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exhibiting 101

Candy Adams,
is an independent exhibit-management
consultant, trainer, speaker, writer, and an Exhibitor conference
faculty member.

ecently I planned an exhibit for a trade show that had a peculiar challenge - inadequate square footage to accommodate all the exhibitors on the show floor. How did this happen? Show management had signed the contract for that particular convention center many years ago, not anticipating the show's continued success and, as such, its steady growth.

Rather than turn people away, however, show management sought to accommodate the new exhibitors without taking too much away from existing ones. So it asked all past exhibitors to reduce their square footage by 10 percent to 20 percent. Furthermore, the number of aisles around the island exhibit spaces had been reduced, so all 20-by-20-foot and larger spaces turned into split-island (aka peninsula) footprints. Thus, every booth space shared at least one common lot line with another exhibitor.

This wasn't the first time I'd been assigned a "booth buddy"- another exhibitor with whom I'd have to share a common booth-space border. And experience has taught me that this space-scrunched scenario will present varying challenges based on the size of the exhibits sharing an island, the show's rules for space use, and its mandates for finishing the back of
exposed exhibits.

If you find yourself in this situation, instinct might lead you to put up a figurative fence. But with proactive planning and cooperation, neighboring exhibitors can become allies rather
than enemies. Here, then, is some advice to help you mend the fences and turn a not-so-great situation into a mutually beneficial relationship.

1. Contact Show Management
When it comes to space-usage rules, you're better off asking permission to do something before the show rather than groveling for forgiveness at the show (and then having to redesign your exhibit on the fly). Often, exhibits are designed in a bubble with no regard for what other companies' booths will look like. So when I know I'm going to have a booth buddy in an adjacent space, I start by contacting show management to find out answers to the following questions: What are the space-usage rules for the peninsula/split-island footprint? Will each exhibitor get full cubic usage of his or her area? Are there any additional rules that govern space usage, especially around the common border between the two peninsula booth spaces? Am I responsible for covering exposed areas of my exhibit with masking drape, or is that show management's responsibility?

After I get the answers to those questions, I request the contact information for the exhibit manager of the neighboring booth from show management. I make contact with him or her three to six months before the show, just to introduce myself. I also try to give him or her a heads up regarding my initial plans, and then set a date a few weeks down the road to follow up and verify the booth layout.

Whether you like it or not, your booth buddy's exhibit plans could have a direct effect on your plans, and vice versa. Case in point, here are just some of the scenarios I've encountered when it comes to sharing a split-island space:

 The unfinished back may end up facing your booth space. I've solved this problem by ensuring that my client's exhibit has an unfinished back, too, and then butting the two backs against each other.

 I once had a neighbor that wanted to hang his sign at the exact same height that I wanted to hang my sign. So we compromised: The neighbor hung his sign a smidge higher than mine so that his company's logo (but not the company name or tagline) was visible behind our sign from the entrance to the hall.

 You don't want your carpet to be too similar to your neighbor's carpet - it will likely cause confusion, as attendees may assume the two exhibits are one large exhibit (or two divisions within the same company). In one case, my client changed the color of his rental carpet to make the variation more noticeable.

 Electrical boxes have been the peskiest problems to resolve in advance. That's because your options for solving this problem depend on the amount of power required by each exhibit (which will dictate the size of the electrical box) and whether the venue's power is provided from floor ports or ceiling drops. For example, when you're running two island exhibits' power at a high-tech show, electricians generally want to drop a large, unsightly electrical power box - accompanied by yards of coiled cables and connectors - smack dab between the two booth spaces. In the past, I've hidden this box in a closet in my exhibit near a common lot line. I simply threaded my neighbor's electrical cables through wire-management holes in the closet walls.

