Late Adopters 11-1-2006

Why the biggest trade shows are hesitant to embrace tech innovations



Tech improvements needed:
The outdoor exhibits at

In the ideal world envisioned by purveyors of trade show technology, attendees would touch a computer or wireless device at practically every turn. Before the event, they would register online, plan their assault on the show floor online, make appointments with exhibitors online, and communicate with friends and like-minded attendees online.

Once on the floor, their badges would be scanned automatically, with lead-retrieval information being added to exhibitor databases without any human interference. Session participants would instantly be counted as they passed through the doors of the breakout rooms via RFID (radio frequency identification) readers strategically placed to scan their badges.

The show’s RFID badges also would allow attendees to exchange electronic business cards and find participants with similar interests, either business or personal.

All the myriad data gathered would be available to the host organization, the exhibitors and the buyers. Furthermore, that information could be parsed into any fathomable report the meeting planners might need to justify events, determine the popularity of various sessions, calculate ROI and more.

Sounds futuristic? The technology is readily available. Why, then, don’t the nation’s biggest shows use it to the fullest advantage? The following is a look at how technology has -- and hasn’t -- infiltrated some of the largest gatherings.


Last year, more than 124,300 people converged on the Las Vegas Convention Center to walk the 1.8 million-square-foot show floor packed with exciting new entries in the construction, construction materials and power transmission industries during the triennial CONEXPO-CON/AGG.

Staged by the Milwaukee-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers, CONEXPO uses Frederick, Md.-based Experient (formerly Conferon’s ExpoExchange) for registration and lead retrieval. The organization’s other large show -- the biennial International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition, at which 17,000 attendees will wander 1.25 million square feet of exhibits in Louisville, Ky., next year -- now buys similar services from CompuSystems International of Broadview, Ill.

But neither show offers much in the way of sophisticated badging or electronic social networking. The fly in the ointment for implementing some of the latest in RFID technologies? About half of CONEXPO’s and more than 65 percent of ICUEE’s exhibitors set up outdoors, and “RFID scanners don’t work well in rain or wind,” notes Megan Tanel, CONEXPO’s director and AEM’s director of exposition services.

Before the show. The organizers are just beginning to offer a show floor mapping tool, basically a virtual trade show listing for all exhibitors, provided by Cincinnati’s “It’s a way for exhibitors to get attendees to con-tact them pre-show to set up appoint-ments,” says Lynda Schmitz, registration manager-expositions for both shows.

Badges. Attendees use a paper badge and are issued a magnetic-stripe card that holds their demographic information. It is swiped at booths and in sessions.

Lead retrieval. Experient markets its products to exhibitors, offering ExpoCard Standard, a desktop unit that stores smartcard information and provides a printout; ExpoCard Mobile, a handheld device, which also provides a printout; ExpoCard Connect, where a PC in the booth connects to the exhibitor’s home office and builds a show database on the fly; and Expo Real-Timer, a wireless device that transmits leads to a password-
protected website. After the show, exhibitors get their leads on a flash drive.



Spotme users can
find each other
in a crowd.

At the Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ Global Education Conference in Atlanta in May, participants were invited to use handheld devices called Spotme from Lausanne, Switzerland-based Shockfish ( About half of the 1,290 attendees took advantage of the free technology -- after agreeing to pay $1,000 if they lost the device.

The upside? ACTE presenters could conduct audience surveys at any time, which helped steer at least one message at the conference. Earlier online polls had shown that direct members -- corporate travel managers -- felt a strong need to be prepared for a worldwide pandemic. At the show, however, a Spotme poll revealed that suppliers -- including hotels, airlines and travel management companies -- were not taking this possibility very seriously. ACTE reacted by emphasizing the need for preparedness among suppliers.

Other benefits for attendees included instant access to the meeting agenda, conference news and fellow participants. In theory, they could also ask the device to beep when people they wanted to meet were nearby, but many users asked to have that feature turned off, as they felt it invaded their privacy.

The downside? Many attendees said a standard BlackBerry was more useful, and they felt the $1,000 penalty for a lost device was rather stiff. For the organization, the instant polling was great, but it sometimes took a while -- up to 45 minutes -- to tabulate the results.

An association spokesperson says ACTE will consider using a similar service, depending on how such systems improve over the next few years.-- S.B.

