Straight Talk: Nancy Walsh, President, Informa Markets
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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