The Rat Pack Is Back

January 26, 2015 by Michael Buonaccorso

rat-in-grainNo, not that Rat Pack.

Professional trade show producers are taught early on that there are three types of people who hurt their business, and that eventually those people will hurt everyone. With that in mind, it should be the mission of responsible show producers not only to produce good shows, but ​to help everyone understand the broader ethical responsibility that event organizers have to their attendees, exhibitors, and presenters. One way to do that is by continually educating these parties about the fact that the only reason the event exists is because of the support of attendees and exhibitors.

However, lurking in the shadows you will find a group who doesn’t really care about doing the right thing. They don’t care about the show, and they don’t care about you, unless you help line their pockets.

They are known as Suitcasers, Outboarders, Lobby Rats, and The Chosen Few. You may have seen some of them. You may actually know some of them.

Here’s their modi operandi:

Outboarding is when a company or individual makes the decision to be your unethical competitors – otherwise they would hold their event in another city or on another date that was not in direct competition with yours. When they label it a “coincidence” don’t think for one minute that it actually was. They have recognized that the event organizer did a good job at marketing their event and delivering customers to one place at one time. The Outboarders make a conscious decision to steal from the event organizer and host an event off-site without the consent of the organizer. When an Outboarder does this during show hours, they have just stolen customers from other exhibitors.

There are exceptions to this rule, but these “unofficial events” are held with the blessing of the show organizer, because those producing them reach out to the producers and usually find a schedule that can be a win-win for both parties.

Suitcasing is when a representative of a company either registers as an attendee, or has no badge at all, when they should be registered as an exhibitor and have a presence in the exhibit area. They then actively solicit business from attendees, by handing out flyers in hallways, leaving printed material on tables, etc. – without paying to be a exhibitor. Obviously, this is directly stealing revenue from the conference, as well as stealing from the official exhibitors and being deceitful and confusing to the attendees. Nothing upsets exhibitors quite as much as a suitcaser. They are always reported to the event organizer by angry exhibitors.

​Lobby Rat: This is a person who doesn’t pay for the conference but sits in the hotel lobby where the event is hosted and networks and socializes with event attendees. They’re not really Suitcasers because they don’t have a stealth sales agenda. If they have any agenda at all, it’s simply to soak up the show vibe and maybe be able to say “I was there” when they really weren’t.

The Chosen Few: These people would never think of purchasing a pass. For some reason, they feel entitled, by their very presence, to be granted free access to everything. Unlikely they would ever walk out on their check at a restaurant (or maybe they would), but they have no problem letting honest, paying trade show attendees indirectly pick up their tab. A common strategy is to persuade an exhibitor to compromise their ethical behavior and try to get them in as an “employee.”

​Many years ago, when we all used CDs, there was a similar test of ethics. Bootlegs ran rampant. And if anyone knew what a bogus, illegal disc looked like, it should have been a DJ. With their hokey artwork and verbiage, lack of picture sleeves or cases, it was obvious these were illegal burn jobs, stealing revenue from the record labels, and subsequently, the artists. Where was the outrage? There wasn’t any. They were neat compilations of the music the DJ wanted, so who cared where they came from?

Due to a lack of understanding of the overall harm done, many honest attendees can be supportive of or totally oblivious that the behavior of the characters described above shows a total lack of integrity. Like the illegal discs, those who indulged got what they wanted. When Pete Rose was banned from baseball, it didn’t diminish the demand for his autograph. “I don’t really think he did anything wrong,plus I want the autograph.” But what if everyone did this? The results should be obvious: Eventually show producers would be unable to meet their monetary objectives and these events would cease to happen.

In anticipation of the rewrite of my book A Different Spin, which will be released in 2016 in coordination with the 25th anniversary of Mobile Beat, it’s time to tell the rest of the story. If you truly care about the future of the industry that never was, there’s still time to do something about it. The future is in your hands.

Postscript: At this year’s MBLV event, however, we’re going to expose the rats and their ilk. Armed with registration lists of bona fide attendees and exhibitor employees, our special Rat Patrol will seek out and expose these contemptible characters. In a unique behind the scene report, we will show you in photos and videos these deplorable creatures as they take their positions.


Mike Buonaccorso has been the producer of all Mobile Beat Las Vegas shows, including summer events in Cleveland, Chicago, Orlando, New York and New England. He received his training from IAEE (International Association of Exhibitions and Events) and SISO (Society of Independent Show Organizers). His book can be obtained at .

Michael Buonaccorso Michael Buonaccorso (51 Posts)

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