This Just In

Taking the Industry by Brainstorm


Nearly a decade ago, Gary Shapiro taught me a valuable lesson when he voiced the proverbial, “No one of us is as smart as all of us combined.”  Today, Gary is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which just produced the most successful International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in its history.  The wisdom of those words still echoes today.

Now, more than ever, our industry needs to pool its best thinkers and idea people to come up with new “Out of the Box” concepts to build on the recent CES smash hit, and to continue this momentum to promote the value of exhibitions everywhere.

Here is a step-by-step approach we can use to get exhibitions back on track:

  • Realize we have challenges.
  • Gather experienced and committed exhibition experts to work on overcoming these challenges.
  • Enable these experts to temporarily shelve their traditional affiliations and previous solutions in order to use an open mind to find new solutions.
  • Ask those with “the most to lose” to lead the call for bold action.
  • Turn the ideas into action.


This could be a shot in the arm for our industry.  Here’s another thought that might contribute to our industry’s rejuvenation: Embarking on an exercise in strategic planning, and asking the question, “How would we promote the value of face-to-face marketing today if we were starting from scratch?”

We need to use the power of face-to-face marketing to promote the value of exhibitions.  We can gather and train a team of volunteer evangelists to pitch the value of exhibitions to the people who are most important to our industry’s future: corporate decision makers, marketing and business associations, business editors and college professors and deans in business and marketing departments.

Here’s how the plan would work:

Identify the Audiences.  Prime targets include executives of the Fortune 500 companies, deans and professors, and media in the U.S.

Develop the Tools.  Build Demonstration Labs inside exhibition facilities in first tier cities such as Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Orlando, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Exhibition evangelists (one association executive and one for-profit executive per region) will host corporate executives, deans/professors, allied association executives and media at major exhibitions, including visits to the Demonstration Labs.  These labs will have focus group facilities, interactive surveys and the most current qualitative and quantitative data on the effectiveness of exhibitions.

Create the Support Structure.  These volunteers would be supported by a professional team of staff and contractors with expertise in research, marketing and communications.  The staff would work with industry leaders to create the strategic plan; select and support the Exhibition Evangelists; and divide the Fortune 500 companies, universities, allied associations and media to the appropriate Evangelist by region.  The staff would set up the appointments and continue communicating with these folks after the pitch.

The Picture of Success.  By January 2007, all Fortune 500 companies, major universities, allied associations and key media would have received a customized, face-to-face presentation in a Demonstration Center by evangelists with continuous, targeted follow up by staff.

Would This Work?

During my 20 years as an association executive, I’ve worked with many types of volunteers.  Most of these volunteers were not successful in achieving their objectives for the following reasons:

  • Wrong match of task to volunteer
  • The volunteers had no skin in the game
  • Too much was expected of them
  • They weren’t trained or adequately supported by staff
  • They didn’t have clear goals


But our industry can succeed with volunteer Exhibition Evangelists if we identify 20 charismatic, energetic professionals that love selling the value of exhibitions; if we give them realistic goals to accomplish in their two-year terms; and if we train and support these professionals.

If you think these ideas need more tweaking or if you have other ideas, email me.  Our industry’s future needs your ideas—speak up!

Sam Lippman is founder and President of integrated show management and marketing (ism2).  Contact him at or (703) 979-4904.

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