November 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions - On Campus - November 2000

Current Issue
November 2000
Side Shows

How to be sure all those ancillary events add value to the main act

By Sarah J.F. Braley

  The 25,000 attendees of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology won’t have a minute of downtime for three days. With luck, they might be able to block out the hours between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. for sleep. Why? About 1,000 peripheral events take place during off-hours, after the jam-packed educational program and the 8,000-exhibitor trade show.

These are the “in conjunction with” events or ICWs that allow various exhibitors, alumni organizations, subspecialty societies and related associations to take advantage of the fact that so many people from their industry have already gathered in one place. For trade show organizers, these events create a chain of goodwill. The sanctioning of dinners, cocktail parties, reunions, sales meetings, press conferences and other peripheral happenings adds value to the conference.

More than 1,500 colleges open their facilities to groups, says Michele Nichols, publisher of the annual Guide to Unique Venues (Amarc; Minturn, Colo.; $39.95). Cancellation and attrition fees often are lower at universities than at typical hotels and conference centers, she adds. For low-cost entertainment, both town and gown offer possibilities. Most college towns feature venues and recreation options that cater to the budget-minded student population.

At the AAO’s annual meeting last month in Dallas, “We had a lot going on,” says Debra Rosencrance, vice president of meetings and exhibits for the San Francisco-based organization. Rosencrance notes that because of managed care, ophthalmologists have experienced declines in reimbursements and income; as a result, many doctors have become more selective about which shows they pay to attend. “So having all these extra events makes ours the meeting to come to,” she says.

In fact, after-hours networking is a primary reason many professionals attend a conference, points out Jim Daggett, CMP, of the Chicago-based meetings consulting firm JRDaggett & Associates. “They might see these activities as just as attractive as the education.”

The money flow
Whether a trade show welcomes one or 1,000 peripheral events, it behooves the meeting planner to track, as closely as possible, how much money is being spent. Being able to prove that your convention brought in $500,000 extra can help in next year’s negotiations. This data also can help convince a city that yours is the meeting they want to welcome over another.

Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to compile these figures. Rosencrance knows she can use her annual meeting’s 1,000 ICWs as a negotiating point but finds it daunting to determine a sum total for related expenditures. “It’s becoming more important to know the entire economic impact of the meeting,” she stresses. “I think we are underestimated.”

Hotels can help tally the numbers. Each year at Medical Design and Manufacturing West, held in Anaheim, Calif., eight to 12 exhibitors host peripheral events at one of the 10 hotels in the room block. To find out how much is spent on these events, Roger White of Canon Communications LLC, which organizes MD&M and its co-located shows, Pacific Design & Manufacturing and PLASTEC, includes a clause in his hotel contracts that requires a complete rundown of ancillary revenue in the post-convention report.

“We keep track of the events because they can add tens of thousands of dollars of revenue at the hotels,” says White, the trade show division’s operations manager from Canon’s Los Angeles headquarters. “It makes our account look more lucrative.” For those who worry that a hotel is not revealing everything, White suggests going one step further and talking to the people who held each ancillary event to confirm the total dollars spent.

Adds Daggett, “If we track these events properly, they should be considered part of the meeting spend. People hosting these events tend to spend tremendous amounts of money.”

Another significant money-saver: With so much going on elsewhere, the hosts don’t have to entertain the troops. At Lighting Dimensions International, an exhibition featuring manufacturers of entertainment lighting, staging and other elements that go into producing live events, companies often host parties at clubs where they installed the lighting and sound systems.

Mike Doolittle, sales manager for show owners Intertec Exhibitions in Denver, says ICWs take pressure off the show organizer. “When we try to team up with a manufacturer to have a party, budget constraints can scuttle it,” he notes. “The manufacturer, on its own, invites only a segment of the attendees; we would have to invite the entire attendee list.”

Taking control
While show organizers generally encourage ICWs, remember it is not a free-for-all. Planners need to know what is happening and when so they can compile a comprehensive schedule and inform attendees where each event is taking place. Often, convention organizers also help coordinate ground transportation for the various happenings around the city.

“The planner needs to stay involved,” says consultant Daggett, “making sure all the buses are in the correct place and that everyone gets on the right bus. The attendee is still our responsibility, whether the event is planned by us or not.”

Gathering the information also allows organizers to keep ICWs from stepping on each others’ toes. At A/E/C Systems, a show attended by about 16,000 architects, engineers and contractors, small receptions may take place at the same time, but overlap with larger events is discouraged. Show co-founder Michael Hough of MRH Associates in Avon, Conn., tells exhibitors when their party is going to compete with another event. “We want them to benefit from this, so they’re happy,” he says. “The next year we want them to come back, and we want people to say, ‘Hey, that was a great party.’”

