Trade Show Leader: Freeman’s Bob Priest-Heck

June 12, 2016

Freeman President and COO Bob Priest-Heck was in the right place during the right time to ride the new wave in the digital technology community in publishing when he joined the Seybold Seminars organization early on in his career.

Prior to his current role at Freeman, he also served as executive vice president and chief sales officer. Before joining Freeman, he was president and CEO of Wheelhouse Solutions, the parent organization to Champion Exposition Services, George Fern Company and Immersa Marketing, which were acquired by Freeman in June 2011 (Fern was only briefly part of Freeman before being divested and becoming an independent company).

Before joining Wheelhouse, he was president and CEO of MediaLive International Inc., working with such media brands as Interop, Business Communications Review Magazine, COMDEX, Seybold Seminars and Publishing and Web 2.0. He was vice president, International Operations for Softbank Expos, and executive vice president of Operations for Ziff-Davis and held various positions with Hyatt Hotels Corporation.

An active leader in the experience marketing industry, Priest-Heck currently is a board member for the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) and U.S. Travel Association (USTA).

He took time out of his busy schedule to talk about what lessons he has learned along the way.

TSNN: How did you get started in the industry?

Bob Priest-Heck: Out in California, I met Jonathon Seybold, whose father was a pioneer in developing computer-based typesetting systems. Jonathon asked me to join his new Seybold Seminars organization, which held conferences and trade shows focused on the use of digital technologies in publishing. I became the 17th employee in a company working out of an old Malibu mansion next to Johnny Carson’s home.  We quickly built up a portfolio of properties that attracted a Who’s Who in the nascent digital technologies community. We made it a point to be the source for all the most current, relevant information, at events such as “Digital World,” and that launched my career into the event/conference/trade show business– catering to movers and shakers in the tech industry.

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

Priest-Heck: When I started, the Internet was a new thing. At that time, most people in our industry didn’t see that the Internet or digital revolution would have any impact on “our world.” I was really blessed to be in the right place at the right time. Of course now, one of the key things for any show organizer is ensuring that a facility has the connectivity and bandwidth to support everyone’s needs. We can’t imagine doing business without the web, smart phones, and the ubiquitous technology that was all new when I started out.  The next chapter will include buzz words like Data, VR, AI and Machine Learning!

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

Priest-Heck: I’ve learned so many lessons, that I actually started blogging about it: (BPHConnect). Most people in my circle know I’m big on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how we owe each other “unconditional love.”  When I was young, the people I worked with took some huge risks, and most of them (but not all of them) paid off.  I was encouraged to push further. As leaders, we need to ensure we’ve met our peoples’ basic needs before we ask them to reach higher. ‘Unconditional love’ means that we need to care about the people we work with – with open ears, minds, hearts and a lot of patience.  The best work relationships are ultimately those based on mutual trust. It means providing a secure, open, collaborative environment in which people feel empowered to explore, to take chances, and to imagine new worlds.

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

Priest-Heck: I love how this industry touches every other industry, which means we are positioned to contribute to massive change. But personally, I’m always happiest when I’m meeting one-on-one with clients, talking about what keeps them up at night, thinking about the business strategically, finding solutions, and contributing to their success.  The best part of being in the face to face business – is being face to face with our customers and people. 

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

Priest-Heck: Great clients and colleagues who have retired or moved on.   And time to think.  J I guess, it’s just harder to find quiet time, right? We used to have time in the car or on an airplane to just sort our brains out. Now we can be reached anywhere. I think that’s why we hear so much today about practicing “mindfulness.” You have to schedule it, be intentional, or you’ll get nibbled to death by the smart phone interruptions. 

TSNN: Anything you are thrilled went away?

Priest-Heck: I hope the “old boys” club” is gone.   I believe as an industry we are more progressive, more open to diversity that is welcoming to people with passion and principles that respect and value everyone.  And I love that we’re eliminating so much of the material wastefulness – throwing everything into the trash – that trade shows used to engender. Freeman has led a huge sustainability effort, and our customers love it.

