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10 May 2024

SISO CEO Summit 2024 Recap

SISO CEO Summit 2024 Recap

SISO CEO Summit 2024 Recap Day 1

The SISO CEO Summit 2024 was held at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island, FL. The conference broke records with 35 thirty-five new members in attendance and over 300 organizers and industry suppliers.

Opening day kicked off with a welcome by incoming Chair Lisa Hannant, CEO, Clarion Events and Vinnie Polito, SISO’s CEO and Managing Director. Following everyone introducing themselves, Anirban Basu, Sage Policy Group and Daniel Lippman from Politico took the stage to discuss “Navigating a Complex and Changing Environment.”

While Anirban said last year that the US was going to have a recession in 2023, it failed to appear. He is not sure about another one in 2024, much to the audience’s relief. Anirban mentioned the US economy grew 2.2% and that consumer spending is strong, particularly in services, including travel. Hotel occupancy is on the rise too.

Inflation is down from 9.2% to 3.2% in the last year. Ever the self-described pessimist, he concluded that perhaps the next recession will be at the end of 2025 or 2026 in part due to outsized consumer spending.

Lippman said while the Biden Administration’s economic data is good, there is a disconnect with people pessimistic about the US economy. Trump has promised 10% tariff hikes across the board if elected, but Lippman does not think they will pass Congress, and Anirban concurred because of current international trade agreements. The ex-President is still popular despite ninety-one indictments and facing a cash crunch.

Event Industry Data, Trends, and Insight, Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes, mdg, a Freeman Company, and Ken Holsinger, Freeman
In their latest research on both exhibitor and visitor trends (separate studies), Freeman found there are four objectives for attending trade shows: Experience (19%), Learning (26%), Networking (25%) and Commerce (30%). Kimberly broke down the top three factors which positively influence those attendees who site experience as their top objective: immersive experiences, customized agendas, and use of technology – integrating online to offline (the live event).

She suggested using personalized and segmented marketing with what aligns with their needs.

Meanwhile, exhibitors are looking for frictionless experiences. They are concerned with unpredictable costs, complex on-site logistics and are more interested in commerce and networking than attendees.

With learning, attendees want demos and hands-on experiences along with unstructured access to experts. Exhibitors are looking for ways to show industry thought leadership and speaking opportunities. They are looking at generating leads vs. sales on the show floor and offering subject matter experts rather than salespeople in their booths.

Networking is where things get interesting. There are a growing number of private membership networks, where “community is the product.” These networks of like-minded people may be expensive to join and are usually quite exclusive.

Kimberly shared that for attendees who believe networking is a big objective for attending an expo, they are looking for meet-ups with others who have similar challenges, discuss a specific topic, or based on a common interest. Exhibitors want to connect in advance of the event and pre-schedule meetings.

Lastly, Ken and Kimberly talked about commerce as an objective. Attendees still want product discovery and new solutions (87%!). She suggests teasing out new products and solutions in visitor marketing pieces ahead of the event. She also suggested, based on the evidence to push exhibitors into holding in-booth demos and providing product samples where they can. Product launches are still important too.

Preparing for Future Success: The Key to Unlocking Value for your Organization by Focusing on your Customer, with Hervé Sedky, Emerald Holdings, Inc., Michelle Metter, Fast Forward Events, Paul Miller, Questex, and Hugh Jones, RELX Plc
This session discussed how the industry is listening to customers. Hugh suggested asking event directors the following question, “What is the value proposition of your show by segment?” This includes buyers and exhibitors, demographics, company size, etc. It is not necessarily an easy answer, but important to know.

Paul said Questex is “serving content to visitors every day of the year.” They share data received on interest levels of content served with event directors. This interest is then developed into event/digital programing including selecting speakers, creating topical educational sessions, and shared content.

Michelle discussed how Fast Forward Events uses “social listening” tools to find any strategic shifts and get more vertical depth on the industries they serve. They want to find their clients’ “pain points then deliver solutions via our shows.” She noted that USPs may shift as a show matures and the industry changes.

The panel also covered other topics including talent recruitment and sales.

Making Your High Heat Events Even Hotter, Joseph Graziano III, NBA SVP, Head of Global Strategy & Development
Millennials and GenX may be doing more with less these days, but they are willing to spend more on experiences that are intense and exclusive. Those are the elusive yet important “High Heat Moments within an event. Joseph says that more of his time these days is spent with his team trying to create those truly memorable experiences visitors cannot find or get anywhere else but at their events.

There are five components of High Heat Moments:

  • Exclusive Collaborations on stage. Create interesting match ups with old professionals and newbies, or cultural icons and disruptors. In other words, pair people within your industry ecosystem that no one would ever expect to see on stage together or collaborating live, in person.
  • Create scarcity. He cited making limited amounts of merchandise (swag) for sale or giveaways.
  • Use hyperlocal activations. Take advantage of your event’s locale.
  • Personalization and customization of the experience for visitors. People will pay for exclusivity. Think VIP experiences down to special show times, keynote front row seats, or speaker meet & greets.
  • Capture new audiences by making your event accessible (and known) to alternative demographics.

A New Perspective on Innovation and Experience – New Entrants to the For-Profit Event Landscape. Lance Fensterman, Fanatics Events, Dierdre Connolly, Bravocon and Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, and Aaron Levant, NTWRK (ComplexCon for sneakers)
This session focused on what fan events can bring to b2b events. Bravocon began as a press event and grew from there. Aaron looks at ComplexCon as an “enterprise asset driver” for their commerce and tech platform. Neither hold their events to make a profit. Instead, their respective purposes are to deepen the superfan interaction and connection through live events.

