The tradeshow industry in the U.S. is governed by many rules and regulations that must be followed. Most of these regulations are outlined in tradeshow information materials and in vendor contracts and service materials, but it’s imperative that marketers are personally familiar with them to prevent non-compliance and any financial loss that could come about as a result of not adhering to the rules. This brief overview of the most common rules excerpted from Exhibitor can be used as a quick reference guide for your convenience:
Outboarding and Suitcasing
Outboarding is when nonexhibiting companies book hospitality suites or meeting space near the trade show venue, and invite registered attendees to off-site events. They are basically nonexhibitors trying to sell at a show without paying to be there and trying to get buyers from the exhibitors who have paid for the opportunity to reach them.
Suitcasing is when attendees try to sell to exhibitors or other attendees within the exhibit hall, but don’t purchase an exhibit space. Both of these practices are prohibited at most shows.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 applies to trade show exhibits since they are considered “public accommodation”. Typically show managers will include a section in their booth-space rental contracts stating the exhibitor understands that the ADA requires its exhibit be accessible to persons with disabilities, and agrees that the exhibitor is solely responsible for assuring that its display complies with the ADA and its responsibilities to the physically, visually, or hearing impaired. Exhibitors must guarantee equal access to their exhibits.
Confines of Booth
Most booth-space rental contracts and exhibitor services manuals will typically have a “confines of booth” clause explaining that all of your marketing and promotional activities must take place within the perimeter of the space you’ve rented. If you plan to use guerrilla-marketing tactics, you should request a variance from show management.
If you’re planning to bring your own extension cords, power strips, and/or surge protectors to power an exhibit, contact the facility to verify its specifications. There’s a chance you may be required to rent these items from the show venue. Sometimes government-subsidized convention centers prohibit cube taps (connectors with three outlets), but they are not an issue at most hotels and private venues.
Live or recorded music played in your exhibit may be subject to laws governing the use of copyrighted music. Be sure to check with the three authorized licensing firms that collect copyright fees for composers and publishers of music. They are Broadcast Music Inc. (www.bmi.com), SESAC (www.sesac.com), and The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (www.ascap.com).
Also, be aware that if the combination of exhibit-hall noise and the sound from your booth exceeds the standard 85-decibel limit, or whatever the limit is that is listed in your exhibitor services manual, you may be asked to turn it down.
Be very familiar with the show’s exhibit height requirement well ahead of time. If the rules are violated, the show’s management will ask you to reduce the height of your exhibit, which could mean huge labor and exhibit alteration expenses.
Line of Sight
The line-of-sight rule says that you can’t place items or structures taller than 4 feet in the front half of your linear booth space, and you can’t place anything there that obstructs the view of the exhibits around you.
Many shows now require a certificate of insurance (COI) proving comprehensive general liability (CGL) coverage from both exhibitor-appointed contractors (EACs) and from the exhibiting company.
Food and Beverage
Food and/or beverage distributors typically can provide 1 ounce of food and 2 ounces of beverages to attendees. However, if the exhibitor is not in the food business, it must contact the venue’s exclusive caterer before distributing any food or beverage item. The cater may request a “waiver fee” equal to the amount of money it could have made selling concessions of equal value had the exhibitor not offered them in its exhibit.