Registration technologies make it easy for attendees and exhibitors to sign up for an event, and they open the door to other advantages, helping organizers with marketing, tracking traffic and even security. Learn how to select registration services and maximize your investment.
How registration technologies are affecting trade shows
■ Attendee satisfaction. Online registration makes it easy for attendees to register, make changes and network with exhibitors and other buyers. Plus, it tends to reduce waiting time on site for picking up badges.
■ Database maintenance. Attendee and exhibitor information entered during online registration can automatically update the association’s or organizer’s database with the most current contact information, demographics, titles and interests, which helps to improve accuracy and keep records consistent.
■ Event marketing. Online registration technologies capture registrants’ e-mail addresses and, using their interest areas, allows for direct, targeted e-mail marketing to them for courses and special events. It can also save direct mail costs by allowing the organizer to eliminate preregistered attendees from registration campaigns.
■ Exhibitor marketing. Online registration facilitates exhibitors’ preshow marketing of products of interest and scheduling appointments during the show, while assisting buyers in creating schedules to make the best use of their time.
■ Housing. Registration systems can generally use Web services technology to populate the housing form so registrants don’t have to enter information twice.
■ Credit card processing. Online registration incorporates instantaneous credit card processing, avoiding the tedious batching process once common for handling registration payments.
■ Exhibitor services. When exhibitors register online they can order other services from the show contractor, enter names of all representatives needing badges and access an online exhibitor policies manual.
■ Continuing education units. Using any of the registration badge technologies, organizers can track an attendee’s presence in sessions, accumulate lists of completed courses and allow the organizer or attendee to view or print the list, automatically send lists of verified credits to a certifying body or create a printable certificate.
■ Authorization/security. Some badge technologies can now not only permit access and track when an attendee enters, but also prevent the badge from being “shared” or reused by someone else.
■ Audits. Sophisticated badge technologies can record the number of people entering the show floor, track their movements, including the time spent in various areas, and provide reports that substantiate attendance and traffic claims.
■ Don’t shut down your online registration site before the show. Allowing latecomers, especially locals, to register online in the morning, print out a bar code and bring it to the express registration desk for a badge the same or next day will eliminate longer lines for on-site registration.
■ Ask one simple question — Where are you staying? — at badge pick-up (even if it’s self-service). Getting hotel confirmation for everyone in and outside your room blocks will help verify the dollar value of your show to the host city.
■ Look for future innovations that will involve PDAs and smart phones to assist in the registration process.
10 questions to ask a registration services vendor
1. Do you own or rent your equipment? Whether it’s computers, servers, printers, handheld scanners or lead-retrieval devices, it’s good to know that the vendor owns, maintains and constantly upgrades its equipment.
2. Where are your servers physically located? What backups do you have in place? Reliable vendors will have contingency plans with redundant servers, mirrored hard drives, replicated databases and uninterruptible power sources on critical equipment, plus they’ll have firewalls on all Internet connections.
3. How many on-site registration projects have you handled and for what size events? Creating an online registration site can be easy compared to challenges that may arise on site (such as power outages, equipment failures and customer service issues), so you should choose an experienced vendor.
4. How many full-time, permanent staff do you have? What’s their tenure and experience? How many of those are IT specialists? If you need any customization, it’s the IT guys who will do it.
5. How much time and money will it take for customization? Be sure to create a timeline for accomplishing any specific needs.
6. What provisions do you have for mail, phone or fax registration? What’s the staff’s workload? Will you be working any other shows/meetings during ours? How many staff will you dedicate to have on site for us?
7. Can we have a live demonstration showing how data is transferred from registration to housing and to our database? You want real-time access and the ability to customize and schedule automatic reports.
. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Ask about the company’s best and worst experiences, how the vendor has handled specific customer challenges or how it might handle one of your current challenges. Follow up on client references you’re given. 9. Can you provide a copy of your company’s documented internal operating procedures and quality control methodologies? 10. Do you handle lead retrieval, housing or other services in addition to registration? If not, what vendors of those services have you worked with successfully? Follow up on references.
Who’s going online? Almost everybody. Our experts estimate that, across all industries, 85 to 90 percent of convention and trade show registration is now handled on the Internet. (That’s up from 5 to 10 percent a decade ago.) For tech shows, online registration is nearly 100 percent. And about 75 percent of hotel reservations for meetings and trade shows are booked online.
How do registration vendors charge? Most vendors charge for the services provided, rather than simply by number of registrants, so it’s important to be clear about what services you expect. Write a comprehensive RFP to send to potential vendors. Expect a contract provision that explains how the vendor will charge for additional services (such as last-minute requests) that weren’t specified in the contract. The service fee likely will be based on: ■ Number of expected registrants ■ Complexity of any customization required ■ Number of days required to be on site ■ Number of on-site staff necessary ■ Amount of disposables (such as paper for badges and badge holders) ■ Number of computers and other equipment brought on site ■ Whether the registration services provider has other revenue-generating opportunities associated with the deal (selling lead-retrieval services to exhibitors or managing the housing, for example, where the housing company gets hotel commissions from bookings) ■ Whether some facets may be sponsored or if the vendor has sponsorship options