Maximize Priority Points
How do you conduct an exhibitor rebook process for a nonprofit conference or convention?
The answer is simple: always use priority points to sell exhibit space for the following year’s show(s).
What Is an Exhibitor Rebook Process?
Fundamentally, it’s a process in which current exhibitors are invited to choose exhibit space for the following year’s conferences—usually at a discounted rate as an incentive, and generally based on a priority point system (PPS). A basic PPS is calculated according to a set of criteria you determine in advance—for instance, vendors are allocated points based on the square footage they reserve, how much they spent on your organization over the last year, whether they are a member or a sponsor, if they advertise in your publications or elsewhere, how many years they have exhibited, and so forth. Exhibitors who have the most points in each square footage category get to choose their booth locations first; those with the second largest number of points go next, and so on. As anyone in this business knows, much of the secret sauce in managing these dynamics is in the relationships you’ve built, often over many years, with exhibitors. So it’s important to understand that a properly managed rebook must be advantageous to both exhibitors and show management.
Exhibitors Benefit from Rebook
- Control—Transparency is key to the rebook process—it should be crystal clear to everyone that those with the highest points have prime choice when selecting space. And then exhibitors who select next should see the choices made by those ahead of them in the process. They can then select any still-available space they wish—far away from a competitor, in the aisle everyone goes down to get to the food court, or near a certain exhibitor. Transparency markedly reduces exhibitors’ complaints as everything is laid bare for all parties to see during the rebook process (and only during rebook—post-rebook sales work much differently). Transparency works, and exhibitors are only apt to complain about the booth assignment process when they have not yet been through a rebook.
- Competitive Edge—A rebook process allows exhibitors to see if their competitors are exhibiting, where they are on the floor, and whether they are planning on a large display and/or marketing push for upcoming expos. This allows exhibitors to be responsive. They can decrease space if they wish, or they can increase space to avoid being upstaged by their competitors at the following years’ show(s). When expo space is being sold for more than one meeting during the rebook process, exhibitors can also see how many shows and which ones their competitors are targeting.
- Choice Space—Anyone who sells expo space knows that the number one complaint from exhibitors is lack of traffic and a close second is poor location, and of course the two go hand in hand. Yet, often, the exhibitors who are most upset about location are the same exhibitors who exhibited at previous shows but chose not to rebook onsite waited for months to decide, and then had limited options. These exhibitors should be particularly walked through the advantages of the onsite rebook process and put in command of their own assignment. Subtly convey that once rebook is over, exhibitors will have less control.
- Discounted Rate—By far, the number one benefit to exhibitors reserving space during the onsite rebook process is reserving space at a less expensive rate that they will get later.
Turn the Downside Back Up
It’s worth noting that exhibitors who have accumulated the highest priority points and get to choose their space first will not be able to initially see where their competitors are before they select their space; they are on top of the pecking order, and their competitors choose after them. Handle this by explaining that the onsite rebook is an iterative process and transparent. Most digital floor plans are instantly updated showing assignments, so exhibitors who choose first have ample time to adjust space and options as the rebook process unfolds. Experienced floor plan developers should know how to build in space for these contingency adjustments.
Benefits of Rebook for Conference Planners
- Reliable Revenue—A successful rebook means a fairly reliable cash flow for the organization. While it’s not necessary to collect full payment at the time of rebook, the contracts obtained give organizations a snapshot of where revenue will be for the following year—which can be particularly helpful if rebook happens before final projections are due the following year.
- Time and Energy for Other Sales—An onsite rebook process allows you to shift your sales efforts to other areas after the rebook. The new focus may be on the meeting sales (sponsorships, programs, and so forth), or on selling other advertising vehicles, webinars, partnerships, or vendor memberships.
- Better Marketing Packages—Advance exhibit sales offers a perfect platform upon which to upsell and build. After space is booked, one can fold all the exhibit space reservation into a larger year-round (or multi-year) package that can include numerous products and services, such as( print advertising, e-newsletters, and webinars.
- Healthy Competition—An onsite rebook process fosters a spirit of competiveness among rival exhibitors, which generally manifests itself in ways that help the association’s bottom line. For instance, a software vendor who wants a large-screen display at the front of the hall may see that their competitor already secured a prime spot that will catch nearly every attendee’s attention as they walk in. Because of the transparency built into the PPS, it’s easy to explain to them that the first vendor is more involved/invested in your association and got first choice. BUT, that could change in the future should they wish to learn more about how to gain more points.
- Onsite Damage Control—As is well established, most exhibitor grievances are related to traffic and location. But when exhibitors choose their own space; it reduces the heat and passion in their criticisms. Of course, many exhibitors will still have legitimate complaints onsite, and most of them are quite valid. But when managed respectfully, most exhibitors understand that a rebook office is not the place to litigate their concerns.
