Most people meet a lawyer at a cocktail party and use the opportunity to ask a few questions free of charge. Here, free legal advice on the three Ws of one common headache for planners: suitcasing.
1. What is it? Suitcasing is a situation where a vendor or someone who wants to do business with people in a particular industry goes to an industry meeting but doesn’t register as an exhibitor or sponsor. Instead, he or she hangs out in public areas or registers as a regular attendee, soliciting customers on the trade show floor or in other public areas without paying the cost of the exhibitor or sponsor.
2. Why is it a problem? People who suitcase dilute the value of your event. Think about it: Why would a sponsor pay extra money to exhibit and get exposure to your attendees when someone else can come in, pay a regular fee and get some of the same benefits they’re getting at a higher level of payment?
3. What can you do about it? The first step is to find out if it’s happening at your event. If it is, find the individuals doing it and telling them that marketing or suitcasing on the exhibition or trade show floor is not allowed. Create a policy, distribute it among attendees and put signs at the entrance of your trade show and other areas prohibiting solicitation—or even giving out business cards—unless they’re an authorized exhibitor or sponsor. Additionally, limit access to the areas where your attendees will be hanging out.
One way to discourage suitcasing is to offer networking-only opportunities at your conference. If someone wants to come and interact with your attendees, he or she can buy a special pass at a cheaper rate than a full exhibitor package, with limited access to certain networking events.
Also, be sure to work with your hotel partners. Have an agreement stating they won’t rent out any hospitality suites to your group except for authorized conference events sponsored by exhibitors.
Joshua Grimes, Esq., of Grimes Law Offices, is a Philadelphia-based attorney specializing in the meeting, hospitality and association industries.