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Exhibitor Tables at Academic Conferences in Theory and Practice

Although we’ve been in the midst of several heat waves here in New York City (if I hear the weatherman use the word “sweltering” one more time, I might cry!), I’m already starting to think about fall. In between dreaming of cozy sweaters and pumpkin pie, I’m hard at work coordinating our attendance at half a dozen academic conferences in some of our most important fields. A fan of checklists and packing, this is one of my favorite responsibilities. However, it can certainly also get a bit overwhelming making sure every part of the process gets taken care of while maintaining all of the different deadlines for each event.

For some of our larger conferences, the process can start almost as soon as the previous year’s meeting ends. The first step is reserving booth space, and this is often a first come, first served system, with early bird specials and “point” allotments based on how soon you submit your application. Most conferences send out announcements when registration is open, but I’ve been known to haunt their websites in anticipation! Once we’ve secured our exhibit space, we also reserve advertising space in the conference program. This makes sure that attendees know we’ll be there and gives a hint as to some of the titles we’ll have on display. We then have to submit our ads anywhere from several months to several weeks in advance of the conference’s start.

As we get closer to the conference, we’ll have to purchase the furniture to fill up our booth. Making use of some very rusty geometry skills, we decide how many and what size tables will work best in the allotted space (to my embarrassment, this often involves several scribbled drawings and a calculator). The different sizes and shapes of tables and chairs are overwhelming, and there are usually some pretty outlandish options, from tropical plants to full size sofas. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail when I claim we absolutely must have emerald green plush carpeting and a martini bar for the booth.

With our Publisher and Managing Director, I then put together a list of titles that we’d like to send. This is one of the hardest parts of conference planning (and of course gets harder every year when there are more and more books to choose from!). Unfortunately, there’s a physical limit to how many books we can ship and display, and the decision to cut any titles is extremely difficult. We generally start with the previous year’s list and then adding any newly published titles or paperback editions. I often get advice from the person who attended the conference the previous year and make sure to check the preliminary program for speakers and that year’s special theme.

Once we have a book list, I liaise with our warehouse (no, I don’t keep copies of all of our books on my desk – although some weeks it feels that way!) to make sure that they know what to send and when. Large conferences have “advance warehouses” where your materials need to be sent prior to the conference. This means that although the conference might be taking place in November, it’s important to remember that everything probably needs to be ready to go in October.

Of course, here is where my checklists become important. In addition to catalogs and order forms, the person manning our booth will need supplies ranging from scissors and staplers to business cards, banners, and the credit card machine. Book stands, book racks, signs, and posters all need to be included to make sure the display is just right.

Fortunately, I don’t do this alone! In the months and weeks leading up to our conference season, I coordinate closely with the rest of the office. It’s important for me to give our production team advance warning of what new and forthcoming books we’ll want to send to the conference, so they can ensure that they’ll be printed in time (I’m convinced they have some impressive magical powers that allow them to somehow make it all come together in time!). Although my focus is books marketing, conferences are also a great opportunity to display Berghahn’s extensive journals list. Our journals marketing team lets me know what journals are relevant for each conference to make sure they’re listed on our promotional materials and they then gather all of the sample copies and flyers to send. I think coordinating conferences is one of those instances in which my appreciation for my co-workers is at its highest. Not only do they put up with my constant deadline reminder emails (and post-it notes, bulleted lists, spreadsheets, calendars…) and often harried state of mind, they usually have everything ready before I realize I even need it (and of course are willing to help me carry the box I overpacked down to the UPS truck). It is most definitely a team effort!

To see a complete list of our upcoming conferences, take a look at our website: If you’re planning to attend any of these events, please be sure to stop by our booth and say “hi.” Getting a chance to talk with you about our books and journals is the best reward for all of that planning!