Roberts has more than 30 years of experience in the field of business data processing, systems analysis, technical support, and project management. He has more than 23 years experience in trade show and meeting registration management. His knowledgebase with regard to registration processes (from Internet registration to onsite registration) along with lead retrieval technologies including his patent pending RFID technology, It's All in the Badge tm, makes him a leader in the field of trade show registration and exhibitor lead management.
From Sara in Burbank, CA on 1/14/2009
Q. For a free event, is there a percentage of registrants that I can expect to attend? Do you have any recommendations for optimizing the actual attendance rate?
A. Answered on 1/27/2009.
We’ve done events where anywhere from 10 percent to well over 60 percent of the pre-registrants showed up. However, this typically depends on the market segment you’re targeting. Without knowing what type of event we're talking about, here are some general techniques for boosting attendance:
- Offer a free gas card to the first 100 people who show up.
- Enter all attendees who show up into a drawing to be held every hour. You could give away anything from dinner tickets to some of the products your exhibitors provide. This will also give your exhibitors more exposure.
- Offer a lotto scratcher to the first (whatever number you determine) people who show up.
- Another “high-tech” incentive is to offer some sort of professional social networking vehicle, so attendees can “connect” to discuss shared interests and business opportunities. SMART-reg offers a system like this called “SMART-Connect”. Ask your registration provider if they offer something similar. There are also a few third-party providers such as NGN or BD Metrics.
From John in Las Vegas, NV on 1/13/2009
Q. I have two shows that will be co-locating with some attendance crossover. What’s the best way to simplify our registration process for both events?
A. Answered on 1/13/2009.
You’re not alone. With the uncertain economic times and cutbacks ahead, there will be an increased number of shows that will co-locate to increase attendance. Your overall goal should be to have the attendee supply his or her contact information only once.
If both shows are produced by the same company and both registration areas are located near each other or can be linked via a network, the solution is easy: utilize the services of one registration company. I’ve done this in the past and it shouldn’t be a problem for any registration company.
However, if both registration areas are located near each other or can be linked via a network, but there are two different show organizers, the ideal solution is to have both show organizers use the same registration company.
Unfortunately, in the real world this isn’t always possible. When there are two different show organizers using two different registration companies, it requires some cooperation. As long as both registration companies utilize a badge with some sort of sophisticated lead retrieval technology, the implementation should be simple. Each registration company will need to provide the other with one of their lead retrieval units. As an attendee tries to enter the other show, he presents his badge, it’s read by the other company’s reader and the output is “piped” into the registration system, producing a badge for that show.
We’ve done this with one of our fellow registration providers. At first there was the usual huffing and puffing, but come show time, it worked like a charm. We both were able to keep our clients very happy.
From Eric in Orlando, FL on 4/24/2008
Q. Can you recommend a software progam that can take a database in Excel and produce name badges with a 2D barcode?
A. Answered on 5/27/2008.
I’d recommend a product called BarTender by Seagull Scientific (www.seagullscientific.com). I’ve been using it for years, and recently purchased the latest version. The company offers a number of flavors, but I’d say that the best all-around version is the Professional Version, which has a street price of less than $385.
Certified for Windows 2000, 2000 Server, 2003 Server, XP and Vista, it works with nearly all databases including Oracle and SAP, as well as its own prompted data entry screens, and can be integrated into your own software solution. It even supports 20 languages and works with virtually any printer. In fact, I found that its Windows Printer Driver had more functions and features than the one supplied with my Zebra label printer. The software can print any type of bar code and also works with RFID label printers.
From Anne in Rockville, MD on 6/6/2007
Q. We are exploring the possibility of purchasing a lead retrieval system that we can use at all the meetings we attend in lieu of renting systems. Can you provide any guidance on this issue?
A. Answered on 6/28/2007.
This approach can save you a bunch of money and provide an excellent return on your investment, depending on how many shows you exhibit in each year.
A quick proforma: some of these general purpose lead retrieval systems can cost as much as $5,000. These systems give you the ability to read non-RFID technologies such as MagStrip and 2-D Bar codes (providing they’re not encrypted). At an average rental fee of $240, it would take you 21 rentals to break-even.
There are a number of vendors that offer these systems. The grand-daddy of them all that has been around as long as I can remember is NewLeads (www.newleads.com), while a fairly new kid on the block, Lead Wizard (www.leadwizard), is worth looking at. Another option is to use Card Scan (www.cardscan.com), which incorporates a business card scanner. OCR technology has attained such a high level of accuracy that this product will amaze you.
