Blogging for Booths: One Association’s Bid for Customer Loyalty

One spin around the blogosphere will show you that trade show organizers use blogs to attract new readers and draw attention from search engines. But IAAPA—the association for amusements and attractions—turned to its blog to solidify the association’s relationship with exhibitors/members by using it as the central communication channel for the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2011 Space Allocation.

Exhibitors in the IAAPA show do not select their own booth locations. A committee of 15 people—each dedicated to a specific market segment—assigns space from a “war room” of computer screens projecting the interactive floorplan on screen in real-time via the Internet. The committee makes selections based on seniority rankings and exhibitor requests, but the ultimate goal is to “design the best show possible” for exhibitors and attendees, says Jeremy Schoolfield, senior editor of the association’s magazine and the chief blogger.

The space allocation takes a day and a half. Schoolfield gives regular updates “either every half hour or so,” he says, or “when nice, round numbers are hit, whichever comes first.” Exhibitors follow along knowing their place in line from a pre-published list. Those that want to make a change can email the sales team after their initial assignment is made. This year was the fourth year that the space selection was live blogged. By the end of the second day, the committee had allocated 669 booths on the floor covering 357,000 net square feet—more than 60 exhibitors and 55,000 square feet than the year before.

Live blogging the space draw process came about out of necessity. Before that, exhibitors watching the space assignments online would email the sales team asking when their assignments were coming up. With the running blog account, they can follow along more easily and even get a little excited about an otherwise dull process. “[Space Allocation] has a live auction feel,” Schoolfield says.

Beside the obvious posts like “10 a.m.: Showtime Pictures LLC was just assigned, which means we now have 550 booths on the floor. Getting close now! A little more than a hundred to go,” Schoolfield inserts pictures of the war room, references to other blog posts, discussion about articles in the association magazine, and ad hoc comments from the committee members into his posts. These “extras” give him an opportunity to break up the monotony and get new information to a captive audience.

There are other advantages to blogging the space allocation. Besides keeping the process transparent and drawing more attention to the association’s other offerings, it helps members know that the blog exists.  “Our industry is not a ‘behind the computer industry.’ They are more apt to look at a mobile phone than sit down and look at something on the computer, yet we have set a record every year for blog readership,” Schoolfield says.

The Takeaway: By live blogging the booth selection process, IAAPA kept the proceedings accessible, transparent, and orderly. They created a value-added member benefit and placed the control over a process that could be perceived as uncontrollable back into the hands of exhibitors. For some like Kees Albers of Unlimited Snow-Tape My Day from the Netherlands, it was worth staying up all night for. Loyalty like that doesn’t come easy.

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