• See you in Las Vegas '... just not at Pizza Expo

    Tags: Commentary

About a month ago, I received a letter from Pizza Expo/Pizza Today notifying me I was barred from attending the 2004 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. The letter simply said I no longer met the event's registration criteria.

Though no new criteria for attendees or media representatives was given for comparison or clarification, the implied message was clear: If you compete with us directly, you can't come, even if your news outlet is the only one that has ever covered Pizza Expo in real time.

It's easy to be angered by this, but the facts are simple: Pizza Expo is a private tradeshow operated by a private company, and its officers have full veto power over who doesn't get in. Period. Nothing I can do about it.

However, despite not setting foot on the premises of the Las Vegas Convention Center, I will cover the news and events of the show. Expect to see stories about the Expo each day of the show, just as if I were walking the aisles--though I won't be.

Readers come first

After reading the rejection letter from Pizza Expo, I moved to cancel my hotel and flight reservations. (Pizza Expo refunded my registration.) Initially it seemed useless to spend the money and energy traveling to Vegas if I couldn't attend the show—until I glanced at my calendar.

Steve Coomes, senior editor

Three days full of meetings over dinners and lunches, a one-hour live television interview, non-stop networking, etc. Not only could I not ignore the value of those non-Expo activities, I'd made commitments to meet with many friends and story sources who would be in one place at one time.

By the time I'd decided to go to Vegas, word was circulating throughout the industry that I'd been banned from the show, and calls and e-mails started pouring in. More than once I was asked, "What the heck are they thinking?"

One would think Pizza Expo's rationale is this: Because PizzaMarketplace is a competitor to Pizza Today, denying a competitor access to a significant news event makes the competition's job more difficult.

Problem is, I don't give up that easily. Here are two reasons why:

1. I have this deal with my boss: He pays me as long as I report news that draws readers to the Web site.

2. PizzaMarketplace is obligated to meet its promise to deliver insightful and breaking pizza industry-centered news every business day. And despite being banned from the show, I've got a promise to keep.

Don't expect any tricks

The suggestions people have given me for sneaking in to the show are pretty funny: wear a wig, a beard, glasses and a fake nose, dark make-up, a turban, etc.

I don't have the money to hire David Copperfield to make me appear and disappear at select points on the show floor, and no, I'll not come in as a guest of exhibitors who have offered me and my colleagues any number of extra badges we want. The Pizza Expo crew won't have to shadow me on the show floor as they've done on a couple of occasions in the past, because I won't be in the building.

(In fairness to Pizza Expo, PizzaMarketplace employees have been shadowed for a reason. Two former colleagues of mine at Networld Alliance [parent company of PizzaMarketplace] unknowingly broke show rules at the 2001 Northeast Pizza Expo by passing out invitations to our kickoff party. The two were asked at the last minute to travel with us to Atlantic City, but were not informed—as the rest of us were in pre-show meetings—that no materials could be passed out by non-exhibitors. The offense of two resulted in the expulsion of six; we were fairly punished for that misdeed. We vowed, however, not to let such an oversight recur, and we've since attended five subsequent Pizza Expos without carrying so much as a business card onto the show floor.)

How, then, will I cover the show? I'll keep that answer to myself.

But rest assured, there are plenty of opportunities to gather information when at least 9,000 pizza industry pros come to one town. Not only do I have plans to meet many of them officially, I expect many unofficial meetings will occur at non-Expo events. They know me and I know them, and I've hardly ever found a pizza operator unwilling to talk.

So if you're like me and don't get to go to the Expo, don't worry. I've got you covered. Just visit PizzaMarketplace.com March 16-18 to read what's going on in Vegas.

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