Outside Registration Vendors – What can they do for you?

Ah, the good old days. When registration wasn’t really a process, but a line in which people stood to get a sticky badge that said, “Hi, my name is …” When shows were so small that everyone was a qualified buyer, because, quite simply, everyone knew everyone. Yes, those were the good old days; and aren’t you glad they’re gone?

Breakthroughs in technology have drastically changed the way shows are managed. With the right systems, twice can be done in half the time. Shows are more efficient, more informed and better able to meet the needs of both exhibitors and attendees.

Perhaps no area of the event business has changed more dramatically, or more quickly, than registration. As an industry, we were truly impressed with the first computer-generated paper badges. Exhibitors were soon enthralled with credit card badges. Then came mag stripes and bar codes.

In most cases, the advent of the newer registration systems hasn’t eliminated the need for the older processes. There will always be shows using paper badges, and some exhibitors will never give up their credit card systems. Today, however, there is a choice. With careful planning and evaluation, each show manager can choose the system best suited to their event.

If your attendees and exhibitors simply want a readable laser-printed badge and an embossed credit card, then all the excitement about electronic lead retrieval may be of little interest. If, on the other hand, your exhibitors are demanding demographic, geographic and psychographic information on every attendee, you may want to look into the newest, highly sophisticated electronic tracking systems. A clear distinction needs to be made between your registration needs and your lead retrieval needs. Not that they are separately managed, but the information requirements can be very different.

Determining need

For many, in-house systems are the best choice. But often, show managers choose in-house programs without thoroughly evaluating the outside vendor option. Some believe that you have to have a “really big” show to justify outside assistance. That’s not always the case.

Many registration vendors suggest that at 2,000 attendees, your show becomes a good prospect for outside registration assistance. This estimate varies widely and is dependent on how complex the event is. Your show, with 1,000 attendees, pre-scheduled exhibitor appointments, extensive educational sessions, demands for product locators and electronic messaging, may be an excellent choice for outside assistance.

Vendors pride themselves on being “an extension of your staff,” and will provide only those pre-show and on-site services that you don’t want to do yourself. If you want to continue to input all the data then the vendor can print the badges, design the registration area, mail the registration packets and set up and maintain the on-site equipment. On the other hand, you could turn over everything to the outside vendor from designing the registration form to delivering post-show reports.

The primary advantage of using outside registration vendors is the amount of staff time that becomes available to simply manage the show. In addition, outside vendors have highly sophisticated equipment that is usually too costly for show management to purchase and maintain for only one major show a year. They also have the benefit of frequency, practice and familiarity with the entire registration process. There is almost no registration problem that they haven’t faced before.

Many show managers point to a loss of control as the primary disadvantage to hiring an outside vendor. Some feel “out of the loop” if they don’t personally handle the process. Often this fear is unfounded, however, since with proper planning, concise communication and clear procedures, your registration vendor simply becomes a part of your staff, operating in the same way you would. And you are the one who decides what parts of the registration process will be handled in-house, and what parts will be outsourced.

Technology options

The concept of “registration” has undergone a stunning transformation since it was first introduced as a means to simply identify each person on the show floor. Today, data is key. Show managers need demographic information to prove their show’s validity, and exhibitors need leads to follow as proof that they’re getting a return on their investment.

Deciding which technology is right for your show requires a careful analysis of your needs. How much information do you need on each attendee? What do your exhibitors want, and how fast must they have it? Will exhibitors rent the necessary “readers” or imprinters required for the system you choose? And how easy is the process for attendees? Few buyers will want to complete a three-page business profile just to get a badge at your event.

 Working with vendors

When choosing your vendor, make sure you understand exactly what reports you will get, and how often. If there’s a report you want that isn’t offered, chances are good that some vendor can create one to meet your needs. Spell out in your request for proposal, exactly when you expect post-show reports, and how soon exhibitors should have their lead sheets.

Registration vendors themselves recommend that you should maintain control of the process. They will provide you with augmented services, enhanced staff and additional equipment, but it’s still your show, and you should control it.

Lack of thorough planning on the show manager’s part is often the primary pitfall in working with an outside registration vendor. The show manager forgets to mention a change in policy or procedure, and the vendor continues under the false assumption that everything is working. Left unchecked, this miscommunication translates into expensive emergencies on-site.

In choosing the appropriate registration technology for your event, consider your show size, staff and budget. Virtually every function you are now doing in-house, can be done by an outside vendor more efficiently, faster and with state-of-the-art technology too costly for internal use. After doing your own needs analysis you can choose which of the myriad functions required for your show should stay in-house, and which would be better managed by an outside vendor. The technology is best used when it’s moulded to your needs. The success of your event is directly related to your balancing the best combination of in-house resources and outside vendor services.

After you’ve sent your requests for proposal, and learned exactly what services an outside registration vendor can provide you and your exhibitors, consider these questions to help you reach a decision:

1. Low long has your company been in the registration management business?
2. What other shows, similar in size and complexity to mine, have you worked with?
3. How is my data protected on-site? What back-up systems are used?
4. What contingency plans do you have for any on-site problems such as fire, computer theft or loss of power?
5. Where and when can I see your system in operation at a show?
6. Can you customize your system to meet my registration needs? At what cost? (This could cover services not used by all show managers such as delegate voting, seminar wait-listing and prearranged exhibitor appointments.)

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