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

Priest-Heck: I hope that my efforts enable further innovation. I hope that people whose lives I’ve touched make brilliant breakthroughs. Right now, Freeman is putting into motion plans that will change the industry, that will enable a more personal, one-on-one type of engagement. We’re using the power of design thinking to redefine brand experiences as a powerful, rejuvenated new medium.  I love being part of that movement.

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

Priest-Heck: Our industry is about nothing more than people – and I love the people that I have meet on this journey.  Their resourcefulness, their dedication, it’s inspiring.  Again, from a Freeman perspective, our purpose is to “connect people in meaningful ways.” Things are only meaningful when they are relevant in a personal way. Our ability to leverage digital tools and mine data will help us design more meaningful connections for our clients and their customers.

If we’ve learned anything from the Internet, it’s that the future is about letting people make their own choices and create their own universe. We can fight the disruption, or we can be the disruption.

Ultimately, our opportunity and responsibility as industry leaders is to use our talent, resources and gifts to advance society to create prosperity, learning and to elevate the human experience.   There is no greater calling.

Add new comment

Partner Voices
One of the most iconic names on the Las Vegas Strip just got an upgrade. Mandalay Bay has everything that your business needs from a refreshed convention space designed to inspire productivity and creativity, to an impressive selection of world-class restaurants and amenities. If you're looking for a venue that's both inviting and innovative, you have to be here. New Wave Experiences Mandalay Bay continues to invest in a new wave of enhancements both in the convention space and within the resort as a whole. New restaurant openings including Orla by Michael Mina, drawing inspiration from the award-winning chef’s childhood in Egypt and with flavors and décor inspired by the spices found in markets common to coastal Mediterranean towns, as well as Caramá by Wolfgang Puck, bringing the essence of Italy and spirit of Wolfgang into one concept, are recent additions. The Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas also experienced a recent remodel of all 424 rooms. Swingers, a high-end, adults-only golf and entertainment concept will debut in Fall 2024. Enhanced Technology Creating a truly effective conference venue requires careful thought into what a business needs: the right technology, capacity, and inspiration to bring ideas to the next level. As part of the resort’s refresh, Mandalay Bay implemented state-of-the-art technology upgrades, installing cutting-edge Cat6A Ethernet cabling throughout the convention center. This advancement doubles the frequency of data transmission, enabling lightning-fast speeds up to 9400% faster. The convention center now boasts 11 dynamic digital walls, spanning up to 24' x 13', strategically positioned for brand placements, sponsorships and targeted event messaging. Additionally, attendees can benefit from 20 double-sided 55" mobile flexible display units, facilitating effortless navigation to meeting rooms and events. RFID locks were installed on all meeting room doors, and over 200 motion detection cameras have been placed throughout the space. Refreshing New Design & Fine Art The newly remodeled convention space provides a bright and vibrant atmosphere that complements Mandalay Bay's tropical-inspired brand. Featuring white-washed walls and ceilings adorned with bold floral patterns in cerulean and coral tones, the space is complemented by warm walnut accent walls. In addition to the redesign of all pre-function spaces, meeting rooms and ballrooms, Mandalay Bay's 1 million square feet of exhibit space has undergone a rejuvenation, including new paint, covered pillars and relocated strobe lights. Sustainable Spectacles Mandalay Bay is committed to Focused on What Matters and creating more responsible meetings. Refillable water stations all available around the resort, cutting unnecessary plastic usage from single-use bottles. The Mandalay Bay campus’ recent upgrades represent a bold step forward in redefining the Las Vegas experience. With a focus on innovation, sustainability, and unparalleled service, Mandalay Bay sets a new standard for excellence in business hospitality. Whether you're seeking cutting-edge conference facilities, world-class dining options, or simply a luxurious retreat, an unparalleled meeting experience awaits.