From erin in arlington, VA on 4/10/2007
Q. I'm looking for a lead retrieval tool that will assist us in tracking attendance at the various workshops that we offer at our conferences. This will be used to issue CE credits to the attendees. It also needs to integrate with our in-house database, imis. What would you recommend?
A. Answered on 5/21/2007.
Here are four recommendations for you. I feel the third recommendation is the best, and the fourth will bring it all home (import it back to iMIS).
1. You definitely want to incorporate a portable database technology into your lead-retrieval medium. 1-D bar codes can’t do this, but 2-D, MagCards and RFID can accomplish this for you.
2. 2-D bar codes and MagCards can track who attends various sessions, including full attendee contact information saved with date and time into most of the lead-capture devices offered today. These two technologies can’t effectively be used to authenticate if an attendee is really signed up for a particular session.
3. RFID is the only technology that can do it all, depending on which implementation of RFID you utilize. Long-range RFID is essentially a “flying 1-D bar code” with very little information storage capability. On the other hand, short-range RFID can hold up to 1,000 characters of information. This can be used to record which sessions, events and meal functions an attendee is signed up for. One implementation of short-range RFID can also re-write the badge and mark-off sessions as being used. This will prevent anyone from sneaking into an event with a friend’s badge.
4. I found a company, Association Technology Solutions, which has developed an iMIS meetings importer tool that will allow you to take your on-site registration data, which should also incorporate your session information and import it directly into iMIS. I’m so excited about this tool that I’m recommending it to all my clients who have iMIS. One of my clients wants to buy this product to solve the question of the decade: “How do I get the data back into iMIS?” Please check back in a few weeks, and I’ll provide some additional details from my client once he starts using the product.
From eric in los Angeles, CA on 5/10/2007
Q. What is the actual size of trade shows in the US and how many of them use lead retrieval devices in their shows? Also, what percentage of these use RF or RFID technology?
A. Answered on 5/21/2007.
There are more than 14,000 trade shows that take place in North America alone. This does include Canada and Mexico, which could account for 4,000 shows.
More than 50 percent of those shows hire a registration company for registration services and lead-retrieval services. Another 20 percent hire a lead-retrieval device provider to round off their own in-house registration system.
To give an accurate number of the shows that use RFID technology for their shows is hard for me to give based on the whole industry, but I can give you a percentage based on the shows that we work with each year. Over the last year, I’ve seen that number jump to 10 percent. The show managers utilizing RFID technology are doing it for two reasons: One is to incorporate the latest technology into their events. The other reason is to save money. Even though the actual badge cost is higher than that of paper or MagCards, a savings can be achieved with the elimination of the need for tickets for sessions or meal functions.
From Craig in Houston, TX on 2/1/2007
Q. What do you see as the threshold for show size that lead retrieval makes sense for? What technology is most prevalent now and which is the most cost effective for show management and for the exhibitors? Thanks Mr. Roberts
A. Answered on 2/21/2007.
Your question has two parts. I’ll answer the second part first. Forty-seven percent of the lead-retrieval technology utilized by shows belongs to 2-D bar codes with a very small percentage of those utilizing 1-D bar codes. Bar codes are very inexpensive to produce. They can be generated fairly easy on a laser printer right on the badge. Here’s the rub. There are very few registration companies who own their own bar code lead-retrieval equipment. They rent the units from about four major rental companies in the United States. Before going this direction, here are some issues to consider:
• The equipment may be tired because it moves from show to show, often in ill-repair and marginal working order. Keep in mind: This can reflects bad on your show, and exhibitors may complain to show management.
• The units can be quite expensive due to the increased markup required by the registration company.
• Some of these companies will rent to you direct, with you taking on the responsibility of distribution and customer support to your exhibitors.
• Some of these rental companies require that you guarantee a minimum of lead-retrieval units. I’ve heard of horror stories where weeks before the show the company pulls out if minimums were not achieved. • Bottom line: Ask a lot of questions so you know what you are getting into.
