Leeches, Poachers And Outboarders: Controversial Tradeshow Challenges


Recently, Rick Calvert, CEO & Co-Founder of Blogworld & New Media Expo, wrote How Suitcasing and Outboarding Harm Events.

The post attempts to tackle two very controversial challenges for our industry: suitcasing and outboarding.

Go ahead and take a few minutes to read Rick’s entire blog post and leave a comment with your opinions or support. I’ll wait here while you read and comment. It’ll be worth it.

Defining Suitcasing and Outboarding

To make sure we are all on the same page, here are the definitions of outboarding and suitcasing as defined by IAEE:

Outboarding : The result of a third party’s organization of an event in proximity to but not sanctioned by an existing exhibition. The purpose is generally to provide a marketing and/or selling experience apart from, or in addition to, those that are an official part of the host exhibition’s program. Such events may occur in, adjacent to, or separate from the venue of the host exhibition.

Suitcasing: A non-exhibiting seller engages a visitor in a marketing/selling activity at a place not sanctioned by the rules of the exhibition such as in the aisles or off the show floor.

Guilty Parties: Small And Large Businesses

It’s pretty clear the company and individual described in Rick’s post is a small or freelance business. For most industries, this is a fast growing demographic. Entrepreneurs, in particular, like to play by their own rules. They don’t always consider the power of the event tribe and negative word of mouth.

It’s not just small businesses who are guilty of suitcasing and outboarding! Recently I interviewed a conference attendee with a Fortune 20 company. They told me that a number of their senior business development professionals fly in for the conference, attend their client event and then meet one on one with conference attendee prospects and clients. This is a company that is supporting the conference, but not at the level that they could or possibly should.

Lots of Questions, Few Answers

I admire Rick’s transparency in communicating the challenges that these practices have on conferences and tradeshows. I also like how he shared how he could have handled the situation better as a show organizer! This story does provide a few tips on contracting and triage strategies for dealing with the rebels. Unfortunately it won’t significantly help move the needle for playing by reasonable rules. Here are some of the questions running through my head on this critical issue:

1. Nomenclature

Are outboarding and suitcasing the right terms? It appears that we’re speaking a language that doesn’t resonate with attendees, exhibitors and sponsors. Are we better off focusing on what is permitted instead of laying down the law on what is prohibited? People hate being told what they can’t do.

2. Transparency

No question that communication is critical to driving desired change. Do you feel that addressing this in a public way will help this show, TBEX, nip this in the bud?

3. More Targeted Events

We’re seeing a trend where sponsors are reducing or eliminating their participation in the larger events and hosting their own client/prospect events. These companies usually believe that a more intimate, higher-end gathering will advance their relationships and cash flow best. How can you help them achieve this within the confines of the “official event hours”?

4. Free Agent Attendees

Untraditional employment categories are booming in our country. Moving forward, it will be more critical for conference organizers to attract and serve consultants, contractors, free-agents and freelancers. Many will not have the appetite to pony up for booth space or sponsorship. How will your organization address this? Will you need to create a new registration category or will you accept that they are an extension of your target attendee as an outsourced partner?

What other challenges do you have with leeches and poachers? How are you handling this delicate situation? Why is a transparent approach a good or bad way to handle this?

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