CA WORLD: Exhibitors criticise attendance, logistics

Plagued by low exhibit floor traffic and some serious logistical snafus, several exhibitors at Computer Associates International's CA World user conference say they're considering skipping next year's show.

          Plagued by low exhibit floor traffic and some serious logistical snafus, several exhibitors at Computer Associates International's CA World user conference say they're considering skipping next year's show.

          "We would never have shown up if we'd known the traffic would be like this," said Tim Tuomey, an area sales manager at Intertec America. "This was a complete misfire."

          Last year, CA World drew more than 20,000 attendees. This year, the show's official attendance is 10,000, according to CA -- and that figure includes everyone who has passed through the conference centre doors, however briefly. Exhibitors say they've heard that only 6000 or so users are actively attending this year's show.

          More problematic than the small crowd, however, is a technical breakdown that's been thwarting exhibitors since the show floor opened Sunday night: The card scanning system they're using to record contact information from booth visitors doesn't work.

          Syntecor manufactures the system. The exact nature of the breakdown was unclear: several exhibitors say they've been able to record information sporadically, while others haven't been able to get the system working at all. Many exhibitors said they've told Syntecor about the problem, with little response. Syntecor representatives could not be reached for comment.

          CA Divisional senior vice president Herbert Siegel, who oversees CA World, said he was aware of a problem with the badge scanning system but didn't know the precise details. He said CA "always has contingency plans in place" and will work with exhibitors to smooth any ruffled feathers.

          Several exhibitors say the best way for CA to make amends would be for it to turn over its attendee list.

          "We've missed out on thousands of leads," said Opto 22 vice president Bob Sheffres. Like many vendors, his company had resorted to collecting business cards from those willing to turn them over, but he estimates that they've been unable to record contact information for some 90% of their booth's visitors. He'd like a copy of the attendee list because without it, "there's no other way for us to track leads," he said.

          Intertec's Tuomey would also like a copy of CA's attendee database. "In three days I've gotten 30 leads. For that, I could have stayed home and made phone calls," he said.

          Siegel said CA doesn't usually give exhibitors its attendee database, but that it would "possibly" consider doing so. Other backup plans to compensate for the scanning system problems include CA-sponsored mailings to attendees on the exhibitors' behalf, he said.

          "I can promise this: We will make sure that we do the right thing by our exhibitors," he said.

          Even the big vendors are suffering from the scanning system outages. "I would say it's a pretty big issue," said Microsoft's Frank Ille, who is coordinating Microsoft's presence at CA World.

          "One of the big reasons why you come to a trade show is to get those leads," said his colleague, event planner Carol Cooper. Cooper said she'd been discussing the problem with CA, which has offered to give Microsoft records of users who have attended sessions focusing on areas the company is targeting.

          The show's low turnout has also been a turn-off for Microsoft, Ille said.

          "The traffic is definitely not as good as last year. It's considerably lower," Ille said. "It's going to make me question whether we come next year."

          Exhibitors all around the floor expressed dismay about the crowd size.

          "Yesterday was quite disappointing," said an Aether Systems booth representative. Catalyst Systems representatives said they would have brought fewer people to the show if they'd known the floor traffic would be so thin.

          Several vendors said logistical changes are contributing to the traffic problems. In past years, CA has kept the show floor open late and has served dinner and other meals on the exhibit floor -- a tactic that drove traffic to the booths. This year, the floor closes earlier and is largely foodless. CA also drastically curtailed the number of training sessions and focus tracks offered during CA World, which has changed the attendee mix.

          Catalyst Systems provides software and support services for applications development. In past years, most of its clients have sent several employees to CA World; this year, because the applications development track has been cut, many sent none.

          CA's Siegel said the show is smaller by design. CA made a decision to focus strictly on e-business at CA World, and it consequently reduced the number of sessions and presentations offered at the show from more than 3000 to 450, he said. Siegel said CA's user groups, partners, customers and exhibitors were all informed of the show's shifting focus and anticipated attendance drop.

          Other logistical changes are being made to help streamline the show, he said, such as consolidating all CA World events into one location instead of having them scattered around town, as the company has in the past. CA World also switched locations this year, moving from New Orleans to Orlando.

          The curtailed exhibit floor's hours are partially in response to the show's new location, according to Siegel. CA recognised that attendees would want to take advantage of Orlando's theme parks, he said. By closing down the show in the evenings and holding special events at area attractions, CA hopes to keep attendees at the show during the day.

          Opinions vary on how well CA is handling problems on the floor. Tuomey said Intertec is unhappy with CA's show management and is unlikely to return next year.

          "This is the worst show I've ever seen, on any level," he said. "We probably won't be back. We'll spend our budget on some other marketing endeavor."

          But Catalyst Systems senior architect Steven Taylor said his company's dealings with CA have been smooth. "(CA) has been really responsive. The people who make the show run are great," he said.

          Opto 22's Sheffres also waxed enthusiastic about CA, despite his booth's problems. "We love CA," he said. "We'll definitely be here next year." He's even thinking of taking CA up on an offer to join the show's planning committee.

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