Exhibitors Speak Out: Listen Up

June 3, 2021

Dana Freker Doody

Dana Freker Doody is a 20-year devotee to trade shows, events and communities. She recently became Vice President of Marketing and Communications at JUNO, the service leader among virtual and hybrid event platforms, where unlimited exhibitor engagement suites are included at no charge and 365-day engagement is a reality.

As business event and trade show professionals grapple with the decisions surrounding virtual, in-person or hybrid, exhibitor dissatisfaction may tip the scales. That is problematic.

Exhibitor dissatisfaction cannot be assumed to be a byproduct of virtual in and of itself. Exhibitor dissatisfaction may in fact be the direct result of organizers who have not aligned the event experience with exhibitor needs and with exhibitors who have not calibrated their measurement to this new environment.

I’ve been an exhibitor and supported exhibitor service for 20 years. I know the push-pull inherent in the trade show space. “Well, the exhibitor did not do X properly,” says the organizer, smarting from exhibitor complaints about return on investment. “Well, the organizer did not deliver enough leads to the floor,” says the exhibitor struggling to advance deals.

Those complaints just shifted into the virtual realm, because organizers still control the audience and exhibitors still control their assigned space. Except in virtual, the exhibitors often control even less because of technology decisions made by organizers. Experience design of virtual events may have stymied exhibitors before they even got rolling. And yes, data on lead progress and measurement has been lacking on both sides. 

Exhibitors in a broad Ascend Media study shared some major pain points recently published on LinkedIn. It’s feedback worth digging into, and worth digging into EARLY in experience design, not late. It’s worth elevating these ideas to a strategic planning level and finding solutions for the stakeholders that financially support your events.

Let’s address these top 10 voiced concerns in a series of posts that outline solutions for supporting exhibitors in a virtual environment, distilled into four big ideas.

The Four Big Ideas for Exhibitor Satisfaction

  • Help Us Engage
  • Don’t Hinder Efforts
  • Teach the Tech
  • Make Good Choices

Up First: Help Us Engage

What exhibitors told Ascend Media:

“Associations must do more to assist us in getting engagement with attendees. We are getting almost no return on our investment.”

“Let exhibitors present education during dedicated times where no other education is happening. And allow us to participate more in breakouts and panel discussions.”

What to do about it:

Several ideas can be enacted to support engagement between exhibitors and attendees, just like there are several ways to do this on-site. First and foremost, be intentional about supporting engagement. When the desire to help exhibitors engage is there across an association’s cross-functional leadership, and particularly when boards of directors understand the value of exhibitors, choices can be made to raise value for these revenue partners. An Evolio study showed the top desire for virtual exhibitors was speaking slots, a prominence even higher than it usually is for exhibitor studies.

From there, it makes sense to put exhibitors on the program in the form of roundtable discussion leaders, dedicated product demo sessions and moderators for content and social times. Another big way to help exhibitors engage is to choose a robust end-to-end technology platform. You should be able to offer:

  • Dedicated engagement suites with interactive content options
  • Upload and change capabilities so exhibitors control their content
  • Buyer-Seller matchmaking capabilities driven by AI
  • Included scheduling of one-on-one meetings
  • Immediate text and video chat between exhibitors and attendees
  • Real-time data on visit, clicks, content success and meetings

The push-pull of exhibitor-attendee-organizer needs is an ages-old discussion. In this era of digital transformation, it is necessary to rethink mindsets and tactics for how to deliver value to stakeholders. Technology can and should support strategic event and trade show design as well as long-term engagement strategies.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.