05 Jun 2014

TRENDS Attends: Exhibition & Conventions Executives Forum


It all still nets down to value.

The 13th annual Exhibition & Conventions Executives Forum, founded and produced by Sam Lippman, was held recently at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington.

Like most busy executives, time is precious and I never have enough of it. So when I attend an industry conference it has to have value for me – and ECEF never disappoints. First, the networking was exceptional. I seized the opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues as well as meet new people.

The ECEF sessions were thought-provoking and jammed with information – too many take-aways to cover in just one brief article. Lessons shared were from the for-profit as well as the nonprofit sectors. (Reality check – all tradeshows are for-profit but that’s another article!)

A consistent theme throughout the day was that it’s not the strongest or the most intelligent who will succeed but those who can best manage change. Change is the new normal…and we need to discover our weaknesses to affect change and continue to be successful.

Greg Topalian, SVP of Reed Exhibitions, and first ECEF speaker, presented “Avoiding Irrelevance.” Having a tradeshow become irrelevant is every association executive’s nightmare! Any firm or organization that provides content, offers educational programs, networking opportunities, etc., becomes a competitor, which means to stay competitive the value quotient has to increase.

The market is never wrong, so we need to watch for “disruptions” in our respective industries and be prepared to change. Without adapting to change, becoming irrelevant is almost inevitable.

Topalian used the Blockbuster collapse as an illustration of not adapting to change. Blockbuster late fees were an important part of its revenue, but late fees made customers unhappy. Netflix disrupted the status quo by removing late fees, making customers happy, giving them more value – and ultimately grabbing market share.

He asked, “What are our industry’s late fees?” What negative experiences are we inadvertently inflicting on our members/attendees/exhibitors? Are we creating that “fanatic” loyalty with positive experiences – giving value? Are we making our audiences want us, as much as we want them?

People resist change due to fear of failure and, ironically, Gary Shapiro (left), CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, shared his experiences with failures, regrets and mistakes.

He reminded us to take risks and, when we don’t succeed, don’t focus on blame. Instead, learn from failures. Mistakes become regrets when nothing is learned. Take responsibility to be fresh – never let a show approach the b-word – “boring.” Try to have at least three new things each show. Be incredibly flexible – ninja flexible! These are fast-changing times.

Finally, remember that your “brand” is reflected in everything you do – not just your tradeshow. And, what we, as tradeshow executives, are selling, whether or not we like it, is excitement – and that excitement is where our members, attendees and exhibitors find their value.

(Link to original article:


Tschiffely is executive director of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington. She is president and owner of Conference Inc., which provides association management services to the DMAW and the DMAW Educational Foundation as well as conference management services to other for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Contact her at