Society of Independent Show Organizers Attracts 260-plus Attendees to San Diego

April 10, 2016

More than 260 for-profit show organizer CEOs, trade show industry suppliers, association leaders and guests gathered for the Society of Independent Show Organizers’ CEO Summit, held April 3-5 at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego, to not only take in high-level educational sessions, but also do plenty of networking.

David Audrain, who stepped into the role of SISO executive director earlier this year, said there were two main goals that the organization had for attendees coming to the event.

“Our first goal always for the SISO CEO Summit is to provide an event where the leaders of our industry can network and do business. I believe that we again succeeded with this goal,” Audrain said.

He added, “Our second goal is to provide content/information that is current and meaningful to the C-level attendees it is aimed at, and typically this involves letting them hear from their peers on current day issues and opportunities that affect or provide opportunities for them all.  Here again, I believe we succeeded in providing some excellent content that was of value to our c-level attendees.”

This year’s event had a substantial international contingent, at least 30 percent of attendees, according to Audrain, and also quite a few first-timers.

The event kicked off with an opening reception and dinner, followed by the educational sessions the next morning with Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, talking about “How Travel Impacts the Exhibition Industry Today.”

He said one of the issues his organization has tackled for the past nine years is how to make it easier for visitors to come to the U.S. from overseas. Wait times for visa from countries like Brazil and China were sometimes several months, and now they are cut down to under a week, Dow added.

Another issue he pointed out was that the U.S. desperately needs to upgrade its airports. “We don’t have one airport in the top 25,” Dow said.

Other sessions throughout the day included Scott Diament, president and CEO of the Palm Beach Show Group, detailing how he grew his luxury art and jewelry show portfolio from the ground up.

Jochen Witt, president and CEO of jwc GmbH, led a session that detailed different pricing models that show organizers could consider, including dynamic pricing, which is prevalent in the airline industry.

“We feel pricing does not get the attention it should get” he added. “Price is the most important profit driver because price drives the bottom line.”

During lunch, UBM Advanstar’s Tony Calanca, who is the current SISO chair, said, “Last year has been an eventful year for SISO.”

Besides Lew Shomer stepping down as executive director, he said two new board members were added – Mary Larkin, from Diversified Communications, and Courtney Mueller, from Urban Expositions. Calanca also said the association has grown to 179 total members, with 11 new ones recently added.

Calanca then presented the Robert L. Krakoff Award for Excellence in Leadership to Britton Jones, president and CEO of Business Journals, Inc.

“I’m speechless. Thank you so much, all of you, for this recognition,” Jones said. “I was lucky enough to work with Bob Krakoff, and a lot of us have, over the years. It’s not only a wonderful recognition of me, but the team I am so blessed to work with.”

After lunch, Brian Casey, president and CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, presented the latest trade show industry numbers. Last year was a good one in the trade show industry, with an overall increase of 3.7 percent increase, marking 22 consecutive quarters of growth.

The next panel featured several global trade show organizers discussing why they found the U.S. to be an attractive market to continue to expand into.

Douglas Emslie, managing director of U.K.-based Tarsus Group, said that before the financial crisis, 60 percent of his company’s portfolio was in Europe, while now it’s mainly in the U.S., with seven shows, and emerging markets.

“(The U.S. market) has been relatively stable and very entrepreneurial as well,” he added.

The last session of the day was led by Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, who discussed how having an effective content marketing strategy can lead to more attendees at live events.  

“Our magic number is three,” he said. “We want an attendee to be subscribed to at least three content vehicles we have. It builds a relationship with them.”

He detailed several methods that his company has adopted to draw in more people, including online learning, Twitter chats and podcasts.

After a festive night that started and ended with cocktail receptions with a dinner in between, the last day of sessions started off with Richard Mead, managing director of Jordan, Edmiston Group, Inc., talking about the current state of the M&A market in the trade show industry.

Some of his learnings included valuations remain strong, he cited a recent acquisition that had a 16x multiple, and added, “Double-digit multiples are now the norm. I am sure you are glad to hear that, unless you are a buyer.”

After Mead’s presentation, Charles McCurdy, who heads Informa Exhibitions, led a two-person panel that included Kosty Gillis, managing director of ONEX – a private equity firm that owns Emerald Expositions, and Tom Kemp, chairman of CEO of Northstar Travel Group, who also has been involved in several M&A transactions.

Kemp said that most buyers and investors value long, term sustainable growth. "Most buyers are sophisticated and do not reward short term cost reductions," he added. "The buyers will reduce pricing if they suspect that management and ownership has not been investing in the business."

The final session of the day elicited a lot of good stories and laughs, with Kerry Gumas, president and CEO of Questex, moderating a panel with three company leaders – Access Intelligence’s Don Pazour, Diversified Communications’ Ted Wirth and Joe Loggia, who led Advanstar Communications - talking through “What Went Wrong” with some of their investments.

Wirth talked about his company’s decision to go into India a few years ago. Some of the lessons learned, he added, were that they overpaid, everyone wanted to increase their prices immediately and the conference model they were used to didn’t work in India.

The next SISO CEO Summit will be held March 27-30, 2017, at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Miami.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.