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exhibiting 101

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

ne of the most confusing aspects of the exhibiting industry is deciphering the various contractors on the trade show floor, the roles they play, the people who hire and pay them, and the ways in which they interact with each other. The sheer number (and similarity) of names almost guarantees confusion, even to industry veterans. Adding to the befuddlement, some contractors are known by different names, depending on the venue. For exhibit-industry rookies, the slew of trade show contractors is downright overwhelming.

Making matters worse, many of the relationships between these contractors change from show to show, city to city, and venue to venue. So to help you determine who's who in the confusing world of exhibit-industry contractors, I've drafted an org chart of sorts that defines the roles of the show organizer, show manager, and each of the four major contractors.

Show Organizer

The show organizer is at the top of the org chart. This can be a company, person, association, or sponsor who decides that there should be a trade show and makes the executive and financial decisions regarding the show's strategy, such as identifying the target audience, the types of businesses that the audience wants to buy from (aka the exhibitors), the time and place that the trade show will be held, and whether or not it will have a conference component.

Depending on the show organizer's business model, it may use internal staff to manage the various aspects of an event. The staff would negotiate contracts with all of the contractors ultimately supplying exhibitors with products and services unless delegated to the show manager.

Show Manager

If the show organizer decides it doesn't want hands-on management responsibilities for its trade show, it may outsource it to another company. This company is called a show manager, and oversees the functions of the conference and/or exhibition.

The show manager might handle show planning and execution functions internally. In this case, it's generally responsible for sending requests for proposals, determining the agreement terms with the show's contractors, and negotiating and signing contracts. Or, depending on the size of the show-management staff, it too might outsource the management of some functions such as housing, registration/badging, general security, and even conference content and speakers.

General Services Contractor

The GSC is also known as a general contractor or official general contractor, and is contracted by the show organizer or show manager. Through a negotiation process that determines the services and associated costs required by show management and its exhibitors, the GSC contracts and accepts the responsibility of physical setup and teardown of the trade show.

The GSC's duties include, but are not limited to, inspecting the trade show site for planning purposes; preparing numerous versions of the show-floor layout and exhibit placement; getting approval of all floor plans from the venue's fire marshal; generating the exhibitor services manual (aka the exhibitor kit); managing freight sent through the advance warehouse, marshaling yard, and freight docks during move in and move out; storage of empty crates and cartons during the show; hiring and managing the labor force; printing and placing informational and sponsorship signage throughout the venue; hanging the pipe and drape for in-line exhibits; and vacuuming aisle and booth carpet.

Some of the functions provided by the GSC are considered exclusive, meaning only the GSC can perform them for exhibitors, such as material handling and rigging. But GSCs have limitations on what they can do, too, since the venue might hold its own contracts with vendors, and there are specialties that GSCs don't provide. For example, some venues dictate that only their in-house service can provide security, offer computer rentals, etc. These duties are contracted to an EAC, except when the venue has an "exclusivity" clause in its contract.

Exclusive Contractor

Named in the venue or GSC contract, exclusive contractors are vendors that the exhibitor has no choice in selecting. For example, the contract that the show organizer or show manager signs with the GSC ensures it has sole control of the material handling, including the marshaling yard and docks. Generally, exclusive contractors at a show are those vendors whose products and services deal with the physical infrastructure of the show facility, such as electrical, plumbing, compressed air and gas, telecommunications, wireless and wired Internet, and even catering.

In an effort to enhance the facility's revenue stream by generating lucrative profit-sharing relationships, some convention facilities have named exclusive contractors for services that have not typically been "exclusive," such as audiovisual rentals, security, and floor cleaning. This practice not only restricts the exhibitor's ability to use the vendor(s) of its choice, but also hikes the exhibitor's costs thanks to a markup percentage the service provider then shares with the facility.

Official Contractor

If you look through the exhibitor services manual for a given show, you'll find a number of product and service offerings for exhibitors other than those provided by the GSC and show venue. These contractors are known as official contractors - a group of suppliers designated by the show organizer or GSC as the preferred provider of a given service. They are also referred to as subcontractors or specialty subcontractors.

Official contractors may include common carriers or specialized shippers, customs brokers, custom rental-furniture companies, rental-exhibit companies (if exhibit rental is not provided by the GSC), plant and floral providers, computer- and AV-rental companies, and in-booth security providers. The show organizer or show manager usually hires three specialty subcontractors at most shows: the registration company that manages exhibitor/attendee data and generates show badges, the lead-retrieval system provider that has to be able to read what is encoded on the badges, and the security company that monitors access to the exhibit hall.

As part of an agreement with whoever is negotiating the contract (the show organizer or general contractor), official contractors get to place brochures and service-order forms in the exhibitor service manual, and have an onsite service desk for fulfilling orders during the show. They also receive the exhibitor contact list, which they use to market their services to exhibitors. So it might seem as though you must use these contractors, but this is not the case. In exchange for the official status and exhibitor list, these contractors often have rebate agreements to split their profits and/or offer discounted or complimentary services to the show organizer or general contractor.

Exhibitor-Appointed Contractors

As a general definition, an exhibitor-appointed contractor (EAC) is any subcontractor selected and used by the exhibitor other than the GSC or official contractors in the exhibitor services manual. Exhibitors are allowed to choose the vendor they want to perform nonexclusive services or rent nonexclusive products at the show.

EACs are also called independent contractors, nonofficial contractors and indies, and at health-care shows, they are known as exhibitor-designated contractors (EDCs).

If you choose to use an EAC rather than the GSC or official contractor, you generally must complete and submit the exhibitor portion of the EAC form in your exhibitor services manual. The form notifies show management of your intent to use the products or services of an EAC. The EAC form has one of the earliest deadlines of any form in the exhibitor services manual - usually 30 to 60 days prior to show opening. And there is rarely any leeway if this deadline is missed. The EAC must then submit a certificate of insurance for liability and workers' compensation in the amount mandated, which also names the venue, the show organizer, the show manager, and the general services contractor as additional insured parties. If an EAC appears at the show site without having this insurance documentation on file, it may be turned away.

Many of the products and services you can secure through an EAC are also available through the GSC or an official contractor. Before deciding which route to take, get comparative quotes and line-item costs for the products and/or services you need. Remember to add in shipping, delivery, and administrative fees; material-handling costs (including the per-pound minimum charges and marshaling-yard fees); and onsite personnel costs for I&D. Some of these fees are included or may be waived if you're using the official contractor.

Understanding the responsibilities and working relationships among show organizers, show managers, GSCs, exclusive contractors, official contractors, and EACs can not only save you time and frustration, but also increase your options when it comes to hiring the vendors that are the best fit for the job at hand.e

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