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Rock Your Trade Show: Inspiring interviews with Industry Insiders, Executive Leaders, Marketers and Influencers who share their insights, challenges and lessons learned so you can rock Your next trade show.

Do you need to achieve results your marketing program and win leadership buy-in by showing results in what you do at work?

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Feb 27, 2017

This is the episode for exhibit managers, marketers and trade show industry insiders who want to differentiate yourselves, get promoted and be viewed as an industry expert.  Randy Acker, President and COO of Exhibitor Media Group shares an insider look at ExhibitorLive, the certification and speaking programs available and he gives real life examples about people whose lives were forever changed by Exhibitor Magazine and Exhibitor Media Group programs. 

Here is what you will learn in this episode:

6 Ways to Differentiate Yourself and Your Trade Show Program

  1. Why You Should Invest In Continuing Education: Find out why the Exhibitor CTSM programs help you internally and with your trade show program results.
  2. How You Can Get Promoted: Attending ExhibitorLive and going to the programs there has helped marketers be viewed as industry experts.
  3. What Exceptional Event Programming Delivers: Unique 100% money back guarantee helps employers know they are getting value from ExhibitorLive, FastTrak and eTrak.
  4. Why Trust is So Important: Buyers don’t purchase an expensive piece of equipment over the internet.  Face-to-Face marketing is based on Trust and that can be established in a variety of in-person meetings including on the trade show floor.
  5. How Attendees Experience Value: ExhibitorLive requires all speakers to go through their speaker training.
  6. Industry Trends: Face-to-Face relationships, personal interactions is still a key component of all buying decisions.


Show Notes

Introduction: Randy Acker is the President and COO of Exhibitor Media Group-Exhibitor Magazine, ExhibitorLive, FastTrak, eTrak and industry specific programs.  Exhibitor Online is the gold standard where marketers can gather information about what is happening in trade show events and meeting planning and apply the strategies shared to their jobs.

1:18 Welcome Randy Acker to the show.

1:37 How ExhibitorLive is so impactful and why is it beneficial to marketers

We are an $80 billion dollar industry and higher education doesn’t offer much in the way of education.

2:12 Too many people learn by way of the “school of hard knocks” and that is a really hard way to learn.

2:20 Back in 1982 Lee Knight, Owner and Founder of Exhibitor Media Group, created a vehicle for people to learn about our industry.

2:38 There are so many stories to share and Randy’s favorite takes place a number of years ago.  A woman came up and said:  “You are Lee Knight” and he replied, “Why yes I the next thing she said was “You Saved My Life”.  She was able to figure out her job requirements from reading Exhibitor Magazine.

3:06 So many people share how Exhibitor Magazine helped them learn about the industry and their jobs from the content in their publication and programs.

3:28 Randy shares how there is nothing more rewarding as an educator than knowing that he has made a difference in people’s lives.


3:27 About 75% of the audience that goes to Exhibitor are women.  Natalie asks Randy: What are some of the challenges trade show marketers face and how does the certification program Exhibitor offers help them?  Randy confirms the majority of people doing events are women 35-40 years old. One of the biggest challenges since the recession of 2009 is that more and more people who manage a trade show program, are marketing generalists

4:30 Almost 90% of readers of Exhibitor Magazine are responsible for both trade shows and events.  Add in a downsized department and other responsibilities, dual roles and they are finding there is no one else helping them do what they do.  Supply side folks become a partner to help them.

5:06 The certification program started in 1993 through Northern Illinois University.  There are 600 candidates currently and about 4,000 people in the program.

5:23 Randy asks the question many marketers early in their career ask: “How do I elevate myself from an admin. to a creating a profession for myself?”

5:49 Students in the CTSM program build confidence, get promotions, learn self-discipline are viewed as an expert, know how to leverage best practices. And they bring this to their trade show programs.

6:21 For years people used to attend trade shows because competitors were there.  When marketers go through this program, they find that getting measureable results and more sales are the reason for being at a trade show.