The other 53 percent of the lead-retrieval technology utilized by shows goes to MagCards, with a very small percentage of those utilizing RFID. Most, if not all, registration companies offering these solutions own their own equipment. In my experience, exhibitors favor the MagCard. But I’ve also found that when short-range RFID lead retrieval is deployed, exhibitors favor it over MagCard. Unfortunately, you can count on one hand the number of companies that offer the short-range lead capture solution – mostly because of cost. RFID solutions can cost anywhere from 60 cents to two dollars a badge. MagCards can cost as low as 14 cents per badge.
Now for the first question. This can be tackled in two ways, by how many attendees you attract and by how many exhibitors you draw.
From the attendee angle: Obviously the more attendees you have, the greater the need for lead retrieval. This number can start at 1,000 attendees. But I’ve done shows where there were as little as 300 attendees. For example, a construction equipment show, where the attendee base was made up of contractors -- almost 95 percent didn’t have any business cards. Many medical shows also can fall into this category, where very few attendees carry business cards. Another factor deals with the “geek quotient” of your show. Usually the more high-tech the show is, the more the attendees insist that some automated form of lead retrieval is utilized.
Now from the exhibitor angle: High-tech shows require lead retrieval. Shows with as few as 20 exhibitors have requested some form of lead capture, but keep in mind the rental company may dictate how many units you’ll have to commit to.
Now from the third angle -- yours: Whatever technology you select, make sure you get an immediate ROI. Incorporate the lead capture system into your show. For example, CEU or CME tracking at session and workshops; as well as keys to be used to open up product locators, message centers, Internet cafes, agenda printing kiosks, admittance to workshops and special events, and an the show floor order taking systems for your exhibitors.
From Kara in Des Moines, IA on 7/26/2006
Q. We are considering offering self-registration kiosks on site. What are the advantages and disadvantages? What's the best way to get attendees to use them?
A. Answered on 9/1/2006.
I’m not a big proponent of self-registration kiosks, but there are few instances where they’re effective. Here are some things to consider:
Advantages for self-registration
1. Data entry staff can be greatly reduced, resulting in labor savings.
2. Elimination of typing errors.
3. Can use 42-inch high counters with PCs instead of dedicated kiosks, which reduces costs even more.
4. Best suited when there’s no charge for admission.
Disadvantages for self-registration
1. Staff is still required for questions and assistance. The ratio is one customer rep for every six to eight self-registration computers.
2. Integrity of collected data is questionable.
3. If queue lines aren’t utilized, a long line may turn off attendees using self-registration.
4. Exhibitors may not trust the quality of data collected.
5. When admission fees are associated with the show, the level of complexity may outweigh some advantages.
6. For fee collection, a separate cashier station must be established.
7. Badge collection issues might arise, unless attendee shows ID at badge printers, which slows down the process.
Best way to have attendees use self-registration kiosks:
• Group self-registration stations in clusters of six to eight with a queue line leading to the cluster.
• Have customer service reps stationed at each cluster to help with questions on the registration process. It’s best to use desktop computers because of the full keyboard and mouse setup. I’ve seen notebook computers used, but they had external full size keyboards and mice attached.
• One could also offer a small discount for self-registration. The discount doesn’t have to be major; it’s more psychological than anything.
• A major turn-off for self-registration usage is long lines, eliminate these and you hopefully will achieve success.
From Leann in Orlando, FL on 8/23/2006
Q. I’m a little leery of using RFID technology because I’m afraid my attendees will feel like they’re being spied on. Do you have any suggestions on how to educate attendees about RFID? What are some strategies other shows are using?
A. Answered on 9/1/2006.
The type of RFID technology you deploy will determine your education initiative. Let’s discuss the two major types of RFID used today in the trade show industry.
Long-range RFID requires more extensive education for your attendees. With long-range RFID, your attendees can be tracked. The good news is that all that’s being captured is a number, which can be as long as 24 digits. That ID must be traced back to an attendee. Access to the main data base is required to make this association. Long-range RFID offers no security. There’s nothing stopping a rogue individual with an RFID reader from collecting these numbers -- which by themselves are meaningless. You’ll need to give your attendees an opt-out from wearing their badges. There have been reports where attendees have refused to wear their badges, a perfect example where education was needed.
With short-range RFID, the possibilities look much better. 13.56MHz RFID comes in two flavors. One with no security built in and can only be read at very short distance (3 to 10 inches). Attendees can control who they want to have their contact information. The other short-range RFID is one base on the worldwide MIFARE standard, which has been adopted by the financial credit card industry. This standard is only readable from about 3 inches, and the RFID reader must have the proper password encoded in the RFID badge to read it .
