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Inaugural TSEA Red Diamond Congress attendees seek change

Collaborative and mutually beneficial change was the call to action at TSEA’s Red Diamond Congress in Orlando on May 10. The two-day event brought together more than 50 industry leaders, including several senior exhibit managers, to engage as change agents, progressing toward mutual definition and common understanding of several key areas critical to the industry. These included fundamental labor practices, convention housing practices and third-party audits. Exhibit managers were brought to the table and encouraged to start with the simplest of tasks – to have a conversation about the issues that concerned them most and significantly challenged their abilities to deliver quality and value-added programs.


Congress attendees found that any discussion of labor practices first required clear consensus of the definition of “labor,“ recognizing the vast range and description of services covered by the familiar, but often confusing term. Discussions centered on exhibitor work rules and policies, specifically what exhibit managers can and cannot do in terms of performing labor tasks themselves within certain markets. Attendees realized that any desired improvement in areas of labor services and general practices would require the broader adoption and communication of operating standards on both sides of the aisle. These sessions concluded with exhibit managers seeking better partnerships with show management and labor representatives.

Attendee discussions of current housing practices covered a wide range of issues including a desire for more reasonable room block deposits, more reasonable or avoidable cancellation fees, more consistent policies from show to show and realistic deadlines to submit guest names. Attendees also debated the merit and practice of some show organizers to tie priority-point systems for space selection and allocation directly to organizer-offered hotel room blocks.

More than 88 percent of the attendees said show/event attendance and demographic data conducted and verified by a credible, independent third-party would likely have a positive impact on or even validate their companies’ investments in a given tradeshow. Yet, attendees at the TSEA Red Diamond Congress learned that less than 1 percent of U.S. business-to-business shows are actually audited by firms approved by the Exhibition and Event Industry Audit Commission (EEIAC). Overall, exhibit managers said they looked to show organizers to be more proactive in seeking such audits on behalf of their customers.

All three topics provided an opportunity for the attendees to strongly pronounce appreciation and desire for more active exhibitor advisory committees linked to individual shows. Attendees felt the advisory committees provide an effective sounding board where exhibitors’ voices could be heard by show management.

Day Two: Organizers Join the Conversation

Day two of the event offered exhibit managers the opportunity to participate in an honest dialogue with show organizers. They used the time to better understand organizers’ perspectives as they walked a mile in organizer shoes and listened to thoughtful and informative responses to issues raised. Attendees saw insights offered by the organizers very helpful and they were encouraged to continue collaboration toward achieving recommendations for best practices. Both sides were able to move quickly and offer potential solutions over the course of the exchange.

The complexities of housing were the first topics of the day to be tackled. Show organizers provided much needed and helpful information as they detailed such items as risks of attrition, or relationships between their organizations, convention visitor bureaus, hotels and housing authorities.

While discussing labor practices, it became clear to many that demystifying drayage is desire of both show organizers and exhibit managers. One show organizer deemed drayage a black hole and in order to solve it, felt organizers and exhibit managers would need to band closely and work together.

When questioned why less than 1 percent of tradeshows organizers perform certified audits on their events, organizers responded that there just has not been a ground swell request from the exhibitor base. However, with competing priorities encroaching on to traditional face-to-face marketing budgets, attending exhibit managers encouraged show producers to see the benefit of such data to continued exhibit participation.

The end of the caucus signaled a call for all exhibit management professionals to come together and act as a single group.

“It is time to rally together and become a gladiator in your industry sector,” said Tom Frisby of ThinkForm. “During the two days in Orlando, the Red Diamond Congress attendees learned about each other and from each other. They were here to speak on the behalf of fellow exhibitors and left with the call to action to spread the word to partners, fellow exhibitors, show managers, associations – anybody ready to see change in our industry.”

To view a video recap of the TSEA Red Diamond Congress visit www.tsea.org.

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