3 Ways to Keep Exhibitors Happy

There are things show managers are “supposed” to do—keep the lines short, make sure exhibitors are happy, etc. But there are certain shows and show managers who don’t follow those rules and are still successful. How do they do it?

Lance Fensterman knows how; he throws out all the “supposed to” but one—it’s all about the attendees. Fensterman is the global vice president for ReedPOP, the Reed Exhibitions division that produces Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East, and he grounds everything he does in the premise that there is no show if nobody comes.

“Oftentimes we end up building things for us, as an organizer,” he says. “What is most convenient for us, not for the community we’re trying to serve. You want people bought-in and believing.”

These are some of Fensterman’s essentials:

• Build a community

“It’s ultimately about finding passionate people.”

Every show creates a temporary community. Finding and staying in touch with those people excited about the show (be it pharmaceutical manufacturing or home construction) is as simple as knowing your attendees. The PAX East attendees stay in touch through the online forums on the Penny Arcade web site and Twitter, so staff members engage the fans there. Once you know your attendee preferences for communication mode, social media and other ways they stay in touch, become a part of that community. And stay in touch in order to….

• Listen, listen, listen

“I ask fans what they want. They tell. Then I go build it. It’s not rocket science. But you’ve got to be able to listen and listen empathetically about what a community is seeking or wanting.”

In the case of PAX East, the attendees are gamers who wanted shorter lines. They’re willing to stand in line for something like being the first to demo a game, but the line jumping and being turned away by an exhibitor after standing in line were so very not cool. So PAX required exhibitors to design booth space to allow for clean lines and have a system for managing those lines. Because the attendees were happy, exhibitors were OK with the extra requirements.

• Know what you’re investing in

“When you think about genuine connection with the community—the power of passion behind your brand—you can’t put a dollar amount on that if you’re looking at the long term.”

Having attendees involved in the show gives them a sense of ownership, whether it’s a job on the showfloor or doing prep. Money spent on activities that build that connection is more than a line item in the budget. PAX East has paid volunteers called “Enforcers.” These are fans who commit to learning and doing a job during the show, so fewer Reed staff are needed. The cost of the annual party, hotel rooms and other related expenses might be reduced with a cheaper labor force, but that’s just money. “(We’d) lose what it is that make the business great, which is that community,” Fensterman says.

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