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Special Report: Exhibitors Vent About Lack of Radio Show Traffic, Space

One vendor called the product displays ‘a poorly designed flea market.’ But NAB, RAB hear vendor concerns and say Chicago will be different.

Many of the equipment exhibitors were a most unhappy bunch at the Radio Show, disappointed about the lack of an easy way for attendees simply to see the exhibits, as well as the size and placement of booths.

From what I hear, organizers will address one or more of these main concerns.

Exhibitors expressed various complaints to me about the venue, which was the bottom floor of three hotel levels used for the convention. The exhibit space had dim lighting and the tabletops were small.

Companies didn’t like how tables were arranged in groups of four, making squares, with their tables almost touching; the arrangement made it hard for attendees to see which companies occupied a space without walking all around each square. It was also hard for companies to use signs without blocking sightlines or the view of another exhibit.

Several told me the closeness of tables came as a surprise to them, though one said it had been clear on the diagram exhibitors received well before the event.

One disgruntled exhibitor said this arrangement “made it almost impossible” to show his product. He said he has exhibited at regional broadcast shows with tabletops arranged in rows. That was better for companies and attendees. Presumably this couldn’t be done in “The Marketplace” space, with some 70 companies.

“A poorly designed flea market” is how one gentleman, representing an antenna manufacturer, described it.

Power access

The aisles between booths were narrow, making it difficult to talk with potential or current customers without blocking traffic.

Another complaint was that the electrical setup to each booth was, shall we say, rudimentary, oftentimes with power strips and extension cords daisy-chained over several booths. Cords weren’t always secured. I heard that one booth worker tripped over a cord, briefly taking out power for a bunch of booths on Thursday.

One vendor used his own packing tape to secure an electrical cord for his booth. Photo by Leslie Stimson One of the vendors in the group affected by that event suggested I take a photo of their power cord that the vendor’s booth workers had taped down using their own company packing tape. They had asked for another power cord, but said the hotel employee just dropped the cord on the floor and walked away.

This story contrasts with an account by another vendor who said whenever there was a problem, show organizers were “very responsive.”

Frank exchange come Friday

Several vendors Friday told me about the 45-minute meeting that NAB/RAB show organizers and executive committees had held that morning with some of the exhibitors. NAB and RAB sought the meeting.

Two vendors I spoke with (out of the 10 company representatives who were at the meeting) said show organizers listened to their concerns and indicated there would be changes next year. Vendors who attended represented pretty much every type of product category to be found on the show floor.

The meeting “was held to get feedback, because this was such a radical departure from what had been done before,” one of the participating vendors told me.

The exhibits were on tables in a room at the lowest level of the Grand Hyatt. Photo by Jim Peck Another big point of contention was the lack of an exhibits-only pass that companies could offer to their customers, or some similar mechanism to encourage floor traffic. This, several sources told me, discouraged many local and regional engineers from attending. The organizers, one vendor said, acknowledged this issue in the Friday meeting: “They know they need to fix that and to provide better access for people who just want to come and talk to equipment suppliers.”

The lack of booth traffic was a common complaint; show organizers held food-related events on the floor to try to drive traffic to the booths; but clearly there just weren’t a lot of engineers in attendance.

Changes a comin’

Based on what these vendors were told, we can expect changes in both the exhibit space itself and how attendees access the space, though specifics haven’t been announced.

The organizers received feedback that suggests exhibitors may be best served with an exhibit floor that provides more flexibility, including traditional exhibit space, meeting space and tabletops.

Another vendor who was at the meeting said organizers confirmed their commitment to maintaining a Radio Show in the future. Indeed, an NAB spokesman told me: “We remain absolutely committed to putting on a Radio Show that best serves the interests of the entire radio community. As we prepare for the 2011 Radio Show in Chicago, we’ll continue to seek open and honest feedback from exhibiting representatives so that we may make the appropriate adjustments to ensure they have a successful show.”

I hear an exhibitor survey form went out this week, and that’s a chance for all exhibitors to weigh in. An attendee e-mail survey did go out, asking for show reaction, and among its questions was one about the best format for the exhibit floor, i.e. tables, booths or some combo approach.

Some exhibitors found the show expensive.

Photo by Jim Peck “They didn’t make it easy to come here,” said another vendor, referring to the cost of exhibiting, travel and what I heard was around $300-a-night hotel fees. Several exhibitors were incredulous that that sum or slightly less at other hotels on the show list was the negotiated show rate; however I hear the hotel was chosen by NAB before it became a combined event with RAB. Plus, last week, lobbyists were busy using hotel rooms all over the city to try to meet with members of Congress before lawmakers went home to their districts to campaign, so NAB probably was lucky to find what it did whenever it chose the Grand Hyatt, given the timing.

A convention, of course, is more than just an exhibit floor; and there were positives at the Radio Show. One attorney told me the hotel’s central locations offered a natural way for attendees to see each other and catch up or to meet for the first time. Plenty of top-level industry people attended or participated on panels. RAB and NAB told me they were happy with attendance at sessions. Some participants combined other business with the convention, like visiting with their Washington attorneys while in town.

The hotel approach was something different, an effort to keep the fall show alive and vibrant through difficult economic times as well as to roll the radio sales community’s annual event into it. It worked on several levels. As for the exhibit floor, it’s to their credit that the organizers sought to meet with vendors even before the show was over, to get immediate feedback. So we’ll see what happens.

Sorry. No data so far.