Technology and Marketing Take Center Stage at SISO Executive Conference

DANICA TORMOHLEN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE

Washington, DC – Trade show organizers and suppliers gathered for the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) Executive Conference, held August 6-8, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The 2013 event attracted 107 trade show executives, compared with 97 at last year’s conference in Chicago. The three-day event featured a variety of educational sessions that focused on the event’s theme, Exceptionally Executed Experiential Events.

“50% of attendees had never attended a SISO event,” said Lew Shomer, executive director, SISO. “Total attendance, including suppliers and press, was 197.”

Session Highlights
Technology for the trade shows took center stage at the event, with sessions focused on data integration, mobility, event innovation and social media.

At the session, How Integrated Are We?, Rhonda Wunderlin, vice president, lead services, Penton Media, discussed the value of having a centralized database. “It’s important to not only understand who your attendees are but also how they are engaging with your organization,” she said. By combining demographic data with past and present behavior, Penton is able to provide a more personalized show experience. “We use triggered emails to engage with attendees differently based on their interest level,” said Wunderlin. “We’ve increased conversion by 10% through personalization.”

But data integration doesn’t come cheap. At Cygnus Business Media, CEO John French said he invested $500,000 in 2009 to hire database management vendor Omeda to assist the company with integrating its database. In addition, Cygnus spent $100,000 each year since then, an amount French said is worth it, noting it yielded a “dramatic increase in conversions.”

During a session on mobility, Jo Dickson, Penton’s event technology director, said 100% of the company’s trade shows have an app, and an average of 33% of registered attendees download the app. “When you look at the download numbers, keep in mind that only 56% adults have a smartphone,” she said. “If you take this into account, the average number of downloads is closer to 76%.”

Hanley Wood Exhibitions is finding some success in engaging with its community through mobile games, said Jeff Davis, director/digital. In 2012, the company launched World of Concrete Works, a video game app. “We sent out one email promotion to 1,093 attendees with an open rate of 45.7%,” he said. “We’ve had 3,200 downloads from that one email.”

The company is hoping to build on that success with the launch of Rig Racing in the 4th Quarter of 2013. “We will be selling in-game ad units,” he said. “Gamers are connected, social, affluent and early adopters.”

Attendee Engagement & Sponsorship Opportunities
When it comes to attendee engagement, trade show organizers discussed options on and off the show floor. For the Nightclub and Bar Convention & Trade Show, Questex Media launched a number of events off the show floor after hours. “We are rethinking where and when the show happens,” said Kerry Gumas, president and CEO. He urged show organizers to consider the destination as a whole as a platform for their event.

For example, the show organizes back-of-house club tours, sponsored VIP meet-and-greets, sponsored club parties and a mixology competition at venues on the Las Vegas Strip. “We own the night from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.,” said Gumas.

Rob Mesirow, vice president, business operations, CTIA, is expanding attendee engagement and sponsorship opportunities through scavenger hunts. In 2012, MobileCON offered a Tag It to Win It contest, where attendees scanned 2D bar codes and got points for visiting locations on the show floor and at networking events, keynotes and sessions. The show gave away five Xbox 360 4GB consoles. “It’s one of our most successful campaigns, and it’s fairly simple and inexpensive to produce,” said Mesirow.

Carl Landau, grand poobah, Niche Media, shared 25 ideas for networking at events. He said he limits the number of the attendees to 250 for networking events at his shows. “It gets people to sign up early,” said Landau.

He advised trade show organizers to get creative and have fun with networking events to build memorable experiences. He offers themed events, sponsored micro-parties for specific attendee segments, lunch with strangers and meet-ups with local industry leaders — to a name a few.

Networking & More
In addition to the educational sessions, the event featured plenty of opportunities for networking. The opening reception and dinner was held at The Hay-Adams, a historic hotel featuring unparalleled views of the White House, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. The second night featured a reception and dinner at the Newseum, a 250,000-square-foot museum of news that features a Berlin Wall Gallery, 9/11 Gallery and Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery.

The 2014 SISO Executive Conference will be held August 11-13 in Atlantic City, NJ. Next up, the SISO CEO Summit will be held March 30-April 2, 2014 at Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, NV.

Reach Lew Shomer at (310) 450-8831, ext. 106, or lshomer@shomex.com