Virtual Successes: Global Pet Expo, PMI Event Series and SCTE•ISBE Cable-Tec Expo

May 10, 2021

Pandemic be damned! These three associations found rich and meaningful ways to connect with their members through digital events. The numbers were record-breaking for all involved, but how they got there were different paths. Explore the many routes of success when doing virtual.

Global Pet Expo Digital

Thousands of pet industry professionals converged online March 24-26 to participate in the first-ever Global Pet Expo Digital Access, the virtual version of the annual trade show and conference for independent pet retailers, distributors, mass-market buyers and other qualified professionals. According to the American Pet Products Association and Pet Industry Distributors Association, which together own and produce the show, the event attracted 282 exhibiting companies and 3,884 buyers, 1,046 of whom were first-time attendees.  

“After an extremely challenging year, we were encouraged by the number of participants in this year’s online-only event, and by how engaged and active they were,” said Andy Darmohraj, executive vice president and COO of APPA. “We even saw an increase in international attendance, with a total of 80 countries taking part this year. This reinforces what the data is already telling us: The future is bright for our industry.” 

During the event, participants networked, previewed new products and learned about the historic milestone the pet industry recently achieved. During the State of the Industry keynote delivered by Steve King, APPA president and CEO and Celeste Powers, president of PIDA, reported that the national pet industry’s annual sales had exceeded $100 billion for the first time in the history of the industry. 

During the event, attendees explored business-focused sessions and learned about industry trends during the new Global Learning Series, a free educational program customized for retailers, distributors and exhibitors featuring 23 hours of programming and inspiring speakers. Half of the sessions received more than 100 unique views, and the two keynote speeches had a combined total of 1,500 unique clicks. 

“Our educational, business-focused sessions are traditionally one of the most beneficial aspects of Global Pet Expo because they give attendees exclusive access to experts that can speak to topics ranging from industry trends and opportunities to advice on how to improve their businesses and create a more inclusive workplace environment,” explained Celeste Powers, president of PIDA. “We are pleased so many attendees took full advantage of this year’s sessions.”       

Additional attendee engagement metrics on the online event platform included:

  • 1.3 million unique pageviews
  • 110,000 profile views
  • 34,600 network connections made
  • 18,600 online showroom visits
  • 16,000 products favorited
  • 4,500 social posts via the community feed
  • 15,000 messages sent within the platform
  • 200 average sales leads per exhibitor 

Global Pet Expo 2022 will return to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando March 23-25, 2022.

PMI Monthly Experiences

Michelle Brown, product manager of events at the Project Management Institute, knew a different mindset would be needed during the pandemic to connect with the association’s 625,000 global members. She and Julie Ho, manager of live learning and event operations, naturally put on their project management caps. The solution was a monthly series held last September through December that not even they could imagine would be received so well.

Instead of an in-person event or a webinar or other standard virtual event, PMI’s event leaders took a holistic approach to its organizational needs and current circumstances. Revenue took a secondary role behind maintaining connections through sleek digital presentations. Its virtual experiences were “almost like a television production,” said Brown. This includes star power the likes of which the association would normally not be able to bring together in such a short time period.


Talk show host and broadcaster Tamron Hall served as host for the roughly five-hour events, which featured pre-recorded interviews with celebrities like “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, Chef Jose Andres, International Olympic Committee Executive Director Christopher Dubi and Pakistani activist/Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. 

The celebrities were not brought in simply for the sake of drawing eyeballs — which admittedly were a nice bonus. Rather, they were presented as examples of high-profile project managers accomplishing goals amid COVID-19, just as the organization’s members were doing.

“We made sure that that program, and the series itself, gave attendees an opportunity to learn about project management in a different sense,” said Ho. Topics included working from home, maneuvering through children’s virtual school and other unusual scenarios common in 2020 and 2021.

In trying to keep the series relatable, PMI opted against Intrado’s template featuring a convention center and created virtual environments resembling homes. Dueling pianos, goats and puppies livened the mood.

The events scored more than 70,000 registrations, including many who watched on-demand after the live broadcast. “We would never have seen that at our live events,” said Brown. “Some of the feedback we got is ‘I have never felt more connected.’”

PMI, which had hosted virtual events in some for years prior to the pandemic, will look to build upon its momentum as its annual conference will be held virtual Oct. 6-7. It has added SeminarsWorld Virtual to further network and educate while the virtual experiences will continue with some adaptations.

Gamification elements like a virtual passport are being implemented to further encourage engagement, particularly with sponsors. It also is bringing back the exhibition hall nomenclature to further reinforce the push business meetings. The events will also be less frequent, an acknowledgment of virtual fatigue. “Monthly was oversaturation,” Brown said.

SCTE•ISBE Cable-Tec Expo

The SCTE•ISBE Cable-Tec Expo is usually at the foreground of presenting new technology. But the 2020 version was, as one might expect, exceptional.

When Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver was converted into a COVID emergency facility in June, Zenita Henderson, SCTE•ISBE’s vice president of marketing and business development, was left with three months to pull off an experience worthy of leading cable giants worthy of an industry accustomed to innovation.

“We had to build the train as we relayed the tracks,” said Henderson.


Between June and October, it was full-steam ahead for what became a record-breaking event that will reshape the future of the 38-year-old gathering. Freeman laid the groundwork for the expo’s success with a platform launched a month before the show, providing sponsors the ability to pre-set meetings with desired attendees. The opening session featuring a first-of-its-kind holographic light field demonstration set the tone for the show.

The stats bear out unprecedented connectivity, even by the standards of cable and communications leaders like Comcast, Cox, Liberty Global, Charter Communications and more. Sponsorships from industry leaders allowed the digital-only expo to be free, driving a major attendance boost.

The stats from the Oct. 12-15 show bear out the engagement:

  • There were attendees from 104 counties, compared to the typical 69 nations;
  • The platform recorded more than 2.8 million minutes of online activity, 153,000 platform interactions and 1,300 meetings
  • Sponsors received 34,000 recommendations and matches;
  • Attendees spent an average of 7.9 hours on the event platform;
  • More than 200 attendees participated in 40 hosted CTO tours highlighting emerging technology;
  • 6,200 visitors clicked through the Sponsor Showcase within two weeks after the event.

“I hate how we got here, but we probably should have been doing this all along,” Henderson said of the virtual offerings.

Pre-show communication and enhanced digital marketing build a bigger buzz than usual around the program, Henderson added. She also credited the savvy attendees for their interaction and engagement.

“They just really took advantage of the technology coming at them,” she said. 

SCTE•ISBE Cable-Tec Expo is returning to in-person October 11-14 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. The event is partnering with NAB Show’s Broadcast Engineering and Information Technology Conference in Las Vegas to offer concurrent live conference content.

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