2017 SISO CEO Summit Breaks Attendance Records in Sunny Florida

March 31, 2017

A record 300-plus C-level executives, sponsors and guests spent a few sun-drenched days at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., for the 2017 Society of Independent Show Organizers’ CEO Summit.

“The SISO CEO Summit is the largest and more important event of the year for the for-profit side of the global exhibition/event industry and the most valuable part of the event are the participants, they make the event the success it is,” said SISO Executive Director David Audrain.

He added, “The majority of the program is an open dialogue and contribution from our members/participants, and it is this open sharing that provides the insight and discussion, along with many partnerships and business deals, that makes the SISO CEO Summit a must-attend event every year.”

Besides a record level of overall attendees, C-level for-profit organizers in attendance had an increase of more than 20 percent, compared with the previous two years, and came from 20 countries as far as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Russia, Argentina, and throughout Europe.

“Approximately 25 percent of our organizer attendees were from outside the U.S.” Audrain said. “We continue to see this percentage grow as our attendance increases in its internationality.”

In addition, he added that there was a large number of first-timers, around 20 percent of the organizers in attendance, many of whom came from 30 new member companies of varying sizes that signed on last year.

Kicking off March 27 with a first-ever SISO Executive Women's Forum - Creating Your Narrative for Success in the morning and Small Business Roundtable in the afternoon, the 3-day 2017 SISO CEO Summit had a Cuban-themed opening party that evening.

The next morning, the SISO CEO Summit’s conference opened, and first up onstage was Ben Parr, co-founder and managing partner - Octane AI and author of “Captivilogy”, to talk about how to capture an audience’s attention and understand how attention behaves.

Parr said in 1986, the average person was subjected to about 40 newspapers worth of information in a day, and now, they are inundated with several DVDs worth on a daily basis.

“We are being bombarded by information,” he added. “It’s harder to get people’s attention.”

Some ways Parr offered to get people hooked is to make something seem scarce, like an invite-only event, or create a ‘parasocial relationship’ with attendees – meaning “show people you care,” he added.

“Find a way to validate your audience and empathize with your audience,” Parr said.

Next on the agenda was AMR International’s Denzil Rankine talking about “How to Structure the Events Organizer of the Future.”

He said that the industry was going through a period of “unprecedented change” with its growth forecast converging with GDP, as well as attendance and net square footage increases slowing down.

A few things Rankine offered for companies to consider were to make event organizers capable of owning the strategy of their own events, innovation has to be constant and data analytics should be tied to strategy.

He added, “The revenue mix will (also) change. Right now, it’s mostly from floor space.”

The last session of the first morning was a panel that continued the theme of steps needed to be taken to have more women in high-level leadership roles in the trade show industry.

In a study from the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, the results indicated women make 17 percent less than men do in a comparable position in the industry.

Mary Larkin from Diversified Communications said one of the reasons women are not moving forward more is because “women tend to nurture down and men tend to network up.”

Herve Sedky from Reed Exhibitions added that there is a big difference between mentoring and sponsoring someone.

“Sponsoring someone is taking action and making the calls,” he said, which could help women more.  

The SISO CEO Summit Annual Business Luncheon opened up with Ned Krause, who heads E.J. Krause & Associates and is the incoming SISO chairman, saying, “SISO has been very good to me. I started to get involved in its second year.”

He said the association has grown to 195 members this year. “We’re extremely pleased, especially with all of the M&A activity the last couple of years,” Krause said.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of a few more sessions that highlighted “Security Issues - Organizers Responsibilities”, in which they discussed what were organizer’s responsibilities to plan for a possible terrorist incident at or near their events, and “Building Year-Round Customer Relationships”, led by Timothy M. Andrews, president and CEO of the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), and president of the ASI Show family of events.

That evening, attendees took part in the annual Las Vegas-sponsored dinner, followed by an Afterglow Reception with scotch and cigars under the stars.

The next morning the Robert L. Krakoff Award for Excellence was given to Charles McCurdy of Informa Exhibitions.

“It has been a real pleasure to have you all as colleagues in the industry,” McCurdy said.

He joked, “The first thing I thought was the recipients of this award are usually at the end of their career,” adding that he was not going anywhere.

The first session of the morning began with Drake Star Partners’ Kathleen Thomas giving an overview of the trade show M&A market.

She said there were 70 transactions in 2016, adding, “The sun is shining on our industry.” Thomas said there has been a lot of consolidation, with 25 percent of the TSNN Top 250 trade shows owned by four major players.

The trade show industry is a $24 billion global market, although it is very fractured in its ownership with the largest player, Reed Exhibitions, owning just 5 percent and 4 percent owned by the second biggest player, UBM.

“There is a lot of strong interest coming from the Europe and the U.K. in the U.S. market,” Thomas said.

Douglas Emslie, managing director of Tarsus Group, took the stage next and led a panel of M&A players, joking that the U.K. was re-colonizing America with all the trade show deals done here recently by companies such as Informa Exhibitions, Clarion, Tarsus and UBM.

McCurdy said that four years ago, Informa was “very under-represented in the U.S.”, but after buys of major companies such as Hanley Wood Exhibitions and Penton, he added, “We are now properly balanced in the U.S. with the rest of the world.”

Britton Jones, chairman and CEO - NXT Events Media Group, talked about the hard work that went in to selling his company Business Journals Inc. last year to UBM. “It takes a lot of work to sell a company,” he added

Jones also advised the audience, “The time to sell the company is when you have multiple people wanting to buy it, not when you are ready to sell it.”

David Loechner, president and CEO of Emerald Expositions, said of the slew of acquisitions his company has made in the past few years, “We closed on all but two acquisitions we had exclusivity on. There are a lot of boxes to get checked.”

He added that his team looks at several factors before investing, including good stability, predictability and growth.

When asked about the possibility of buying an association show, dmg events’ Galen Poss said, “With an association, you need to look at it like a marriage – until death do us part.”

Poss, in fact, led the final session of the SISO CEO Summit, which was comprised of executives who had bought, sold or worked alongside associations and their shows.

Dennis Slater, president and secretary of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers – which runs CONEXPO/CON-AGG, said a lot of associations say their show is important to them, but in reality they treat them like “cash cows” and spend very little time talking about them at board meetings.

Poss, who oversaw deals at Hanley Wood Exhibitions that included buying association shows, said the process was not an overnight one.

“If you are thinking about an association acquisition, patience is necessary,” he added. “It takes time.”

Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association, also added that “Running an association (overall) was much more complex that it was years ago” and some chose to either bring in outside show management to assist, or sell their shows altogether.

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Partner Voices

Sporting events are no longer the most preferred target for terrorists, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Outdoor events, conferences, festivals, and other events featuring public figures are all vulnerable. And with over a thousand different-level attacks since 2015, it’s no surprise that safety and security are among the top concerns for event professionals.