Beware: Has Fair Guide now morphed into Expo-Guide?

Remember that nifty little Austrian company known as the Fair Guide? It snared numerous companies who exhibited at either an Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, SIA, Health & Fitness Business, Flyfishing Retailer or Interbike trade show into a frustrating flood of demand letters and threats of legal action for not paying an advertising contract that was signed in all cases unknowingly.
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Remember that nifty little Austrian company known as the Fair Guide? If not, click here for a reminder from one of our many stories warning industry companies to stay away. As a reminder, Fair Guide snared numerous companies who exhibited at either an Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, SIA, Health & Fitness Business, Flyfishing Retailer or Interbike trade show into a frustrating flood of demand letters and threats of legal action for not paying an advertising contract that was signed in all cases unknowingly.

Well, the good news is that the Austrian company, Construct Data Publishers Verlag AG, owner of the Fair Guide (www.fairguide.com), agreed on Feb. 21, 2008, to stop mailing from Austria the misleading contracts to trade show exhibitors around the world. More importantly, it canceled its demands for money from any company that signed a contract in error and -- this is key -- disputed the contract in writing with Construct Data. For more information about the ruling and to get a form letter to send to Construct Data Publishers if you have not yet disputed a contract in writing with it, go to www.stopecg.org/contruct_data_fairguide.htm.

Now for the bad news. Given Fair Guide's willingness to stop sending solicitations and harassing people who signed return forms, it hardly seems coincidental to the SNEWS® team that on Feb. 6, a domain (www.expo-guide.com) was registered under the name of Commercial Online Manuals S de RL de CV. This company is headquartered in Mexico so it states. The operational style and layout of the website is decidedly similar in appearance to the infamous www.fairguide.com.

Then, we received a March 18, 2008, letter at the SNEWS® offices inviting us to update our listing based on our company's exhibiting at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. We'd love to know how it is getting this information, but that's another question for later. Though slightly different in design and layout, the tone and information requested, and style of offering up what remains an essentially misleading contract matches that of Construct Data (Fair Guide). In fact, the wording on the solicitation letter is identical to that of prior Fair Guide mailings.

Emails to both Construct Data (aka Fair Guide) and Expo-Guide using an anonymous email to veil our identity went unreturned. We asked how we could get our company listed, what the differences between the two guides were, and if we listed in one, would that mean we were listed in the other?

With no confirmation from either Construct Data or Expo-Guide, we are left to wonder if these are one and the same company, or is Expo-Guide just a brilliant mimicker of style and nothing more than another misleading solicitor matching that of Fair Guide? We would suspect the former.

You decide as we've put two update forms, one above the other (the top one from Expo-Guide received in March 2008 and the one directly under that from the Fair Guide received in the fall of 2007) for you to compare:

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What is equally interesting is that while the Expo-Guide claims to be based in Mexico, the mailing address given to return the contract is, get this, France: Expo-Guide, DAIC – OPS / Autorisation 0670, 95919 Roissy Ch De Gaulle Cedex 9, France. On the postage-paid envelope, in five convenient languages, is the statement: "Send it back today…the only way to guarantee the correct entry."

Just like Fair Guide eventually did, Expo-Guide provides a place on its website for anyone who receives a letter to update or delete a listing for free -- http://www.expo-guide.com/myentry/. Of course, nowhere on the update listing form is there is any mention of this link or the fact that the only way you can update a listing for free is via the website. While the free update website option is mentioned in the cover letter, frankly, few folks will read it and if the cover letter gets separated from the form in a stack of office paperwork, the appearance is that the only way to update a listing is in writing, using the form -- and once you do that, the company has got you for $1,571 per year, automatically renewing each year unless you cancel in writing three months prior to the expiration date.

SNEWS® View: Our recommendation with Expo-Guide, just as we did with Fair Guide, is DO NOT mail back the Exhibitors Directory for Fairs and Exhibitions listing update form to the company under ANY circumstances. Tell your entire staff that under no circumstances is anyone to mail back any solicitation seeking an update to a listing in any directory -- Fair Guide, Expo-Guide or any other guide name these creative business folk come up with in the future.

As for Expo-Guide and its request for you to update your listing, update your listing online if you must and only online. If you mail back the letter, you risk engaging in what will become a complete waste of time and mind-bending legal tussle with a company that appears to have a business model based on preying on unsuspecting company employees -- ones who return the letter thinking they are doing a good thing.

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