- Reinforce the Benefits of Rebook—An onsite rebook process allows you to…reinforce the benefits of rebook. This may sound redundant; however, for some longtime exhibitors it can take numerous rebook cycles before they realize that it’s in their best interest to take advantage of rebook. Eventually they’ll realize that they pay a higher fee, do not get premium space choices, and often get assigned a less-desirable space when they finally do submit their paperwork.
Show-Centric v. Organization-Centric Rebook Models
There is no magic formula for allocating priority points, so organizations that do use a rebook system generally fall into two camps, depending on the focus of their incentives. One camp is very show-centric and is all about incentivizing investment in anything to do with conference. This method of calculation allocates priority points based on square footage, years exhibiting, sponsorships tied to the shows, program advertisement, exhibitor workshops they hosted, and so forth. This model concentrates exclusively on sustaining and growing the organization’s meetings, conferences, and conventions. (This could be for just one annual conference, for a number of regional meetings, or a combination of both the annual conference and regional meetings.)
The second model is more organization-centric; in addition to assigning points based on involvement with the meetings, it widens the scope of priority point allocation to take into account investment in other areas outside the meetings—like advertising in the organization’s print publications, newsletters, web advertising, online suppliers guide, vendor membership, and at-large partnerships. This paradigm incentivizes total supplier investment across the entire organization, not just at the meetings.
Which is Better?
Presuming there is commission involved, the show-centric PPS generally favors the staff heading up the exhibit/sponsorship sales. But that can often directly (and if not explicitly, then indirectly) be at the expense of other supplier products and services the association offers; in other words, it can self-sabotage sales in other areas.
So, the organization-centric rebook process is usually favorable; if done right, a high tide lifts all boats. Unquestionably, allocating points based on an exhibitor’s total investment in and involvement across the entire association/organization incentives suppliers to get involved with your group in a broader capacity than just at the meetings. This expanded involvement can help organizations funnel funding into other important programs and projects that on their own may not have the organic financial support to survive. More importantly, in addition to these ancillary functions, an organization-centric priority rebook system can help to develop or complement an organization’s basic revenue vehicles such as e-newsletters, new tradeshows, publications, and so forth), all of which are value-adds to your membership.
How Does it work?
The first step is to develop a system for Accumulated Sum Allocation (ASA), and that governs the priority point system. Factors in developing a healthy ASA include the following:
- Above all, reward an exhibitor’s total investment in the association. As an example, each $1,000 spent can be worth 5 points.
- The PPS should span a number of years, so that longtime exhibitors are fairly credited with their involvement. Because, although a new vendor/exhibitor may spend more than longtime exhibitors have in a given year, they also may be gone the following year if they are not pleased with their ROI. Failure to reward long-term value to the organization is short-sighted and results in an extremely unhealthy ASA.
- Reward current sponsors and partners; they are premiere alliances that warrant special recognition. As an example, each $1,000 spent by sponsors and partners in the current can be worth 10 points.
- Reward exhibitors who take larger booths based on square footage reserved. A 10 x 10 space should not be allocated the same amount of points simply because they are exhibiting as a 40 x 40. A good rule of thumb is each 100 sq. ft. can be worth 2 points.
- Reward exhibitors who increase their booth size from smaller to larger, which is different than assigning more points to exhibitors with larger booths. An exhibitor who increases their space would be rewarded additional 5 points above and beyond their allocation the following year.
- Assigning 2 to 3 points based on whether an exhibitor is a current vendor member does not hurt, but it generally does not have the same incentivizing effect as the other factors do in driving increased revenue. But for some member associations it would be counterintuitive, if not sacrosanct, not to award points based on whether or not an exhibitor is a member.
There are only two cases in which it may not be wise to use a rebook system. The first is that if your organization currently does not have someone actively selling your exhibits or related non-dues revenue (advertising, sponsorships, website listings, and so forth), but rather an association management company, or staff is just passively administering contracts and order forms – then a rebook process may be too daunting and ambitious to start off with. While it can be done, it’s recommend to first centralize your vendor non-dues revenue efforts and develop a universal vendor sales strategy.
The second case is when you have not secured the facility for future show(s). If you don’t know what the facility will be, then you can’t develop an exhibit floor plan to sell. But usually the following year’s facilities for even small- to mid-size events are contracted before the current year’s show(s) for a host of planning and promotional reasons, and larger events are reserved 2 to 3 years in advance.
Build Your Rebook Along with Your Relationships
Convinced and want to give it a try? Start about a year out, develop an ASA first and then a PPS. Keep the relationships in mind, tell your vendors it’s coming, and ask their opinions. Not only is it smart to get their feedback—their buy-in will save you a lot of headaches onsite—but it also gives you an opportunity to engage them in between events. And that really is what it’s all about: engagement, relationships, and developing mutually beneficial opportunities. Model that in your strategy and approach to them as you build your programs, and everyone will benefit.
About Association Revenue Solutions
Association Revenue Solutions specializes in assisting member associations develop their non-dues revenue programs by helping to organize, identify, and manage supplier relations—and ultimately maximize their funding potential.