6:40 The certification program includes 23 required courses and 5 electives.  The program gives a broad perspective for people in trade show marketing to leverage every aspect of their roles as marketers.

7:03 Continuing education is so important and the CTSM program has ROI to tie back to their role. 

7:36 No matter what the experience level-senior people come away with something they didn’t know they didn’t know.

7:51 Articles for Exhibitor Magazine and programs are really focused on providing the best content.

8:27 Randy shares why it is so important to offer great content.  People in a downsized department who have dual roles of a marketing generalist and trade show manager have very limited time.  If they are making the commitment and if they take the time out of the office they make sure they get what they came for at the show.

8:32 Exhibitor Media Group has had a content strategists since 1987 to help formulate the educational sessions for the organization.  This person was a trade show manager and teacher, so creating a curriculum and quality control is something she does well.  This year for ExhibitorLive there are 169 educational sessions for

9:08 If you are selected to be a speaker for ExhibitorLive, you have to go through the speaker training.  Even if you are CEO who delivers over 100 presentations a year, you have to go through the speaker training program. 

9:34 Randy shares why having high quality programs is so important. If people are using budget money, then the sessions need to meet the standard.  If the session doesn’t get high evaluation results, one of two things happen: 1. You are sent back for remedial training or you are not asked to come back.

10:01 Because of the Northern Illinois University (NIU) affiliation, they evaluate the programs for what are the learning components of a session.

10:28 What is the certification process like? In order to be certified, you have to take 23 classes, 5 electives and then prepare and take a 3 hour exam where you are locked in a room.  The experience is similar to the CPA exam.

10:41 The last item to do is you have to submit a portfolio of how you applied what you learned. 

10:59 Whether you come to be certified or come for the education, Randy shares how their programs adhere to a high standard.

11:05 In fact, the standard is so high, there is a 100% money back guarantee, no questions asked.

11:22 The money back guarantee has a close connection to the heavily veted speaker process.

11:44 Founder Lee Knight in 1989 had a speaker who wasn’t able to attend.  Because Lee had been writing articles about the trade show industry since 1982 he thought he could teach the courses.

12:01 After the program was completed, Lee decided his delivery of the content didn’t meet the standards he expected for his attendees and he offered everyone who attended his two sessions their money back for those sessions.

12:14 This experience caused Lee Knight to make a commitment that it would never happen to attendees going forward

12:30 Each year, ExhibitorLive has over 1,200 attendees for the courses and they give less than 10 refunds.

12:40 The reason for the low refund rate is that it is all rooted back to heavily vetted speaker training and a commitment to quality.

12:55 The benefit of a refund policy: It makes a difference for some attendees to get their boss sign off because of the money back guarantee.

13:25 The takeaway for speakers and attendees at the program: “When you hear from your peers and get advice that is tangible to what you are doing it is very helpful to people who attend and give the sessions.” Randy said.

13:55 More and more of the people on the supplier side are being asked to be extensions of their clients marketing.  Supply side people are taking the courses as well.

14:46 There are exhibit managers who lose head count, sometimes have trouble landing a new position. Randy is asked what advice he has for people in transition.

15:14 The first thing to look at is how do you differentiate yourself for people.

15:25 There are 3rd generation graduates for the program and the benefit to them is that Fortune 100 job postings are requiring a CTSM certification as part of their job experience.

16:11 As you are in your role, one thing you have to do is to continually make your Results visible to your organization.

16:25 As part of creating your own personal brand, you need to set goals and ultimately measure your results so that you are viewed as an indispensable expert

16:51 You need to have engagement with people who do what you do.

17:03 Having a network is also so very important.  Surround yourself with people that do what you do, they understand what you do.

17:22 Attendees who experience ExhibitorLive, Fastrak, eTrak have been helped to be seen differently within their companies.

18:03 Natalie and Randy discuss why having a network, mentor and sponsor is so important for your career.

