SISO Executive Conference Focuses on Tech, Has Attendance Uptick

August 10, 2011

This year’s Society of Independent Show Organizers’ Executive Conference - “Digital Declaration” - wrapped up Aug. 11 after not only covering various aspects of technology impacting the trade show industry, but also drawing more attendees.

In all, 180 show organizers and suppliers came to the event held at Philadelphia’s newly expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center, compared with 150 attendees at last year’s conference in Boston.

The event kicked off Tuesday night with a reception at the Franklin Institute, and Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, welcomed the crowd.

“We’re delighted to have SISO back,” he said. “We hosted you six years ago. Philadelphia has changed a lot since then. There’s a 62-percent larger convention center.”

The next morning began with a keynote – “From Fractal marketing to FishTV” - given by Andrew Davis, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Tippingpoint Labs, who encouraged trade show companies to start thinking more about content 365 days a year and not “just go from planning one trade show to the next.”

Other conference sessions ranged from technology funding models, digital attendee development, how to monetize technology, managing the proliferation of technology and mobile marketing.

“The content for this event is really interesting,” said Lew Shomer, SISO’s executive director. “It is everything people are talking about, but I don’t think everyone understands. We need to take more time so that people can understand applications on how this all works.”

In “Monetizing Technology”, panelist Rick Calvert, co-founder of the BlogWorld New Media Expo, advised that people stay away from virtual trade shows, calling them a “waste of time.” Virtual conferences, however, he added were “very sustainable.”

The last panel of the event, though, was led by Kristin Beaulieu, senior vice president of sales East for UBM Studios, and she said virtual events, including conferences and trade shows, were a multibillion dollar business.

During the “Too much technology … too little time!” session, Mark J. Levitt, online product manager for O’Reilly Media, said that technology’s role is “to facilitate what people want to do any way.” Meaning, if the main objective of a trade show is to help people connect, than make sure the tools exist for that to happen.

The omnipresence of mobile phones, apps and other bells and whistles to use on the showfloor, such as using QR codes, also were hot topics during the conference, as well as how to use digital marketing to attract more attendees to the showfoor.

Rick McConnell, president of Hanley Wood Exhibitions and SISO Executive Conference Education Chair, said that technology was chosen as a focus for the event because he felt it was the most significant change impacting the trade show industry right now.

“The traditional ways to connect buyers and sellers are not enough,” he added. “If you are not tapping into the younger generation, you’ll see a decline in exhibitors and attendees. We also need to better understand the tools of social marketing. “

Jo Dickson, event technology director of Penton Media, said the conference was filled with a lot of information and provided a lot of actionable, specific ideas. “It’s good to hear what other show organizers are doing,” she added.

Shomer said he hoped people walked away from the event understanding that technology “is not a myth, it is here.”

He added, “It still needs to be harnessed. People need to be able to make money from it.”

Next year’s SISO Executive Conference will be held Aug. 13-15 in Chicago. Darrell Baker, director of Washington, D.C., regional sales for the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, told attendees, “We have a lot of nice things planned. We look forward to seeing you in Chicago.”

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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.