ictures are allegedly worth a thousand words, but sometimes I wonder if they're worth all the hassle. Obtaining a press pass and photo credentials for a trade show is almost as complex a process as applying for a work visa. Once issued, that press pass generally grants one the right to shoot photos and videos on the show floor.
At some events, show management requires that I ask each exhibitor for permission before taking any photos of their booths. Still other shows are even stricter. Several years ago, I saw a sign at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) informing visitors that cameras were not allowed on the show floor at all, and that bags were subject to search by the show's security staff. Four days later, I had yet to see a single bag get searched. I was, however, stopped by a half-dozen security guards who used their walkie-talkies to confirm that my press badge doubled as a permit to carry my camera onto the show floor. Some of the more aggressive guards practically tackled me to the ground as if my Canon digital camera was an actual cannon, fully loaded, fuse lit.
Additionally, I have experienced push back from individual exhibitors: I was shoved against a wall at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show when I tried to take a photo of a lounge. And a gentleman at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair made me blush with the expletives he shouted after I took a photo of his company's offerings without his permission.
Since it's not my goal in life to upset anyone (or incur bodily harm), I now ask permission from exhibitors regardless of the show's photography policy. So you can imagine my surprise at a recent show when I approached a staffer for permission to take a photo, and he responded by charging at me from the back of his 10-by-20-foot booth and threatening to alert show management. I politely responded that I was with the press, and had confirmed my permission to take photos with a liaison in the press room. But he was having none of it.
Don't get me wrong. I understand and respect why some exhibitors are reluctant to allow attendees and members of the media to photograph product displays. At CES, several exhibitors place no-photography placards near certain displays, usually featuring emerging technologies or cutting-edge products. Similarly, at the biannual Magic Market Week, many exhibitors construct partially enclosed exhibits, hiding their upcoming lines from camera-carrying looky loos.
But this particular exhibitor wasn't displaying any high-tech equipment or new-fangled technology. And the element of the exhibit I was asking to photograph had nothing to do with the company's products (coffee beans). I asked to take a picture of the colorful dye-sublimated flooring that made the otherwise forgettable booth stand out amid aisles of other exhibits.
In today's high-tech world, people can take high-resolution images with everything from an iPhone to a pen camera. If people are truly committed to corporate espionage, they are likely going to get their shot in a much more clandestine manner than carrying a 5-pound Canon around their neck. So try not to treat well-meaning journalists like Russian spies.
Most exhibitors are at the show to increase awareness of their brands and products. Members of the press are your allies – not your enemies – in that effort. If there's anything on display you don't want the general public to see, inform passersby (and the press) of your no-photos policy in a respectful and, well, humane manner. If your products are particularly top secret, consider an enclosed, VIP-only display area. Otherwise, look at the big picture, and grant the journalist permission to take a few photos. The resulting exposure just might be worth a thousand words.