The Creation of a Profession

Posted by Kelsey Miner on Oct 31, 2017 11:00:00 AM

Foreword by Hill & Partners:                                                                          

In preparation for our sponsorship of EXHIBITORFastTrak in Chicago, H&P reached out to Randal Acker, President and COO of Exhibitor Media Group, and asked to learn more about CTSM. Read Randy's response below and learn about the CTSM program, and how so many professions in the trade show industry came to be what they are today. 

unnamed-1.jpgMarketing is critical to our economy and almost every college and university in North America has a bachelors degree in marketing. In fact, many of those same universities also have masters degrees in marketing as well. However, within the curriculum of these programs there is too often very little content and conversation on trade shows and events.

No one can precisely define the total economic value of trade shows and events to our economy but often it is estimated at $80 billion. Think about how many products and services sales transactions began with trade shows and events, yet again higher education doesn’t give it the attention it merits.

Historically people responsible for their company’s trade shows and events handled the tactical and logistics elements of the execution. Too often few in a company could define why they were participating in a specific show and seldom were programs measured. Being responsible for the company’s trade shows and events was often a temporary stopping point in a marketer’s career path.

Like any profession, in trade shows and events there were folks that thought there had to be a better way to do these face-to-face events.

  • What were the goals?
  • What was the strategy behind the execution?
  • What tactics would improve the results of the programs?
  • How would we measure the effectiveness of our execution?
  • Where could I learn the answers to these and many more questions if higher education wasn’t teaching them?
  • How can I differentiate myself from others executing trade shows and events?

Since its founding in 1982, EXHIBITOR magazine had been providing many of these answers through the editorial content. The mission of the magazine was to share best practices in trade show and event marketing. To give marketers the tools and techniques to maximize their performance by sharing how others were being successful.

In 1989 EXHIBITOR magazine’s editorial content was brought to life face-to-face via a conference and trade show. EXHIBITOR Show (now EXHIBITORLIVE) would provide the additional ability to connect with other like-minded trade show and event professionals. They now could learn from each other, as well as the faculty, on what was working in trade shows and events. EXHIBITORLIVE also enabled them to meet face-to-face with vendors and partners who could help them execute and improve their programs.

In 1992 they could now find the answer to how they could really differentiate themselves.

Certified Trade Show Marketer

The conference advisory board and company executives felt it was time to define the skills and abilities needed for marketers to make the most of trade shows and events. They chose to work with a university to define the curriculum, its standards, how to measure the knowledge learned and how to showcase how the students in the program would demonstrate the application of knowledge.

Today the Certified Trade Show Marketer certification program is sponsored by EXHIBITOR Media Group and is accredited via Northern Illinois University.

The program contains:

  • - 23 required sessions
  • - 5 electives
  • - Quizzes after attending each session
  • - Once the courses are complete candidates sit for a 3 hr comprehensive exam.
  • - Candidates then prepare a portfolio of how they have applied their learnings to their trade show and event programs. This is then reviewed by a panel of evaluators.
  • - Once completed, approved and a passing score is received……CERTIFICATION!
  • Since the inception of the Certified Trade Show Marketer program there have been nearly 600 graduates and nearly 4,000 candidates. People in the program view this as their Master’s degree in Trade Show and Event Marketing.

But they also tell us that they now have:

  • - Increased confidence
  • - Improved self-discipline
  • - Received promotions
  • - Are viewed as an expert in their company
  • - Been able to apply best practices, accountability and demonstrated ROI for their company

"As my chosen profession - not just a job - I wanted to learn as much about the industry as possible. CTSM has given me that and then some. In many ways, I value my CTSM education more than my Bachelor's degree."

Michelle Rochette, CTSM Gold Level


A CTSM graduating class from 2015

"The sessions offered me three major benefits:

  1. Best practices to strive towards
  2. Confirmation that some of my current techniques and processes were spot on
  3. Comfort that I was not alone; my struggles and walls I encountered frequently to
  4. institute what seemed like a simple change, were shared industry-wide.

Moving from an event coordinator to a brand experience manager was a huge leap in my career. I would have been ill-prepared without know-ledge gained from my CTSM courses. I also most certainly would not hold my current title of Operations Manager without my EXHIBITOR education. Thank you for providing a forum for our industry to unite and grow from every year. I look forward to the career, and personal growth yet to come."

Carly Dugger, CTSM

For 25 years the Certified Trade Show Marketer (CTSM) program has been helping those responsible for trade shows and events with a vehicle of learning that helped them differentiate themselves and their programs. Graduates continue to upgrade their skills and their certifications, staying up-to-date on evolving best practices and sharing their knowledge with their peers. What was once a position of tactics and logistics and often a temporary stopping point for people is now a career destination.

A profession has been born!

Thanks to sponsors like Hill and Partners who share a commitment to excellence in trade shows and event, the certification coursework and connection opportunities for certification candidates and graduates is also available via EXHIBITORFastTrak regional conferences. The conference attendees at EXHIBITORFastTrak – Chicago will have the opportunity to advance their way through the required coursework, connect with their peers via roundtable discussions, have dinner conversations and multiple networking engagements. Face-to-face marketing drives business and our industry continues to become more effective thanks to the fact we have so many stakeholders that are willing to share knowledge, experience and best practices.

For more information on CTSM go to


Randal Acker







President and COO, EXHIBITOR Media Group











In addition to his leadership role at EXHIBITOR Media Group, Randal is an Adjunct Faculty in the exhibit design program at Bemidji State University. A twenty-plus-year veteran of EXHIBITOR, Acker’s experience spans all aspects of EXHIBITOR Media Group’s sales and marketing programs, magazine and trade show promotion, operations, finance, strategic business development and industry relations. He is also active in numerous segments of the exhibition industry contributing the unique perspective he has on the industry by serving corporate marketers, exhibit builders, agencies, suppliers to the industry, venues, as well as show organizers.














The leader in trade show and corporate event marketing education, EXHIBITOR Media Group publishes the award-winning EXHIBITOR magazine - best practices in trade show marketing, and produces EXHIBITORLIVE, the trade show and corporate event industry's top-rated educational conference; EXHIBITORFastTrak regional accelerated learning conferences; EXHIBITOR eTrak live online educational sessions; and GRAVITY FREE, the world's only multidisciplinary design conference. EXHIBITOR is the founder and sponsor of CTSM (Certified Trade Show Marketer), the industry's only university-affiliated professional certification program. EXHIBITOR Online  is the trade show and event community's most comprehensive online resource.

Topics: From the Experts, Industry News & Trends