2. Know the Rules
What you can and can't do with your exhibit space isn't solely (or entirely) dependent on what your neighbors are doing. In fact, show management will often rely on the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) Guidelines for Display Rules and Regulations, which provides recommendations for activities and elements that affect neighboring exhibitors. The guidelines include restrictions on the volume of music and microphones (85 decibels), the height of hanging signs (which varies by venue, based on ceiling height), and line-of-sight rules for linear exhibits (aka in-line booths, which are 8-by-10-foot or 10-by-10-foot spaces positioned side-by-side facing a common aisle).

In addition to specific rules regarding linear exhibits, the IAEE Guidelines also cover end-cap booths (two side-by-side linear booths on the end of two back-to-back rows of linear booths). For example, the maximum height of an exhibit back wall is 8 feet, while side walls and all other materials (counters, signage, etc.) cannot exceed 4 feet, so as not to obstruct sightlines of neighboring exhibitors. In other words, don't put tall stuff higher than 4 feet in the front half of your booth space that will block attendees from seeing what's in the booth next to you. If you do, your neighbors can lodge a complaint with show management, and you'll be forced to move those tall items to the back half of your exhibit.
However, if your exhibit design dictates that you have to put something tall in the front half of your booth space, consult your neighbor, as he or she might not mind. If neither of you complain to show management about the infraction, there isn't really a reason to enforce the rule.

3. Be a Good Neighbor
Cross-the-aisle neighbors can pose a separate set of problems with which you'll need to deal. Here's a sampling of common exhibit elements that need to be kept in check.

 Exhibit lighting is one of the areas that fall under most shows' regulations regarding "confines of your booth space." Basically, whatever you illuminate must remain inside the space you've rented and not encroach on the public aisles and/or neighboring exhibitors' booths. This means that any lighting, fixtures, trusses, and overhead lighting (such as gobos) needs to be directed at the inner confines of your booth space and not interfere with neighboring exhibits or public aisles.

 Using a scent machine sounds like a good idea in concept but can sometimes cause problems in execution, especially for scent-sensitive members of your neighbor's staff who are exposed for extended periods of time. Scent also has a way of wafting down the aisles, and one complaint from a nearby exhibitor can mean the end of your aroma.

 Instead of trying to talk over the top of the presentations being given in neighboring exhibits, work with your neighbors to vary your presentation start times. For example, if you know your neighbor's presentation schedule is on the hour, set yours for the half hour. And there's nothing wrong with promoting each other's presentations. It can be as simple as saying "There will be a presentation on XYZ starting in five minutes right across the aisle." In addition to timing, also note the frequency of your presentation microphones. If your mics are set to the same frequency as your neighbor's mics, you could have sound interference.

 Don't overlook the possibility of cross promotion to help drive traffic between your exhibit and your neighbors'. Case in point, I have a client who is known for having a coffee cart in his exhibit at a particular show. Prior to that show opening, one of the neighboring exhibitors contacted me and asked if it would be OK to distribute individually wrapped biscotti as a giveaway to attendees, playing off our coffee giveaway right across the aisle. When people came to the neighboring exhibit first, they were told not to miss the coffee across the aisle to go with their biscotti. It was a win-win promotional partnership.

Beyond those rather logistical considerations, it also pays to be friendly and lend a helping hand when needed. When I arrive at my booth space, I like to check out the neighbors and introduce myself. It's a great opportunity to offer assistance to those who may be new to the industry or show. It's also a good time to scope out the space and sidestep any potential problems. For example, let's say your neighbors are looking for a place to assemble a hanging sign and your freight hasn't yet arrived - you can offer to let them put the sign together in your space (as long as it won't impact your setup schedule).

Also, since there's a limited amount of room for freight in the aisles during setup and teardown, don't hog the space around your exhibit. And don't let the material handlers drop off your freight within your neighbors' booth spaces, as it will have to be moved (and probably at a cost to you) if it blocks their setup. You'll be surprised at how a little consideration can go a long way when it comes to space usage.

Regardless of the situations that arise with your neighbors, remember The Golden Rule: "Treat others the way you want to be treated," and the show floor will be a much more collaborative and far less confrontational place for us all.e

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