Crowded house: Exhibitors plan events to coincide with MD&M. The largest annual gathering of NeoCon, held in Chicago, welcomes about 1,200 exhibitors and up to 60,000 design-industry professionals. Hundreds of outside events are held at showrooms, jazz bars and posh hotels. “We try to organize all these entities and promote them as much as possible,” says Mark Falanga, vice president of business development for Chicago’s Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., which owns the five NeoCon shows.

Someone from MMPI is in attendance at all events connected to the show. “We want to make sure these events are appropriate,” says Falanga. “Then we will make suggestions how they can be improved next time. We help with catering, promotion, selling tickets, anything to make the overall show a success.”

Open-door policy?
The one debate among trade show organizers on ICWs is whether to keep a tight rein on who is allowed to hold one, penalizing those who don’t conform to the rules, or if it makes sense to open up the doors and let anyone host a peripheral event, even if they are not exhibitors or do not go through the proper channels to make arrangements.

Organizers who want to exert a measure of control usually start by blocking all meeting rooms at the host hotels and then assigning space as the requests come in. If someone tries to book space through one of the hotels, the property is instructed to notify the show organizer. “If we find out that any exhibitors have booked around us,” says Rosencrance of the AAO, “we take away some of their priority points. But generally people will make the changes necessary to comply with the rules.”

Furniture fashions: Jhane Barnes textiles modeled during NeoCon Also, exhibitors who host parties without the show organizer’s knowledge run the risk of angering their colleagues, who are likely to voice their displeasure. “We get word from people within the industry if someone is trying to skirt the rules,” says Stuart Aizenberg, director of trade shows for the National Automatic Merchandising Association, which holds two annual shows for vending and food-service companies. “They get invited to an event in a hotel suite, then they blow the whistle.”

On the flip side, trade show consultant Sam Lippman is in favor of eliminating penalties and welcoming all events held by exhibitors and nonexhibitors alike.

“I’ve always felt that the more events that take place, the better it is for the buyer and the show,” says Lippman, president of Arlington, Va.-based Integrated Show Management & Marketing. “If you punish major manufacturers who want to set up in a hotel, the next year, when they have a new product or need a new channel of distribution, how are they going to think of you as a show organizer?”

NeoCon is run under this inclusive philosophy. Falanga says the show’s management is very permissive, embracing events that some in the industry might consider competitive. “If it ultimately makes sense to the exhibitor, it makes sense to us,” he says. “If someone does something inappropriate, the market will be the best indication as to how it works with the whole event. Let the market decide.”

Treat Them Right
Margot D. van BlackThe huge construction trade show CONEXPO/CONAGG, held every three years in Las Vegas, encourages related associations to hold their meetings in conjunction with the larger event. During the 2002 show, expected to attract 135,000 attendees, eight organizations will convene. Here are some extras CONEXPO/CONAGG offers those associations, according to Margot D. van Black, director of exposition services and operations.

First dibs on hotel space. “Because the association conventions are so important to us, we try to get them to finalize their contracts before we do,” van Black says. “We want to make sure they have adequate meeting space and sleeping rooms.” She also tries to secure the same rates and deposit requirements for all, for consistency’s sake.

Input on education. The associations each have a representative on the show’s education committee. “They work with the show to develop topics for their attendees, so our education programs complement their convention seminars,” says van Black.

Online support. The associations’ convention schedules are on CONEXPO/CONAGG’s Web site, and links are provided to the associations’ sites.

Housing help. Van Black keeps tabs on the other associations’ housing blocks. “If they are having problems filling rooms and are worried about attrition, we will offer rooms [from their block] to other attendees,” she says. “Or, if they don’t have enough rooms, we will try to offer some from our block.”


Policy Statement
Where does your organization stand regarding peripheral, or “in conjunction with,” events? Not only should a policy be expressed in writing, it should be published in exhibitor packages, e-mail bulletins and any other relevant conference materials.

image“Do whatever you can to overcommunicate, and make it perfectly clear what the rules and regulations are,” says Jim Daggett, CMP, of Chicago-based JRDaggett & Associates, a meetings management consulting firm. Be sure to include the following points.

Spell out your policy on who can hold ICW events. Must they be exhibitors or registered conference attendees?

Indicate how much space the host organization has blocked for ICWs in the convention center and area hotels. State the proper procedure for reserving space, and give a timetable for signing up for the space.

Specify when ICWs are allowed to take place. Generally, no ancillary events are permitted during show hours; exceptions occasionally will be made for big-ticket exhibitors.

State the penalty, if applicable, for those who hold ICWs during show hours without the permission of the host organization or without also exhibiting on the show floor.

Track the dollars. Require hotels to include all related events in post- convention reports. As a back-up, require those who hold ICWs to share spending figures with the organization for use in future negotiations.


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