Press Releases

Press Releases

23 Jun 2017

Post ECEF Review: Taking the Long View

ECEF’s producer Sam Lippman says content is evolving, and opinions are changing.

What’s that you say? You did not attend this year’s Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF) in Washington, D.C. If you now expect I will review all that you missed, relax.

We all know that describing a live event will always fall far short of attending. By the time you read this, Lippman Connects will have posted online videos of every presentation, the speakers’ slides, a photo gallery, industry reports, and proprietary research. It’s all free at If we could find a way to repurpose the unmatched networking activity online, we would do that too.

Instead, let me share with you a personal revelation about a leading-edge trend that has come to be an essential business consideration. If you don’t already know, ECEF is exclusively for CEOs, Presidents, Executive Directors and the like at associations and independent exhibition organisers. Their horizon is not limited merely to the next event. They are concerned with the entire organisation: its growth, its relevancy, and its brand.

Some topics are evergreen. For example, exploring new profit centers will always be important. Others may only come into focus when the economy hits a tough patch or there is significant regulatory change. Green exhibitions come to mind.

Through the fog of passing fancies and information overload, one important topic continues to assert itself, consistently moving to the fore in many different guises. That trend is customer engagement.

In the beginning a few keen observers tried to raise awareness that attendees and exhibitors were becoming less loyal and less responsive. Not surprisingly, most organizers responded lamely, applying the band-aid of more-of-the-same marketing. Others were more forward-facing, recognising that we have entered a different era of customer expectations.

Only upon reflection for this post did I realised that the topic has been a steady undercurrent running through the ECEF program in recent years. Sometimes overtly programmed by me, and other times coming through in the attitudes and insights of the presenters.

Just a few years ago, one keynoter electrified the room with a warning about potential disruptors and a call to turn attendees into fans. Last year, a panel of prominent, experienced exhibitors openly complained about the absence of basic ROI data from most organizers. Then, there was the “aha moment” when one association CEO described how an investment in attendee personas paid off in stronger customer connections.

This year, the CEO of UBM North America, Scott Schulman explained his “events first’ growth strategy. It was, in many ways, about engaging the customer through every available platform. The thread of customer engagement was in the presentation on Connected Events as well as in the case study of a customer-first co-location by two giant association shows. Yet none of these sessions were supposed to be about customer engagement.

What was only recently an edgy issue that challenged the thinking of a comfortable industry has matured and evolved. Today, it is an essential part of the business model. The organisers who attend ECEF are learning, responding, and innovating.