Top Takeaways: Society of Independent Show Organizers’ Leadership Conference

August 15, 2017

When nearly 200 for-profit trade show executives and suppliers to the industry gathered Aug. 1-3 in Philadelphia, they were treated to a few days filled with not only with top-notch education sessions about everything from when or when not to launch and the latest event tech out there, but also valuable networking opportunities with their peers.

“This year’s program had a strong marketing focus to it, and we saw more marketing director types than usual. But the majority of the attendees continue to be from our core focus, vice presidents and show directors,” said SISO Executive Director David Audrain.

He added, “We heard lots of comments from attendees that the content was good and they were picking up good ideas from the program and from the networking with other attendees. As with any event, we want to make sure that attendees find value in their time invested, and if they are happy, then so are we!”

Here are some key takeaways from the SISO Leadership Conference:

Element of Surprise – Don’t underestimate your attendee’s desire to be surprised at your event, said Dinner en Blanc’s Co-founder Sandy Safi. Dinner en Blanc has more than 80 events annually in cities around the U.S. in which people gather with everything they need to have a dining experience with up to several thousand people in a ‘surprise’ location. David Adler, CEO of Bizbash, said, “Design an event with emotional elements.”

Launching an Event – “I learned … by failing,” said Mike Carlucci, senior VP of Clarion UX. He added that he made the mistake of going after booth sales first and not taking into account what the community really wanted. Martha Donato, founder and president of Mad Event Management, has launched well more than 20 events – several of which still are running and, said to always do the research. “It’s also good to find a partner,” she added. Greg Topalian who runs Leftfield Media, said, “If you are going to do this, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

Want More Attendees? – Liz Irving from Halloween & Party Expo, said that it was important to “elevate the quality of the buyers attending.” The stakes are high – globally, the average value of a lost customer is $243 and sometimes costs are 7x more to acquire new ones. Cassandra Farrington, co-founder of Marijuana Business Journal Daily, said that creating meaningful attendee personas and marketing to them effectively is key.

And the Winner Is … - Five tech companies vied for the top prize at the SISO Event Innovation Battlefield, and the one the audience voted as the winner was EventBots by Sciensio. EventBots is a technology that allows attendees at an event to text any question they have about it to the EventBot tool and receive an immediate answer.

Sales, Sales, Sales – “At the end of the day, we are just trying to put a buyer and a seller together,” said Craft Beverage Expo’s Founder/Director Kellie Shevlin. Another golden nugget of advice she added, “Just because someone wants to give you money, doesn’t mean they should.” Laurie Powell, vice president of Business Development eventPower, said in order to truly serve the show and the exhibitor, the exhibitor should be requalified before just selling them a booth. “Don’t take things for granted,” she added.

Ensure a Safe Show –Leftfield Media’s Greg Topalian talked about steps taken during one of his previous shows at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to ensure a safe as possible event. Steps taken included: Having only one public access point, bag check, K-9’s, police presence and a weapons check. Total cost was $43,000, but well worth it, he added.

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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.