I don’t know about you, but these were new terms to me. As one who always likes to be in the know, I had to investigate this a bit and learn what’s what – let me tell you, it’s not pretty. Basically speaking, “suitcasing” and “outboarding” have the potential to be truly damaging to your event and reputation. Both are unethical practices and are becoming more and more prominent in our industry.
Suitcasing is when a non-exhibiting company or person attends an event as an attendee, then basically works the aisles from their “suitcase” or briefcase. You have more than likely experienced this. For example, a milder form of suitcasing may be when you are an exhibitor at the show and are approached by an attendee. Next thing you know, the “attendee” is marketing to you, as opposed to the other way around. It feels slimy because it is. This supposed attendee did not pay for the right to market to anyone and yet here they are, taking up your valuable time and attention as significant points of contact pass you by. Don’t stand for it!
This has been experienced at other shows to a much higher degree where attendees were literally sent alerts via email or text from a company, inform attendees that though they will not be exhibiting at the show, they will be there walking the aisles with specials to share. Wow, really?
Outboarding takes this up to a whole other level as it literally lures people away from your show. This is where a non-exhibiting company sets up their own hospitality suite or off-site event in conjunction with your show, then proceed to attract your attendees to come spend time with them. Not cool and highly unacceptable.
The Shot Show has gone so far as to publicly denounce such activities; for them this was a necessary stance as they experienced such activities first hand at one of their earlier events. You may wish to take their lead and proactively do the same for your next event. As with any issue, educating your employees, attendees and exhibitors to the possibility of such activities will bring awareness to the issue and catch it before it negatively affects you.
This is also worth a mention to the hosting property. They too need to be aware that you will not tolerate such activities. By sharing this information with them, it can be on their radar and if they suspect that a competing force is at work, they can nip it before it negatively affects your presence.
That said, it could also be the honest mistake of a less mature company. If you catch someone suitcasing or outboarding, always approach it as an honest mistake first. Spend a bit of time explaining why their actions water down the integrity of your show, then send them away as wiser than they were before : )
*Thank you to Classic Exhibits for the image.
Thanks to P.S., from a major hotel chain for the comment on my recent blog: “I just wanted to let you know that I find your articles very interesting. I did not realize there was a term. Suitcasing and Outboarding, we check for that all the time…Due to the proximity of the hotel to the Convention Center I have to check everyone who request rooms with no meeting space over contracted citywide dates and write in my agreement that we do check with Housing against the registration list. Should we find out there is a connection, the contract becomes null and void. I have had to cancel a couple of contracts.”
Thank you again for your feedback! It is great to hear that you protect your events from these tactics.