How should our association create our exhibitor directory?

If your association meeting has a large number of exhibitors and an extensive show directory, collecting the show directory information can be a tedious, error-prone process that the association staff probably dreads. Moving that information to an online system where the exhibitors enter and change their own information can save the association staff lots of time and maybe even a little bit of their sanity. However, while the association show directory systems themselves can be quite sophisticated, there is still a human element that can cause problems. Here are some things to keep in mind that can make your show directory production process more successful:

– While the actual design of the association show directory system may vary, it is sometimes helpful to imagine that the system has two parts: the “raw data”, which is dumped in from your in-house exhibitor database export, and the “show directory data”, which is data that has been updated at least once by the exhibitor. The in-house data would have been built from the exhibit contract that was submitted by the exhibitor.

– The final export of the data for the printed show directory will consist of the “show directory data” for any companies that have used the show directory system to update their information, plus the “raw data” from any company that did not ever use the online show directory system.

– Things like the booth number and/or demo room will be taken from the “raw data” in any case because those are not exhibitor-modifiable fields (however, the staff may update them frequently in the months before the show directory deadline). In the case of “raw data” that is being updated frequently, the final export for the printed show directory should use the booth number and demo room from the final “raw data” that was uploaded prior to pulling the data.

– The updated “raw data” would, in theory, have both new exhibitors as well as updated information for any existing exhibitors. For the purposes of the online show directory system, this new “raw data” would be used only for the new exhibitors, plus any exhibitors who have NOT YET updated their information via the show directory system (with the exception of the booth number and demo room as noted above). Using the raw data for those exhibitors who have already updated their information would cause the loss of the exhibitor-made update – that’s why it should not be done.

– To be very clear, if the association staff makes an update in the in-house exhibitor database for an exhibitor who has already updated their information in the online show directory system, that update should be IGNORED by the show directory system. That’s because exhibitors often want different information in the show directory than they want to use for the association’s in-house database. So be careful about assuming that any changes the exhibitor wants to make would apply to the other database/directory as well. It’s always best to ask. Hopefully, the exhibitor will make their own changes for the show directory themselves, but keep in mind that if the staff wants to make a change to the show directory information for an exhibitor, the online show directory system is the only safe place to make it, lest it be overwritten.

– By the same token, exhibitors need to realize that updates of their information made in the online show directory will not be applied to their main contact information in-house at the association. This is by design, because they might not want it to change in both places. Your association might consider putting a checkbox on the show directory system form that asks if the exhibitor wants the information to also be used to update the in-house database, but you should never assume that is the case.

By keeping these things in mind, your association will be more likely to avoid the human foibles that can cause problems with the data in the show directory and the in-house exhibitor database.

Does your association use an online show directory system? Has it saved the association a significant amount of staff time?

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