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


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 fishing."

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 possible.

#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:

  • Promoting to everyone and anyone who would be interested in the products/services displayed in the exhibit hall.

  • Having a special price (or no price) for those who just want to visit the exhibit.

# 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:

  • Price your exhibit space at what your show is worth. This is what competing shows charge, but it could be more if you provide more value.

  • 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 site, etc.

  • 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.

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Michael Hough is an industry consultant and author of The Profitable Trade Show. He welcomes discussion on this topic at

This article will appeared in the October, 2001 issue of Convene