I have worked on a number of shows where the technology was embraced by the attendees when they found out the benefits of this form of RFID. This type of RFID can hold a large amount of data. This “space” can be used to keep track of tickets to events and seminars, as well as store monetary value.
The public has had no problem dealing with the MIFARE standard of RFID. Today, there are at least 20 million RFID tags imbedded in credit cards stored in American wallets and purses. The RFID Journal http://www.rfidjournal.com/ is an excellent source for quotable sources for your attendee education initiative.
From Robert in Norwalk, CT on 7/6/2006
Q. Are many trade shows using the new RFID technology yet? If so, how extensive is the usage (for exhibit hall, educational sessions, etc.)?
A. Answered on 7/6/2006.
The number of shows using RFID so far has not been great. Usually a show manager will determine whether to use it again based on the type of RFID used the first time. There are short-range and long-range RFID solutions. Depending on the needs show management wants resolved will determine which form of RFID is best suited. The initial reaction is to use long-range RFID for exhibit hall and education sessions. Unfortunately the unsecured, inaccurate and high costs associated with this solution can cause the show manager to be a one-time only user. The cost for the RFID tag itself is fairly low, about 25 cents in addition to the badge. The assorted peripheral equipment required is what drives up the cost. For example, costs can include special badge holders that hold the RFID tag away from the body (because the human body absorbs the RF waves necessary for the long-range RFID tag to work), special high-powered transponder antennas and rigging (because the transponders have to be high); and free-standing, walk-thru portals for educational sessions. On the other hand, short-range RFID at first blush may seem to be more expensive, about 65 cents per badge. The actual cost may be in the negative column when taking into consideration the fact that tickets and many other aspects of registration and lead capture can be eliminated.
From Mel in Austin, TX on 7/6/2006
Q. Even though it’s to their advantage, I have found it difficult to get many exhibitors to buy in to the program in our small trade show. How can you get exhibitors on board for using lead retrieval?
A. Answered on 7/6/2006.
For exhibitors to embrace lead retrieval, it has to offer them a time savings or some advantage over their current lead generation/tracking and/or order-processing techniques. Let’s say you have an exhibitor who does a considerable amount of order taking for products at your show. I’m willing to bet that if exhibitors were given free software that they could install on their laptops in conjunction with a lead-capture reader to speed up the order process, there would be great interest. Here’s how it would work: the exhibitor takes the attendee badge, scans/swipes or taps (for RFID) it on the lead-capture, vendor-supplied reader, the output gets diverted into the supplied “order entry” software running on their laptop, which populates the attendee contact information fields. The exhibitor then fills in the products ordered information. A confirmation receipt can then be printed and given to the attendee. The advantage to the exhibitor is that the order process can now be automated and sent back to the home office daily if desired.
From Mel in Austin, TX on 6/20/2006
Q. We currently do our own registration in-house and need to provide lead-retrieval service to our exhibitors. Is it possible to integrate my registration module with a lead-retrieval service provider and avoid causing major disruption to my system?
A. Answered on 6/20/2006.
Yes. This is very possible and has been done for 2-D Bar Code, MagCard, as well as RFID lead-capture solutions. There are four items that are essential for your success:
1. Working with a lead-retrieval vendor who is willing to provide you with the appropriate software modules that “talk” to the in-house registration system or association management software you’re using.
2. In-house support staff. You’ll need the technical expertise to integrate the supplied modules. Or hire the necessary consultants for the integration project.
3. Verify that the in-house system or association management software allows you to “talk” to a third-party module. An example is the popular iMIS association management product from Advanced Solutions International Inc. This closed system does allow interfacing to other modules when you buy their “Extender” add-on.
4. Make it happen first before committing. Before you enter into any agreements spend the time and effort to Try before you buy.
From Mary in Austin, TX on 5/19/2006
Q. I’m looking for ideas on how to add value for our exhibitors. The lead-retrieval device/RFID technology is very innovative. In your experience, do most show managers provide this tool at no cost to the exhibitors or do exhibitors happily rent the device on site, seeing the direct benefit of accurate lead capture and time savings from not having to transcribe the information? Also, can you recommend additional demographic questions for the device that would provide the exhibitor even greater understanding of their potential clients?
