The big event is finally here – and inevitably, so are some unexpected situations. Every trade show has its own set of regulations and specific limits, but we’ve listed some common rules that typically apply. To ensure your trade show experience runs smoothly, be sure to read any materials provided by the trade show, including contracts, terms and conditions and manuals.
Trade shows fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 because they are considered “public accommodation.” This means that exhibitors must provide equal access to their booth for individuals with disabilities, including physical, visual and hearing impairments.
Any use of copyrighted music is subject to applicable laws. If you want to use copyrighted music in your booth, contact the licensing firms to pay copyright fees. Otherwise, choose open-source music that’s available for public use. When using music or anything creating a lot of sound in your booth, keep it under the decibel limit for the event. The standard limit for trade shows is 85 decibels.
Confines of Booth
Your booth rental contract will usually include a “confines of booth” clause, which means that your marketing and promotional activities must occur within your designated space. Sometimes exceptions to this may be granted by show management if you request prior approval.
Trade shows have limits for exhibit height based on venue ceiling height, desired aesthetic and the International Association for Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) Guidelines for Display Rules and Regulations. Familiarize yourself with height limits before planning your booth; if you are over the limit, show management will ask you to reduce the height of your display resulting in last minute difficulties and expense.
Line of Sight
This rule applies to the front half of your booth space and states that you cannot have items in that area over four feet or anything that would obstruct the view of the other exhibits. Again, sometimes there are exceptions to this rule, but you must obtain prior permission from the show management.
Check the show’s electrical regulations before bringing any electrical equipment, including extension cords and power strips. You may be required to rent these items from the venue, and some conventions prohibit certain electrical items.
Trade shows are increasingly requiring exhibitor-appointed contractors (EACs) and exhibiting companies provide a certificate of insurance (COI) that proves comprehensive general liability (CGL) coverage. Work with an insurance company to complete the necessary paperwork prior to the show or you may not be allowed to set up your booth.
Food and Beverages
Exhibitors in the food business are typically allowed to provide one ounce of food and two ounces of beverages to show attendees; those not in the food business must contact the venue’s caterer to obtain approval before offering any food or beverage samples.
Sometimes non-exhibiting companies host competing events without the approval of the show management – this is called “outboarding.” Often they’ll even use the show name to promote their own events, confusing attendees into thinking they are attending an event associated with the trade show. This is extremely damaging to the show management and everyone who is paying to exhibit at the show. If you want to host an event during a trade show, check with the show management to get permission before scheduling.
A company or individual is “suitcasing” when they register as an attendee, but then distribute promotional materials as if they were an exhibiting company. This hurts everyone who has paid for a booth by taking the attention of attendees without paying for it. Avoid suitcasing by registering as an exhibitor and following the “confines of booth” clause.
What to Do?
Knowing the rules of a trade show puts you in a position to follow them and have a positive show experience and relationship with show management and other exhibitors. But what about the people who do not play by the rules? Unfortunately, violations such as outboarding and suitcasing are common at trade shows. If you notice anyone breaking the rules, notify the exhibit manager or conference security immediately. Anyone distributing materials without a proper badge should be reported.
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