Consumer Electronics Show


Full house:
The Consumer Electronics Show
draws the masses.

Consumer Electronics Show

Using the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Sands Expo and Convention Center, and exhibition space at the Venetian and the Las Vegas Hilton, the January 2006 show attracted 152,203 people who had to navigate more than 1.6 million square feet of show floor set up by more than 2,700 exhibiting companies.

Before the show. Introduced last year was MyCES, an online show planner from BDMetrics of Baltimore. Through MyCES, attendees can find exhibitors, products, sessions and other attendees, and can set up appointments.

One of the most interesting elements is the attendee justification report. After narrowing what they are looking for at the show, attendees review a report that lists the top 10 people they need to meet, the top 10 exhibitors they need to see, their peers’ top 10 search terms and more. The report is updated constantly.

Badges. Attendees carry just a paper badge and a magnetic-stripe card, used on the show floor and to monitor who is allowed into a session.

A small RFID experiment will take place in January at the next CES for the CE Platinum Club program. About 100 high-level attendees will use the RFID tags to access restricted areas, such as a special lounge and a VIP luncheon.

“Our long-term goal is to take RFID show-wide,” says Kelly Ricker, CMP, senior director of conferences for the CEA. “But it’s a logistical problem when you are producing a total of about 250,000 badges, and only 150,000 get used.”

Lead retrieval. As with CONEXPO, Experient markets all of its scanning devices to the CES’s exhibitors.

Social networking. Through MyCES, attendees can find each other and arrange to meet at the show. The system can match attendees with others who share the same job and expertise.

MAGIC Marketplace


Material world: Perusing fashion’s finest at the MAGIC Marketplace in August

MAGIC Marketplace

Using 1.1 million square feet of space at the Las Vegas Convention Center, this twice-yearly fashion show welcomed about 115,000 attendees from Aug. 28-31 to view pieces from 3,500 men’s, women’s and children’s apparel and accessories companies. Registration and lead retrieval are handled by ShowCare of Toronto.

Before the show. A full exhibitor listing is available online, with a sophisticated search tool allowing attendees to locate exhibitors based on brands and products, but digital interaction still is minimal. Online and during the Marketplace, Sourcing at MAGIC connects sourcing and supply-chain companies with product development, merchandising and design teams. Any matchmaking that occurs before the show, however, is handled by the event team. “They have a keen understanding of our exhibitor base,” says Chris McCabe, vice president and general manager of MAGIC International, based in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Badges. Paper with bar codes. “We have no current plans to use RFID,” says McCabe.

Lead retrieval. Exhibitors have a choice of ShowCare’s basic ShowLead, ShowLead Plus and ShowLead Mobile. All offer no-touch badge scanning and import capabilities to popular database programs. ShowLead Plus adds the ability to delineate sales action codes for quickly assigning sales reps to leads; Mobile comes with a handheld device with a note-taking element.

NAB 2006


Old-fashioned networking:
The National Association
of Broadcasters show


Using 806,000 square feet of exhibit space, this show, put on by the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Broadcasters, attracted 105,046 people to Las Vegas April 22-27, 2006.

Before the show. As with CES, BDMetrics provides personal show portals for attendees through the MyNABShow feature, for scheduling and networking purposes. Last year, BDMetrics took over the hosting of the exhibitor listing.

Badges. Paper and a mag-stripe card. “RFID is still pretty expensive,” says Justine McVaney, vice president of operations and customer relations for the association. She would like to implement RFID for gathering more information about who attends the 300-plus sessions.

Lead retrieval. Experient has been NAB’s provider for more than 10 years, marketing to the more than 1,400 exhibitors. “They’re challenged with a show like ours, where they need to offer options to small exhibitors and much larger ones,” says McVaney.

Social networking. MyNABShow works well to get attendees together. McVaney calls the service the product/people/session locator. However, only about 60 percent of the participants use it. “The average attendee uses our website to find exhibitors and uses the floor plan to map where they’re going,” says McVaney. “The above-average attendee is going to use MyNABShow to justify going to the event. It also helps them find the needle in the haystack and use their time wisely.”

After the show, the NAB analyzes BDMetrics’ data to refine the demographic questions that are asked of potential attendees. “We’ll note how many people looked for a certain exhibitor, or that we had so many people with a certain job description,” explains McVaney. “That shows us we need more products or exhibitors for that group for next year’s show.”