18:22 Randy shares that there are 4,000 candidates within the certification program and the 600 graduates are very connected getting together around the country.

18:43 Any candidate that comes into the certification program is assigned a mentor.

18:54 At ExhibitorLive there is peer-to-peer round table groups with beer and wine and snacks so attendees can get out of the formal classroom environment and network.  There are 50 topics to discuss and this creates the ability to create relationships at an intimate level.

19:30 There are a lot of life-long relationships created at the networking events. At ExhibitorLive, first time attendees are rounded up geographical so you can meet someone who might only be 20 minutes down the road.  Knowing someone close by allows the attendees to get together several times a year in person.

20:16  ExhibitorLive  also helps associations meet like the Healthcare Exhibitor Association (HCEA) who has a mini reception as well as industry associations like the Exhibit Designers and Producers

Association (EDPA) get together.

21:07 Randy shares why he travels every month to meet with all layers of the industry.

21:24 Randy feels the best way to understand your customer, is to travel around and talk to all the different stake holders.  Randy visits 6-8 companies every month including both client side to suppliers.

22:07 Randy’s mentor told him that direct face-to-face contact is so important.  Randy reaches out to talk about their roles in the industry.

22:45 Since the recession of 2009, the industry changed.  Randy wants to make sure he gets out there to create a forum for conversations.

23:17 There are too many conversations happening in a vacuum and strategic players are sometimes left out of a dialogue.

23:58 Randy follows his passion to pay it forward.  He is adjunct Faculty at Bemidji State for the exhibit design program.  Exhibitus hired one of the graduates from Bemidji State.

24:49 One of Randy’s missions is to get more and more guest speakers for the design program to help students understand what the industry is all about.

25:25 The placement rate out of Bemidji State is almost 100% for students to land a position.

26:00 Randy shares face-to-face marketing trends coming in the next 2 years.  Technology plays a role including Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) creates an experience.

26:31 In the end, it all comes down to Trust.  Someone buying a new MRI machine- they aren’t do this virtually.  You are establishing relationships face-to-face.  It is about building relationships.

27:06 Face-to-face is the quickest route to trust.

27:20 It isn’t just about face-to-face show floor any longer.  Marketers are using their trade show expertise to create user group conferences.  They leverage all the tools and techniques from their own trade shows and create one that is proprietary to them.

28:48 Want to learn more? You can find Randy and the programs discussed in the program at if you want to go to learn via the magazine, ExhibitorLive, one of the four regional events at Exhibitor FastTrak and if you can’t ever leave your desk they have that covered also with eTrak via Adobe Connect the same sessions from ExhibitorLive.

29:51 If you are going to the Exhibitor show, I would love to meet you!  Visit the Exhibitus booth 1261 and say hello!

Find out more about Rock Your Trade Show podcasts at


Randy Acker’s Background:  In addition to his leadership role at EXHIBITOR Media Group, Randy is an Adjunct Faculty in the exhibit design program at Bemidji State University.  A twenty year veteran of EXHIBITOR, Acker’s experience spans all aspects of EXHIBITOR Media Group’s sales and marketing programs, magazine and trade show promotion, operations, finance, strategic business development and industry relations. He is also active in numerous segments of the exhibition industry contributing the unique perspective he has on the industry by serving corporate marketers, exhibit builders, agencies, suppliers to the industry, venues, as well as show organizers.


The leader in trade show and corporate event marketing education, EXHIBITOR Media Group publishes the award-winning EXHIBITOR magazine - best practices in trade show marketing, and produces EXHIBITORLIVE, the trade show and corporate event industry's top-rated educational conference; EXHIBITORFastTrak regional accelerated learning conferences; EXHIBITOR eTrak live online educational sessions; and GRAVITY FREE, the world's only multidisciplinary design conference. EXHIBITOR is the founder and sponsor of CTSM (Certified Trade Show Marketer), the industry's only university-affiliated professional certification program. EXHIBITOR Online  is the trade show and event community's most comprehensive online resource.