Straight Talk: Nancy Walsh, President, Informa Markets

August 12, 2021

At the start of her career, Informa President Nancy Walsh recalls working in Manhattan in inside sales for a software company when the idea of transitioning into the trade show world basically fell into her lap.

“The guy I worked for went to Reed (Exhibitions) and tried to recruit me there,” Walsh said. “What sold me was the focus on relationship-building. I loved the idea that we connected buyers and sellers and built communities. I joined the industry and never looked back!”

To this day, Walsh says she still loves the industry’s focus on building relationships and connections. Walsh sites many great friendships that she’s built over her many years in the business, as well as the privilege of working with many passionate, enthusiastic and talented people. 

TSNN had a chance to hear Walsh’s thoughts about how Informa’s trade shows are going to look post-COVID, the challenges she and her teams faced that ended up becoming silver linings, and how committing to her health and fitness helped maintain her strength through one of the most challenging times in the industry’s history.  

How do you think the industry will be most changed by COVID-19 going forward?

I don’t think trade shows will ever just be trade shows anymore. The brands are going to extend beyond the showfloor and be year-round community platforms that blend face-to-face, tactile experiences with complementary digital solutions to extend audiences and create additional touchpoints throughout the year. They’ll also be backed by richer, more connected data that helps improve the customer journey and generates higher quality leads pre-show, onsite and post-show. I think content and education will also become a bigger piece of our offering, and community platforms will help to keep conversations and business opportunities going year-round. Ultimately, I think the industry will be changed for the better, and that we have a lot to look forward to in creating these experiences.

How will the trade shows Informa Markets produces look different going forward? Were any of these changes visible at World of Concrete and if so, please describe:

They will look different because nearly all of them will have a virtual element in addition to a physical element. For some shows, that will happen in parallel, extending the live event experience to a virtual audience. For others, it will happen off-cycle to provide an additional touchpoint for the community throughout the year. World of Concrete hosted a physical show in June and will have a virtual element, WOC365 in August before returning to the showfloor again in January. It’s helping to keep that community well-connected and doing business throughout the back half of this year.

We also have a focus on being a data-enabled business and are developing audience extension and buyer intent solutions that intelligently connect buyers and sellers to build relationships faster, easier and more effectively.

Finally, we are also focused on our ambition to become a champion of sustainability and working with our industry peers, vendors and venues to improve our sustainable impact. We feel a meaningful responsibility to reduce our impact and develop sustainable practices across all of our events. This year we transitioned to more sustainable vendors and removed carpeting as part of that effort. We are also exploring how we can recycle more on-site, choosing long-term purposeful charity partners and working on becoming carbon neutral by 2025.

Is virtual here to stay or a stopgap until live events fully return? 

It’s here to stay. We will be moving ahead with a dual strategy moving forward that equitably weighs physical and virtual solutions for our communities. The difference, however, is that we are taking the best of each experience and focusing on that. During the pandemic, virtual had to do it all—serve as a marketplace, lead retrieval, a networking platform, a content delivery platform, etc. Now we are able to identify what aspects of the virtual experience complement our live experiences and focus on developing those channels, not as a replacement for, but as a complement to, our physical events.

What was the biggest challenge your organization had to navigate during the pandemic and how did you address this?

As a live events business, our teams are focused on and passionate about the interpersonal experience. We had to pivot quickly and upskill teams at record pace to fulfill the needs of our community. It was an entirely new ballgame for most of us, and we had to adapt in an incredibly short period of time. A lot of it, in the moment, was on-the-job training and people stepping up to say, “I want to be a part of this.” As we started to get our feet wet in those first few months, we developed task forces so we could cross-collaborate and implement best practices. The pandemic was an incredibly challenging time, but I think the small silver lining was that it fostered a collaborative culture more than ever before and allowed us to recognize and utilize one another’s expertise to get better, faster. And that’s the name of the game now. We want to continue to evolve and improve to meet our customers’ needs—and quickly.

What did you learn most about yourself during the pandemic?

I learned that it’s okay to have alone time and to slow down a bit. In this industry, we do a lot of running around, networking, spending time with colleagues and friends. During the pandemic I did a lot of reading, watching Netflix and taking walks, and learned to relax in a different way and really enjoy it.

I joined Informa Markets just weeks before the pandemic, so it was a whirlwind of an experience, both for me and [my teams]. Even during a time of challenge and a complete foundational shift from in-person events to virtual solutions, they far exceeded my expectations. These are truly some of the most talented and passionate people I have ever worked with, and I was proud and inspired by their willingness to transform and their dedication to their communities.

What kind of self-care has been key for your mental health during the past 15 months and why?

Moving my body every day has been critical for my mental health. At the beginning of the pandemic, I set a goal to walk 15,000 steps a day, and I stuck to it. I did a lot of workouts with my daughter and took some of my meetings as walking meetings—being outside and committing to fitness were really important. I also have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with my daughter and son-in-law and with my dog Stewie, which has been invaluable.

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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.