DALLAS — A picture might say a thousand words — but a video is even better. That was the thinking behind a new campaign hosted by The Exhibition Services & Contractors Association (ESCA), ALL IN.
The campaign’s mission was twofold. First, ESCA put out a call to member exhibition services companies and contractors to create original videos about how they are preparing to bring events back safely. Then, an online discussion June 15 featured top industry players and ESCA board members who shared their own strategies and experiences. The videos were woven throughout the online event and are also showcased on the ESCA website.
ESCA President Neil McMullin, Senior Vice President Shared Services at Fern, hosted the panel, which featured David Causton, General Manager, McCormick Place; Randy Pekowski, President and COO, The Expo Group; Jeff Quade, Executive Vice President Exhibitions, GES; Damon Ross, Senior Group Vice President, CORT Events; Joanne Sanders, International Vice President/Department Director, Trade Show and Display Work, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees; and Chris Schimek, Executive Vice President, Delivery and Brand Experience, Freeman. “We are ready for any challenges and the bumps in the road after the past year and now a fairly quick restart,” said McMullin. “We are indeed ‘All In’ because it’s time to get back to doing what we do best.”
On the venue side, McCormick Place’s Causton was optimistic after the news of the previous week, with the kickoff of World of Concrete in Las Vegas and the reopening of the State of California. Just that morning, he had gotten word that FABTECH 2021 would be the first large-scale manufacturing trade show to return to McCormick Place when it does so September 13-16. This was announced just as Illinois moves into its final reopening phase. The Chicago Auto Show, scheduled for July 15-19, is expected to bring 130,000 people into the city.
This level of activity, which is being felt in cities around the U.S., brings with it the challenge of scaling up staffing, materials and processes. “How do we handle the peaks and valleys we are seeing right now?” said The Expo Group’s Pekowski. “We are looking at a robust fall and are in the revival phase. The most significant hiring spike is right now and should continue for the next 12 months.”
At Freeman, they have been communicating all along with furloughed team members through a specially created newsletter called “Stay Connected,” as well as town halls and webinars, and have created playbooks “to make sure we get back up to speed as quickly as possible,” said Schimek. “The onboarding timeline was accelerated due to the ramp up in vaccinations and the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. We have had conversations with all the different trades as it relates to shows ramping back up.” He predicted that initially, as shows come back, the labor call won’t be as big because of smaller footprints.
Meanwhile, Quade reported that GES has also created a flexible management pool to successfully execute its 2021 calendar.
CORT’s Ross reported the highest level of inventory since 2019, enough to meet needs for the next six months to a year. “We have reorganized our warehouses, and our service providers have started a programs where they are teaching warehouse associates how to drive so they can get their certificates,” he said. The ongoing shortage of drivers, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, was a hot topic among the group. According to Causton, transportation management companies are enhancing their driving school programs, creating various levels of certifications, and developing bonuses for hiring and retention.
Sanders assured that her union members were ready to work again. “Our folks are career–oriented, and they have made a commitment to training in this field,” she said. “We have not seen a wholesale exodus of workers as have other industries, like restaurants and hospitality. Returning to this career is their goal.”
While there’s still much to be worked out, one thing was clear from the ALL IN panel discussion: Cooperation, even among competitors, has never been stronger. That has been evidenced by the efforts of industry coalitions such as Go LIVE Together. This dovetailed to create ECA Legislative Action Day, June 2, which attracted 150 industry advocates and resulted in more than 3,000 letters sent to legislators, according to Schimek.
“I’ve never in my time in the industry seen this level of collaboration and cooperation,” said GES’ Quade. “What is in the best interest of everybody in our industry has been what matters. It hasn’t been about protecting your relationships with your customers but about how we can all succeed together.”