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SISO’s Virtual Town Hall: 6 Takeaways


CHICAGO — The Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) on March 31 hosted the first of an expected series of virtual town hall meetings.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, SISO had to cancel its annual CEO Summit, scheduled for March 30-April 2 in Dallas.

“SISO feels strongly, now more than ever, we need to come together as a community, share our experiences and pivots, and get answers to burning questions,” said Executive Director David Audrain, who served as the town hall’s moderator. Joining him were SISO’s newly installed officers: Hervé Sedky, President, Americas, Reed Exhibitions; Cassandra Farrington, Co-founder and Chair, Marijuana Business Daily; Douglas Emslie, Group Chief Executive of Tarsus Group plc and Greg Topalian, CEO of Clarion Events North America and LeftField Media.

Here are six highlights of the group’s discussion:

  1. Many U.S. shows have been postponed to the third and fourth quarter of this year. Tarsus Group, with 180 events globally in its portfolio, has so far canceled one show (in China) and has rescheduled 46 events for the September-to-December period, according to Emslie. Getting labor and equipment to produce the shows will be challenging in the final four months of the year, he said, given that “slots are at 140% capacity” for that period.Reed Americas is “trying hard not to cancel shows, so most of our events are postponed,” Sedky said. He noted that more than 80% of Reed’s exhibitors are small businesses and “they really need this platform.”
  2. Approaches vary regarding exhibitor and attendee refunds for postponed or canceled events. “Every situation is a little different, depending on whether refunds are on the attendee or exhibitor side and how far out the event is,” Topalian said. “We are doing incentives [to roll over funds to the next event]. In general, we’re trying to be upfront and fair. The first thing is to communicate clearly what you can do.” Clarion is not, in general, changing the terms and conditions of exhibitor contracts of shows that have been rescheduled, Topalian noted. “We are being flexible with potential exhibitors. In some cases, we are coming up with language that I consider a little bit of a parachute, but it is not something that is new terms and conditions.”
  3. Contact SISO if hotels are not working with you on canceled or postponed events. “With hotels in general the experience is positive. That being said, there are one or two exceptions,” Sedky said. Major hotel groups are lobbying to get a part of the federal government’s stimulus package, “and you can’t argue to get some money from the government and at the same time be playing hard ball with us as customers and trying to enforce cancellation charges.” Sedky encouraged anyone who is having a current problem with hotels to get back to SISO with this information. “That would really be helpful in our lobbying efforts in Washington.”
  4. Show organizers are pivoting to new revenue opportunities: Panelists discussed new ways they’re exploring to reach out to exhibitors and attendees. These range from hybrid meetings (which combine a live and virtual component) to online product showcases and sponsored, content-driven webinars. “We’re looking for revenue opportunities around existing business, including online medical education,” Topalian said. “This is not a silver bullet for raising revenue, but to add value for customers.”
  5. General service contractors, especially smaller ones, as well as other show suppliers have been hit hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic. In light of this, Reed Exhibitions is asking each of its show management teams to evaluate the resiliency of show partners on the basis of four key questions, including: How difficult would it be to switch to another supplier or insource that particular function? If the supplier is unable to perform the service or deliver product, what percentage of our customers would be impacted? Sedky said responses will help teams identify which suppliers are critical, and whether Reed should look at insourcing, changing terms or finding different suppliers if needed.
  6. Widespread resumption of U.S. shows and conferences remains unclear. MJBizCon’s Farrington said she’s “pushing the pause button” until after the next four to six weeks, when the peak impact of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is expected to hit. Emslie said that Tarsus has 250 employees and eight offices in China. All but one of the offices are now open, with the Wuhan office to open April 8. “Our first event in China is in June. That is encouraging,” he said. “If the pattern follows through to the West, we’re looking at September.”

Reach David Audrain at (404) 334-4585 or; Hervé Sedky at (203) 840-5584 or; Cassandra Farrington at (720) 212-5802 or; and Greg Topalian at (203) 550-2139 or; Douglas Emslie at +442088462708 or

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