Event Recap: 6 Key Takeaways From Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum

June 7, 2023

As the nation’s elected officials burned the midnight oil to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., trade show industry executives gathered a few blocks away at the Grand Hyatt Washington to connect and learn from their peers at the 22nd annual Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF), produced by Lippman Connects. Held May 30-31, the event attracted a record 237 industry leaders and suppliers. 

“There's a mix on the stage of association executives and independent executives,” said Sam Lippman, president of Lippman Connects. “I also try to bring in new voices with fresh ideas and points of view that will hopefully give us a little bit of a different approach to how we do our events in the future.”

ECEF 2023 featured a networking reception on May 30 at the Grand Hyatt, followed by a full day on May 31 of programming that included breakfast, lunch, networking breaks and a tech demo area with companies like Sessionboard, Personify A2Z Events, EXPOCAD and Map Your Show, to name a few.

Here are six takeaways from some of the event’s key sessions:

Ken HolsingerA sea change for exhibitors. According to the Freeman Trends Report Q2 2023, more than half — 64% — of exhibit managers are new to their roles since the pandemic, said Freeman Senior Vice President of Strategy Ken Holsinger. The companies may have exhibited for years, but the manager is leading the booth for the first time, Holsinger explained. 

“I’ve never introduced more new buyers to new sellers than I did in 2022,” said Rick Brindle, retired vice president of industry development for Mondelez International, who shared his exhibiting experience on an ECEF panel. “It’s even higher on the buyer side.” 

Download a free copy of the Freeman Trends Report Q2 2023.

Fernando FischerValue-based selling yields higher revenue growth. What keeps RX President of the Americas Fernando Fischer up at night? “How to deliver personalization at scale,” he said. “It’s not an either/or but how to manage expectations, which correlates with satisfaction.” To deliver higher satisfaction among exhibitors, RX is testing value-based selling (VBS), where sales reps shift away from discussing price and towards proving value. “Doing a thorough needs assessment with an exhibiting company is harder than closing the deal,” Fischer added. 

Beyond tracking the number of sales calls, RX is measuring engagement by length of call, number of contacts and more. The company is also rewarding efforts as much as outcomes. For the 140 clients in a test group for VBS, revenues increased 30%. One goal at RX: Instead of only one or two contacts at an exhibiting company, RX is focused on deeper relationships with four or five contacts. Given the number of exhibit managers new to their roles (see stat above), it’s not surprising that RX wants to have multi-threaded decision makers and influencers at exhibiting companies.

AVIXACreating experiences worth getting off the couch to attend. Since the association rebranded in 2017, the team at AVIXA has been focused on creating a hub for the AV profession at its annual InfoComm trade show. “Integrated experiences are key to this strategy,” said AVIXA CEO Dave Labuskes. InfoComm attendees spent 13.5 hours on the trade show floor — 3.5 hours more than the industry average, he said.

“We need to create experiences worth getting off the couch to travel to the event,” said Brad Sousa, CTO for AVI Systems, which is partnering with the association on Esports Live, which is launching at the trade show in June. “It requires risk, which leads to tension.”

AVIXA Senior Vice President, Exhibitions Rochelle Richardson asked: What have been the key learnings to this point? “We want to create a healthy tension for the team,” Sousa responded. 

A sampling of integrated experiences at the trade show that will be held June 14-16 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., include:

  • Technology Innovation Stage will feature a joint presentation by tech giants Microsoft and Cisco.
  • Created by Moment Factory powered by Nanolumens, an interactive experience will offer a one-of-a-kind fusion of art and technology. Watch a video preview.
  • Esports Live, presented by InfoComm and AVI Systems, will feature three days of programming, a live gaming competition thought leadership and podcast interviews.
  • Unreal Ride Experiences will feature virtual productions with selected backgrounds and open vehicle experiences.
  1. Nora ToureWhat next-gen attendees want: A safe space.Your responsibility is to create a safe space at your event,” said Nora Toure, acquisition sales director for Materialise and founder and chairwoman of the board for Women in 3D Printing (wi3Dp). After feeling unwelcome at an event in the male-dominated industry, the millennial’s response was to launch the women’s group. Today, wi3Dp has grown to 30,000 members worldwide. “We host happy hours at major shows,” she said. “It’s a safe space.”

How do event organizers make attendees feel welcome and included? “Mentor new attendees,” Brindle said. “They will try your event once and then may not go again if they have a bad experience.”  

Toure advised: “It may be time to refresh your code of conduct.”

ConnectivMarketing with partners, not budget. “We spend 1% of our budgets on marketing the company’s largest event, Manifest, which makes up 70% of our revenues,” said Jay Weintraub, CEO of Connectiv, which touts itself as a live events studio that owns and operates vertical-specific conferences at scale. Instead, their approach is more like Apple. “We work with partners to promote our events,” he said.

In a given show cycle, “we may send 15 emails for marketing,” he added. 

Since the company was founded in 2008, Connectiv has launched and sold four events, including LeadsCon, MAU Vegas, InsureTech Connect and transform. When the Connectiv sold InsureTech Connect to Clarion Events, Connectiv Chief Corporate Development Officer Courtney Muller said they were surprised to learn the show didn’t have a dedicated marketing person.

“I’m intrigued about using partners for marketing,” said Nancy Walsh, president, Informa Markets North America. “How do you hold them accountable?”

Manifest has written agreements with deliverables for both parties. “We have promises both ways, and we have a team that works on fulfillment,” Muller said. “Sometimes the partners do more than they promised.”

Ben IrwinFuture CEOs will be the chief recruiters. “Organizations that have the best talent will win,” said Ben Erwin, president and CEO of Encore. “Today, the greatest asset you have is your talent. Leaders need to spend their time on attracting and developing talent and a community where employees feel like they belong.” 

Belonging at work is highly correlated to engagement, Erwin said. According to Qualtrics research, only 20% of employees who feel they don’t belong are engaged, versus 91% of those who feel they do – that’s three and a half times more.

His challenge: “Half of our employees have been with the company for 10 years or more and half have been in the job less than one year,” he said. 

What’s working? “We have eight business resource groups led by employees.”

ECEF 2024 is scheduled for May 29 at the Grand Hyatt Washington. The event will once again precede Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance’s Legislative Action Day on May 30.

“Lippman Connects and ECEF will do everything possible to ensure the continued success of Legislative Action Day,” Lippman added.

Videos of the presentations, as well as slide decks and additional material from the 2023 ECEF program will be accessible here by June 14.

View photos from the event here.

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