Trade Show Leader: Freeman’s Carrie Freeman Parsons

December 17, 2016

Freeman Vice Chair Carrie Freeman Parsons grew up in the business, and as the third generation of Freeman leaders (her grandfather is founder Buck Freeman; her father is Chairman Don Freeman), Freeman Parsons employs forward-thinking strategies that maintain the company’s reputation as an industry innovator while staying true to its core values.

Freeman Parsons has been frequently recognized by her peers and the industry at large for her outstanding contributions and achievements.

She is involved with numerous organizations and nonprofits - one passion is her involvement with Girls Inc.— and begins and ends each day fulfilling Freeman’s obligation to positively affect employees, stakeholders, and the community.

She’s unwilling to claim success based solely on the bottom line; instead, Freeman Parsons is dedicated to leading a socially responsible organization. Just as she pushes the boundaries on what it means to create an amazing brand experiences, she simultaneously provides future generations with the skills needed to make the world a better place.

Freeman Parsons joined Freeman in 1985 and has held numerous positions - including general manager, president of Freeman Exhibit Company, and chief marketing officer and is also a member of Freeman’s board of directors. 

As Freeman’s current vice chair, Freeman Parsons has set her sights on formulating effective thought-leadership strategies and implementing them from the top down.

She took time out if her busy schedule to tell TSNN how she started out in the industry and what she hopes her personal impact in the industry will be.

TSNN: How did you get started in the industry?

Freeman Parsons: I started working with Freeman during the summers of high school and college. I joined the company full time upon graduation from college in 1985. When I joined as a sales executive, I didn’t quite understand what the industry was all about, but I knew that I loved the people and that was enough for me. 

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

Freeman Parsons: Events were no less relevant then than they are today, but they were certainly different. The work has always required late nights, weekends, and travel, but I will say that the work is much more complicated today. In 1985, guests had to attend events in person if they wanted to network, have access to educational content, or learn what was new on the exhibit floor. That isn’t necessarily true today. The technology of the day was limited to slide projectors, fax machines, and pagers. Our inventory of service offerings was much smaller, and certainly the pace of work was slower. We actually had down times back then – in today’s world we are busy 52 weeks of the year. 

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

Freeman Parsons: They are the places where positive change occurs, where brands are built, and where people are inspired, enlightened, and enriched. This industry is a team sport. The interdependence of the relationships between clients, suppliers, trades, facilities, cities, etc.  are critical. And, most importantly, this industry is built around relationships.   

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

Freeman Parsons: We work with a wide variety of associations and corporations, and that gives us the opportunity to learn about the unique challenges and opportunities they each face. We have a front row seat to the issues that are impacting their industries, and we have the ability to help them achieve their objectives.  

TSNN: What’s the one thing you miss most from the past?

Freeman Parsons: Time. “Back in the day,” before email and our crazy schedules, we had time to engage with our clients and co-workers without the pressure of keeping up with other responsibilities. We have always had deadlines, but this line of work was certainly less intense 30 years ago.

TSNN: What’s one thing you’re glad to see go away?

Freeman Parsons: The lack of diversity. There is still room for improvement, but in 1985, I could count on one – maybe two hands – how many of our clients were women or people of color.  

TSNN: What do you hope will be your personal impact on this industry?

Freeman Parson: It is important to me and to my family that Freeman reflects how business should be conducted. I intend to continue our legacy of being values-led and purpose-driven so that we may foster trust and create awesome work with our clients. 

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

Freeman Parsons: I truly believe that the work we do is important to society, to economies, and to humanity. If everyone involved in the events industry truly embraced the positive influence their event can have, we could literally change the world for good. 

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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.