Trade Show Leader: National Restaurant Association’s Mary Pat Heftman

July 16, 2016

Mary Pat Heftman has full responsibility for strategic development, execution and promotion of the annual New England Food Show and the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (NRA Show) /BAR @ NRA Show, the largest annual food and beverage tradeshow in the world.  She is also involved with strategic alliance development and oversees contracting for all Association meetings.

Heftman joined the National Restaurant Association in 1990 and has held positions of progressively increasing scope and responsibility in the National Restaurant Association with her primary focus on convention and sponsorship growth.

Her expertise in all aspects of the very successful Show has led to the development of new events, innovative programming and event acquisition. Under her leadership, the NRA Show continues to add innovative and imaginative programming, pushing the NRA Show further out front as the leading event in the hospitality industry, raising the level of excellence.

Heftman is a nationally recognized leader and speaker in the convention industry and has served for organizations including the Professional Convention Management Association, Choose Chicago, Major American Trade Show Organizers, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR); and also the Council of Hotel & Restaurant Trainers (CHART) Advisory Council.  She has also spoken at numerous national meetings within the convention industry.

In the midst of continuing to work on growing the NRA Show event more and all of her work with industry organizations, Heftman filled TSNN in her time in the industry.

TSNN: How did you get started in the industry?  

Mary Pat Heftman: I knew I wanted to get into events (consumer or professional) and networking through my Alumnae network I met Tom Corcoran (then NRA Show Director).  He connected me with the PR Team for the Taste of Chicago which was run by the Illinois Restaurant Association.  From the Taste, I transitioned into their tradeshow department

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

Heftman: As far as what a tradeshow exhibit floor looks, the materials that exhibits are made of is different but the exhibit floor looks the same.  Today the Show organizer takes a much bigger role in the experience of the attendee with on floor interactive events and other programming.   As for managing a tradeshow, there was limited automation and technology and the fax machine was the great new technology for communication. 

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

Heftman: Face to face gatherings are even more important and appreciated than before technology.  We collect an enormous amount of data and mining it is a challenge so before you collect more data, determine what and how you are going to use it. If you can’t answer those questions, it might not be the right thing for you to spend your resources on.

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

Heftman: Convening people to learn, network and celebrate their industry.  Also the people within the convention and meeting industry.  The people in this industry are hardworking, committed to success and fun.  I have been fortunate to make many lifelong friends throughout the industry.

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

Heftman: Time to think – the speed of communication and the expectations that go with those have deprived people of the time to just think. 

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

Heftman: That I have developed and led people to advance themselves and the organizations they work for.

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

Heftman: I don’t know about wise, but I am certainly grateful.  The industry has provided me an opportunity to expand my talents and enjoy a terrific career leading the premiere annual restaurant and foodservice event in the world in addition to building lifelong friendships.

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