Straight Talk With Liz Irving, Executive Vice President, Clarion Events

December 14, 2020

How do you build a consummate event industry professional? Take an endless curiosity and a passion for learning and innovative thinking, sprinkle in an affinity for building relationships, bind it all together with more than 20 years of hard work and experience, and you end up with Liz Irving. 

As executive vice president – head of marketing, technology and customer experience at Clarion Events North America, Irving oversees the strategic direction and integration of marketing and technology across the company’s North American trade show portfolio, including digital and virtual platform development, innovation and product strategy. 

TSNN had a chance to catch up with Irving to see how she and her teams have weathered 2020, and what this challenging year has taught her most about herself and the industry she has dedicated herself to since college.

What is the biggest change your organization has had to navigate during this challenging time? 

The rapid adjustment to virtual was a two-fold challenge. Not only were we suddenly thrust into learning how to connect with one another working remotely, but at the same time we were navigating how to shift from the live events that we do so well, to virtual, which was still so unknown. One thing we knew that couldn’t change was our customer focus. Their needs are always the priority, and this was at the heart of every decision, even driving how we evaluated the technology we used as we transitioned to virtual experiences. 

As I look back, I feel proud of how far we’ve come as an organization. The learnings and experiences we’ve had (and are continuing to have) help us further refine our offerings and define who we will be as an organization, as well as the products we will offer going forward. 

How do you think the industry will be most changed going forward?

I believe the development of technology is changing the face of our industry. These new and evolving platforms are allowing organizers to meet customers’ needs in new ways, create more opportunities for connection and further extend our event reach into new markets – even attracting audiences who may not attend our live events. Through all of this, we now have a unique opportunity to focus on connections made and now utilize data to create really personalized experiences that offer more value than ever before.  

Is virtual here to stay, or a stop-gap until live events return?  

There are types of virtual experiences that are definitely here to stay. We are seeing several virtual models at Clarion that are working quite well, including virtual meetings, thought-leadership and product demonstrations. We will continue unlocking opportunities to provide value to our customers outside of the live events. Though challenging, this time has shown how adaptable our teams and customers are. I’m really looking forward to creating hybrid event experiences and using technology to continue unlocking potential customers’ connections before, during and after events. 

What have you learned most about yourself during the pandemic? 

I realized quite quickly [that I needed] to get comfortable with being okay not knowing all the answers and the paths to take from what has worked in the past. The world changed and our industry changed so quickly, I had to change my approach to think more like a start-up to lead my teams. I’ve spent a lot of time learning – from my customers, my teams, my colleagues in the industry, and from my tech partners. Each day I am starting with eyes wide-open with the opportunity to move forward and test new ideas and approaches.

Discuss the teamwork needed this year. 

My teams have been absolutely amazing, especially as we went through very rapid development of our virtual programs and ongoing changes with our live events. Their positivity, their trust in our leadership, their willingness to step up and support one another and assist our customers have been so impressive. As I look around today across all our portfolio and functional teams, I could not be more pleased to work alongside such a talented and innovative group! Basketball is a big focus in my house, so to quote [former Bulls and Lakers coach] Phil Jackson, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” 

What kind of self-care has been key for your mental health these past nine months and why?

I’ve enjoyed slowing down personally, taking time for myself each day to exercise, walk our dogs each morning before work and enjoy being at home with my family. Being a mom of two middle schoolers can be very interesting in normal times, but I’ve found new ways to connect one-on-one with my boys, which I am so thankful for. I’ve also focused on keeping a daily gratitude journal, writing three things that I’m grateful for. It makes me just stop and say, “today was a good day” and reflect for a moment. 

Where is the first place you want to travel when things open up and why?

Yellowstone National Park. We had a vacation planned for the summer that we were not able to take. My family and I love to travel and experience places we’ve never been to before. It’s been a very busy nine months so far, so spending a little time being “off-line” is something I can’t wait to do.


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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.