Society of Independent Show Organizers' CEO Summit Attracts Record Crowd to Las Vegas

March 31, 2014

Las Vegas boasts that events that come to town often see substantial attendance upticks, and this year’s Society of Independent Show Organizers’ CEO Summit, held March 30-April 1 at the Four Seasons Hotel, was no exception.

Up 13 percent, compared with the 2013 event in Kiawah Island, S.C., the 2014 event broke attendance records, with 175 show organizers taking in a few days of networking and education.

International attendance also hit a new milestone, with 21 countries represented from regions around the world, up from 15 at last year’s event.

“We have the content, we have the people who make decisions and we have it in a creative environment with no pressure,” said Lew Shomer, SISO executive director. “(The attendees) can be themselves.”

Besides CEOs of show organizing companies that represented global organizations, like Reed Exhibitions and Tarsus Group, as well as smaller, domestic organizers with just a handful of events in their portfolios, there also were leaders from several other industry organizations, speakers, guests and sponsors on hand.

During the event, Hanley Wood Exhibitions’ President Rick McConnell was handed the gavel as the new chair of SISO from David Audrain, president and CEO of Exposition Development Company and now SISO’s immediate past-chair.

McConnell gave a presentation at the opening day lunch that outlined the health of the association, saying, “I can’t wait to present really good numbers. The state of SISO is in really good shape financially.”

He added that membership was at an all-time high, with 171 member companies, and international looked to grow even more.

The summit kicked off with an opening dinner held at the Four Seasons, followed by a bright an early start the next morning with sessions that were themed around chess moves, such as “Bold Moves” that brought together a few global CEO’s to talk about the current state of the trade show industry.

Kerry Gumas, president and CEO of Questex Group, moderated the panel that included David Loechner, CEO of Emerald Expositions, and Doug Emslie, group managing director of Tarsus Group and Ted Wirth, CEO of Diversified Communications.

When asked what the current goals of their companies were, Wirth said, “Our goal is to grow the company 10-15 percent each year for the next five years.”

Emslie said that Tarsus, which has doubled its business in two years, is looking to expand even more.

“We’re looking to focus on the U.S. and emerging markets,” he added.

The next session was a hot topic, talking with representatives for three destinations that are, in different ways, making moves to organize their own shows or create joint ventures with organizers.

The immediate feedback from some show organizers were they were not a fan of the ‘new’ model that is often referred to as the ‘Messe Model’ (based on German venues owning their own shows).

James E. Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, said, “It makes sense for us to dip our toe in the water and to launch events with partners.”

He added that show organizers expect the destination to offer a certain level of product for the market, which costs money. “We’re not trying to alienate our clients,” Rooney added.

Another highlight from the first day of sessions was a fireside chat between Comdex Founder and Chairman of Las Vegas Sands Sheldon Adelson and Shomer.

Though Adelson’s business now is focused on integrated casino resorts, including not only in Las Vegas, but also other global destinations such as Macau and Singapore, he said, “I still have a warm place in my heart for the show industry.”

Sheldon also urged the crowd to learn to always take risks, adding, “… and then take risks and fail. This is very important to be a successful entrepreneur.”

Shomer presented Adelson with the Robert L Krakoff Leadership Award at the end of their chat.

Other sessions during the two-day conference portion included “END GAME: How does the seller look at selling”, talking with different companies about how they set themselves up to exit through a leverage buyout, merger or acquisition, and “MIDDLE GAME: Associations as Partners and Acquisition Candidates”, looking at when is the right time to manage or joint venture with an association and how does that association become attractive as an acquisition.

The session that drew a lot of laughs featured videos shot at five different shows, including MAGIC, ABC Kids Expo, World of Concrete, Offprice Show and IMEX America, where attendees and buyers were asked about their experiences at the events.

In very broad strokes, the shows scored mainly high marks overall, with some registration glitches and there wasn’t a lot of awareness around mobile apps being offered.

At the end of the session, it was revealed that the two presenters, who everyone thought worked for Amazon, actually were local comedians.

“I felt the ability to make fun of ourselves was important,” Shomer said.

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