Some associations that could capitalize on industry support, either from an exhibition or educational grants, believe it is beneath their dignity. Unless there is a clear conflict of interest for either the association or its members, the financial support available from industry suppliers can often be the difference between a surplus and a loss. Even a relatively small conference of 200 scientists can usually interest 15 to 20 industry suppliers, particularly if the group is influential and/or very specialized, and the cost of setting-up an exhibition is usually minimal.
The industry representatives benefit from the contacts made and the members and guests benefit from another informal educational experience. However, make sure that the exhibition is an integral part of the conference and schedule liberal exhibition hours that do not conflict with the program. One method of gaining industry loyalty is to serve food functions in the exhibit hall, which creates more opportunities for additional industry support. With a special sign at the buffet station, a breakfast can be sponsored by a company.
Even the cost of a sit-down lunch can be covered for little more than an opportunity for an industry representative to be recognized and thanked during the meal, or by table cards announcing the name of the sponsor. Another source of industry support is the sponsored lecture; but insist on picking the speaker and the topic so that both will be consistent with the quality of the program.