by Robert Hughes 

Whose show is it, anyway!?

After twelve months and hundreds of exhibitor interviews, one of the many findings that I found surprising is that exhibitors really do not understand who owns the show they exhibit in. There is a significant disconnect about who owns and puts on the tradeshow that the exhibitor is exhibiting in!

Ninety percent of the respondents were absolutely sure the general contractor was the group that put on and owned the show, and could not understand that it could be anyone else. Their reasoning was the general contractor received the bulk of the money spent on the show, the general contractor name was on the service desk and, as everything went through the general contractor, they were assumed to be the greatest presence in the show. The exhibitor thought the show was owned and run by the group that collected the money and solved the problems.

This was as true for rookie small exhibitors as well as senior managers for the brand; the exception was the professional exhibit manager, but her understanding did not extend very far into her organization, if at all.

To illustrate further, if there was a problem or issue, or a payment to be made, the exhibitor went to the general service contractor. No exhibitor I spoke with knew there was a show management office, let alone knew how to find it, even when the exhibitor was told it was where they were to go to reserve space for next year.

As with many unexpected findings, there are many possible causes and unlimited blame scenarios. What leaps out to me is that tradeshows are extremely complex, even more than we might imagine. There are layers and layers of people who all handle a little piece of the enterprise: sales, marketing, logistics, admin, hospitality, agency, each with an untold number of suppliers.

Could it be that maybe, just maybe, our understanding about exhibitors may be as limited as their understanding is of us? And that perhaps we might want to revisit how we all think about our industry…  and look to revisit our assumptions to see what a new approach might look like?

Robert Hughes is CEO of The New Hughes Group. Opinions are his own. He can be reached at

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