Trade Show Leader: Corcoran Expositions' Tom Corcoran

April 9, 2016

Tom Corcoran is CEO of Corcoran Expositions, Inc., one of the largest independent trade show organizers in America, having produced more than 700 expositions in 100 cities over their 25+ years in business.

Corcoran organizes events that range from beer to brain surgery. In 2015, an impressive 7,000 companies purchased more than 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space, of which 3,000 were new exhibiting companies.

Before this, Corcoran managed the National Restaurant Association annual trade show for 11 years and grew the National Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show from 900 exhibiting companies to more than 1,900 exhibitors.

Prior to this, he served as director of restaurant operations during the early years of the Taste of Chicago, America’s largest annual food and entertainment festival.

Corcoran started his career working for a general services contractor, manning a service desk at the McCormick Place.

He took time out of his busy schedule to share some insight into his time in the trade show industry.

TSNN: How did you get started in the industry? 

Corcoran: I first learned the ropes manning a service desk at McCormick Place, then served as director of restaurant operations during the early years of the Taste of Chicago, and for more than a decade managed the National Restaurant Association annual trade show. 

TSNN: How different was the industry when you started, compared with today? 

Cocoran: Well, the obvious difference is technology, which has changed the world.  When I started, there was no texting, no email, no internet, no fax machines and no mobile phones.  The one thing that has remained constant over the years is that we are a people business.  Associations want to work with people who can increase revenues and produce a good show, but also people that they like and are going to be working with them year after year.

TSNN: What are some of the lessons you have learned being a part of this industry?

Corcoran: That your people are critical to your business success.  Our average client has been with us ten years and we have one that has been with us all 25 years.  We try to keep our people long-term by developing a friendly, cordial workplace, and with a unique incentive:  when an employee reaches their 10-year anniversary, they are given three months off, paid, no questions asked.  In the last ten years, twelve Corcoran employees have celebrated ten-year anniversaries and have taken three months off to celebrate.  Some used it for extended maternity leave, some spent time with family, and some went biking in France.

TSNN: What is your favorite part of being in the industry? 

Corcoran: The relationships.  I am a people person – part of my Irish nature – and love getting to know people and then continuing relationships when I see them on the site the next year.

TSNN: Anything you miss that you wish was still around? 

Corcoran: When it comes to a trade shows, I am really not nostalgic. Change is part of every business and the trade show business will always keep evolving.  I do miss regularly seeing my early mentors that taught and guided me.

TSNN: Anything you are thrilled went away? 

Corcoran: Everything today moves quicker. I don’t miss long wait times for an attendee to register onsite or the long move-ins needed to set up a show.

TSNN: What do you hope your personal impact on the industry is?

Corcoran: That we did quality work and that we were able to launch future generations of trade show professionals, who I hope get as much enjoyment from the job as I have had.

TSNN: Any wise words about what this industry means to you overall? 

Corcoran: It has been an enormous source of enjoyment and achievement – absolutely no regrets looking back 40 years later.

Add new comment

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.