A. Answered on 6/2/2006.
In my experience, 30 percent of shows offer lead-retrieval as part of an exhibitor package, and 70 percent have exhibitors pay for the device. It’s also easy to add RFID technology. A lot depends on which registration/lead-retrieval company you’re working with. As an example, a typical lead-capture unit might rent for $175 if rented directly by the exhibitor. But the registration/lead retrieval company might rent the units to show management for $125 each. You can raise the booth price by $125 to compensate for this.
For the second part of your question, exhibitors happily do rent lead-capture units for the convenience it offers. The benefits of accurate attendee data capture, lead qualification and labor savings from not having to transfer data from business cards is well worth the rental cost. But some exhibitors expect show management to pay for it as part of the cost of doing business at a show. For example, I recently worked with a U.S.-based company that exhibited at a trade show in China and collected 1,000 business cards, most of which he could not understand. His question to me was “why would show management not offer lead capture?” We’re currently approaching show management to change that.
The last part of your question can be certainly achieved with the use of RFID-encoded badges. Short-range RFID badges can hold much more data than conventional media, up to 1,000 characters of data. For ideas on additional demographic questions, I would suggest that you get your exhibitors involved and ask them which three to five demographic questions would enrich their marketing efforts.
From Sue in Arlington, VA on 5/24/2006
Q. How do RFID badges compare to other types of registration systems?
A. Answered on 5/24/2006.
It depends on the type of RFID implementation utilized.
There are two types of RFID now being deployed in the trade show industry, short-range and long-range RFID. As it turns out, the long-range solution usually costs more and is implemented as an add-on to the normal badging output and lead-retrieval media of that registration system. The reason for that is long-range RFID can only transmit a very small amount of data, usually equivalent to that of a 1-D Bar Code (max 24 characters). Long-range RFID has not been used as a cost-effective lead-retrieval solution. For this reason, the registration vendor still has to produce a badge and lead-retrieval media, usually a 2-D bar code or MagCard, and any paper tickets (for events, meals, etc.) that may be required for that show. There are other hidden costs that become very visible quickly, such as special badge holders, the need for lanyards with non-metal parts, and expensive transponders supported by high rigging or trusses.
On the other hand, short-range RFID implementations can cost mush less and even save you money in the long run. There are some RFID solutions that can contain as many as 1,000 characters of secure data, which can be used for lead retrieval, attendee entitlements (for events, etc.), hold a stored cash value, as well as serve as an attendee badge.
Some RFID badge registration system can cost much less than current systems.
From Shelley in Houston, TX on 5/18/2006
Q. How large does a trade show need to be (how many booths) to make it worthwhile to use lead retrieval?
A. Answered on 5/18/2006.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula as to the number of exhibiting companies to determine if lead retrieval is a must-have service. We’ve provided lead-retrieval services for a show as small as 16 booths.
The five determining factors I recommend to be considered are:
1. How many attendees are expected? Will the ratio of attendees to booths be 15 to 1 (for example, a 100 booth show, times 15 equals 1,500 attendees)? If yes, automated lead-capture methods will be a great help to exhibitors.
2. How many contiguous hours are dedicated to exhibits? The shorter the time (less than 2 hours), the greater the need for automated lead capture.
3. What are the chances that attendees will have business cards? For example, we work with a show geared toward the home construction/repair professional, and more than 80 percent of the attendees make decisions on $250,000 pieces of equipment, but they don’t carry business cards.
4. What’s the high-tech nature of the show? If your exhibitors feature lots of high-tech equipment, exhibitors and attendees may expect automated lead capture.
5. What’s the exhibitor/attendee relationship reference ratio? How long the show is been in existence, how small (close knit) is the industry, and have attendees been attending the show year after year? If the ratio is high on more than one of these factors, lead capture may not be needed.
From Donna in Los Angeles, CA on 5/18/2006
Q. What is RFID, how does it work, and why is it in badges?
A. Answered on 5/18/2006.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that uses radio-frequency waves to transfer data between a reader and an RFID tag/module. As you may recall from your high school science classes, when a magnet is rotated inside a coil of wire, it produces electrical energy. The same concept is applied to RFID, but instead of a magnet, a very, low level burst of radio frequency (RF) energy is passed through a small coil of wire in the RFID tag. This results in enough energy being produced to power a small computer chip contained in the RFID tag. Once energized the chip transmits its data back out, on the same coil of wire, that then acts an antenna. All of this happens in a fraction of a second -- 2 to 4 hundredths of a second. (And that was the Readers Digest version of how it works).