There’s nothing worse than arriving at an event only to find that you are not allowed to use the marketing materials that you spent so much time designing — and so much money producing. Often there is not enough time to come up with a good Plan B before the show opens, so you are left with a sub-par display.
That’s why it’s important to review the show rules and regulations before you start designing your booth. Large conventions and trade shows are likely to follow the International Association for Exhibitions & Events (IAEE) Guidelines for Display Rules & Regulations,* which they will share in the show exhibitor kit.
Last updated in 2014, these guidelines have been an industry standard for decades – and there’s a reason for that. They were written to ensure fair treatment for all exhibitors, regardless of booth size – and to give show organizers a way to legally enforce the rules. While IAEE charges non-members a $49.95 fee to download the guidelines, you should be able to find a free copy with a quick web search. If you've never exhbiited, it's a good idea to download a copy to see what you are likely in for at your first event.
Union Rules and Exhibit Set-up
It’s always best to be aware of union rules. Every city has different unions (labor union and electrical union are two you are most likely to see) and different union rules. Typically, if you have a display that is 10’ x 10’ or smaller, and can be set up by one person within 30 minutes using no tools, you may set it up yourself. However, “tools” is broad – in some cities, a chair or stool counts as a tool – so if you are 5’ 3” and setting up a pop-up booth, you may have some difficulty affixing the graphic panels to the frame without standing on something!
Other common union rules you may encounter in a trade show environment include material handling – getting your goods from the loading dock or entrance of the hall to your booth space — and electricity (you may not be allowed to use your own power strips or plug in certain devices). Of course, if you are using our battery-powered exhbit lighting, you will be able to avoid the electrical unions (and their high costs) becasue you will not be using floor power. This is why we always say purchaing our battery-operated trade show lighting actually pays for itself by eliminating over priced electric labor and power charges...which can really add up even after only a few shows (see latestest survey of electric costs here: https://siliconlightworks.com/resoures/floor-power-survey-2017).
While not everyone adheres to these rules, it’s a good idea to keep them in mind, and review any and all guidelines provided by the events you will be at. These are often found in exhibitor kits or sometimes on the event website.
Common rules and regulations for exhibitors include:
Many show rules and regulations were created for the sake of safety, but even those that are not usually have a solid reason behind them. Take needing approval to book a hospitality suite. There is probably no issue with your hosting a small reception, but the show organizer wants to make sure that you are a legitimate sponsor of the event – and also make sure you aren’t scheduling a competing event during a keynote session.
Backwall and sidewall height restrictions are another example. Having an enclosed meeting area within your 10’ x 20’ booth may seem like a great idea, but think about it from your neighbor’s perspective: if you have an 8 foot high sidewall, you’re completely blocking them from line-of-sight when attendees are walking down the aisle. Per the IAEE regulations, the five feet of sidewall closest to the aisle can only be a maximum of four feet high – and that’s why.
The important thing is to be prepared. If the show regulations prohibit 10’ x 10’ pop-up booths, knowing that in advance means you can instead ship a couple of banner stands and a table drape. If there is no convenient storage area, you could opt to rent an additional 6-foot draped table and store your empty boxes under it – or rather than bringing bulky t-shirts as a giveaway, instead bring smaller gifts such as USB keys. And there’s no point in shipping a hanging sign if you won’t be able to use it!
Knowing the rules before you go to the show helps you prepare you for success, and avoid potentially sticky situations. You can rest confident in the knowledge that your presence at the show will best showcase your company, your products, and your knowledge as a trade show professional.
- Danalynne (Wheeler) Menegus