do not
get the maximum benefit from the convention or that exhibitors
are dissatisfied and decide not to support the association in
the future (or all the above).
Here are five mistakes and what you can do to avoid them:
#1 – Poor Venue Selection
Too often the location for the convention is not chosen based
on logical, business-related criteria. Sometimes it depends on
the enthusiasm of the local chapter or on a mistaken idea of which
destination will draw attendees. In extreme cases the choice is
made for frivolous reasons, such as the Chairman’s spouse saying,
"Let’s go to East Overshoe because I hear they have great trout
Venue selection should be based on whether the location will
attract enough qualified attendees because that is what is needed
to satisfy the exhibitors who typically contribute 80% of the
revenue for the convention. Also, the staff needs a free rein
so that venues will compete to give the association the best deal
#2 – Ignoring Attendance Promotion Opportunities
It is a mistake to limit attendance to just members of the association.
In most cases the exhibit at the convention will interest certain
non members such as allied professionals not qualified for membership
or those qualified but who have not yet joined. It is beneficial
to have these additional bodies on the floor because it will please
the exhibitors plus some of them may decide to join the association.
Thus, the association should have policies that encourage exhibits-only
attendance, such as:
# 3 - Poor Conference Marketing
In many associations the separate education department is responsible
for producing the conference at the convention. The idea is these
folks know what the members want to learn.
Too often, however, this approach results in
Esoteric topics that do not attract enough attendees. Suggestion:
At least half the topics should be of the "real world"
which help attendees solve everyday problems.
Topic titles and descriptions that do not "sell" the sessions.
Suggestion: Use titles that reflect the dynamic nature
of the topic ("E-business: friend or foe?") and descriptions
that motivate prospects to sign up ("you will learn how to
#4 – Lack of Focus on the Bottom Line
Associations may be "non profit" but that does not mean they
should be "no profit." They ought to strive to return as much
revenue as possible to the bottom line because that will insure
they can best serve their members. Some thoughts:
Tap other revenue sources such as sponsorships. Most exhibitors
are eager to gain greater exposure to your attendees. Accommodate
them by offering appropriate sponsorships such as banners,
badge necklaces, internet café, tote bag, press room, web
Don’t spend money "gilding the lily." One example is the
association that spent a lot of money draping a 35-foot wall
along the entire periphery of the exhibit hall. This was completely
unnecessary because the wall was smooth concrete.
#5 – Dearth of Exhibit Hall Traffic
As we have said, exhibitors typically contribute 80% of the revenue
so their needs should be given major attention. One consideration
-- be sure your policies maximize traffic flow on the exhibit
floor, including these steps:
Set aside exclusive show hours when nothing else is happening,
such as 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. But do not choose unpopular
off hours, such as 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. on Sunday.
Put lots of events on the floor, such as free conference
sessions, product demonstrations, food functions (free lunch,
reception) interactive games (such as golf or a treasure hunt),
book signings, poster sessions, etc. Be sure these are spread
around to get people to all areas of the floor.
Enlist the conference speakers to tout what is on the floor.
For example, a speaker could say, "I encourage you to visit
Exhibitors A, B, and C who are all showing an application
of what I just discussed."
In conclusion, associations should apply the same professional
management principles to their exhibition as they do to all other
aspects of their association.
* * *
Michael Hough is an industry consultant and author
of The Profitable Trade Show. He welcomes discussion on this topic
This article will appeared in the October, 2001 issue