Both Dierdre and Aaron agreed a key component of each of their events’ success is year-round engagement with super fans via varied forms of content. (In the b2b space, these are your show evangelists.) Diedre advised, “understand who your customers are and what they want to buy.” Then provide it.

Lance, who spent years developing and growing RX’s Reed-Pop division and is presently launching and building fan experiences for Fanatics Events advised, “Don’t be trapped by your experience! Leave space to experiment and change.”

Fireside Chat with Jonathan Weiner, Fintech & Events Entrepreneur, and Vinnie Polito:
Jonathan produces HLTH and launched Money 20/20 as an outgrowth of his work in fintech. He attributes much success in investing in people, and that he, “makes events that he wants to go to.”

Jonathan’s over-arching philosophy about events is that those they produce be the best in the industry – whatever that industry is.

AI and its Impact on Our Industry, Opportunity, or Threat? Richard Harbridge, CTO, 2toLead
Richard sees AI as an opportunity and provided some invaluable strategy tips when working with it:

  • The first mistake most make is thinking AI is a replacement strategy. It’s not. Focus on collaboration with AI, not replacing jobs or personnel with it.
  • Pain points have fixes using AI. Don’t be afraid to try using it.
  • We can better connect with our customers – along with connecting our customers to each other. AI may be used to improve attendee experience.
  • The user should be responsible for brainstorming – NOT the AI.
  • AI can create more quality content (but should be proofed and edited). For example, if used right, AI will help improve business quality letters by 60%.
  • Use AI to make easy-to-share videos – especially from your speakers.

A Farewell and A Congrats
Freeman’s Carrie Parsons-Freeman and Janet Dell led a toast to Bob Priest-Heck celebrating his long career and upcoming retirement. Nancy Walsh was awarded the Robert Krakoff award, SISO’s highest honor.


SISO CEO Summit Recap 2024 Day 2

Fireside Chat with Alex Roth, Informa Plc and Lisa Hannant, Clarion Events
Alex Roth, Group Director of Strategy & Business Planning at Informa Plc, calls himself, “a pretty unlikely M&A director” believing in organic growth over acquisitions, although he’s completed “north of 100” of those. Recruited into Informa in 2014 by then client Stephen Carter, the first thing he did was stop all acquisitions for nine months, because there was no M&A strategy at the time.

“There were 50 different operating units reporting into the CEO, motivated by profit sharing, not growth.” The reorganization of the company resulted in four divisions: tradeshows, conferences, data (Tech Target these days), and academic publishing.

Post pandemic, they recognized that trade show multiples would be permanently impaired. They, “needed to move into adjacent markets with better multiples than expos.” And subsequently identified 55 possible acquisitions in the data driven services. Their first investment was organic -for Iris, their internal data management system. Recognizing the importance of data, they rewrote every supplier contract so that now Informa owns and controls all its own data.

They determined the data business needed to be in the US and Tech Target fit the bill for a few reasons, including being listed on the stock exchange and transparent in the operations.

\What lessons were learned with acquistions? Alex said, “We study our mistakes over and over, and over again. One common factor was around culture. In most cases, the warning sides were there, and we drove by them.” To prevent making similar mistakes, they now hire consultants before making serious acquisitions to vet “why we shouldn’t make this purchase.”

On the future, he wonders how our business events model will change. “New tech will be introduced to enhance our clients’ ROI. We can either introduce that tech or our competitors will. (He specifically noted that it’s not current competitors within the exhibition space, but those from outside the industry.)

“Informa is not in the events business. We are facilitators of supply chains and the communities we serve.” His favorite shows in the Informa portfolio? The Boat Shows because of the complex logistics suggesting coordination in mounting such shows.

How Content and Community Drive Value and Growth with Greg Hitchen, Terrapinn, Craig Fuller, Freightwaves
Being in the center of the global freight business, Freightwaves tracks buyers and sellers of worldwide transport services, giving the company a front row seat into the “pulse of the global economy.” They monitor transactions on vessels, and in the US, on trucks and rails. Data is collected, anonymized, and then used to predict trends and patterns.

Customers of the data include Amazon and Walmart. This is where things get interesting. By sharing the data with large global customers, Freightwaves requests data back from customers, again anonymizing it, then engages in deeper dives with data services.

Firecrown Media, the other part of their business, buys enthusiast market traditional media (typically print) and “invests a lot” to turn them into a digital native environment. “We want to bring these magazines back to their original luster – with great production, editorial content – they are coffee table beautiful.”

Upon completion of acquisitions, Firecrown immediately fires subscription agencies and takes the publications off newsstands, preferring to own the subscriptions and mine the data therein. They then find adjacent commerce segments and expand into those areas.

Craig said, “media businesses have to move beyond advertising and think about the marketplace for ecommerce. If you can drive leads to advertisers, you can drive them to your own products ever more so.”

During Covid, they produced a virtual event with “cable tv production quality.” 93,000 people attended. They are still doing it, producing four events a year with a live audience of 1500-2000 and livestreaming out the content. The events end at 3:00pm each day, and in the model of SXSW, Firecrown buys out 45 venues within the city where the event takes place, reselling them to sponsors for after-hours events.

His advice on those making acquisitions: “We do asymmetrical buying – not spending too much so we’ll be hurt if we lose it, but making sure the acquisition is big enough to offer massive growth.”

Sustainability Meets the Commercial World with Carlotta Mast, New Hope Network, Informa Markets
Natural Products Expo West, held annually in Anaheim, CA attracted 3000 exhibitors, 60,000+ attendees and diverted 52% of the waste produced in its last edition. Carlotta said, “Sustainability will be either the headwinds or the tailwinds for our industry and the communities we serve. Which one is our choice – and it will have an impact.”

She shared a couple of new, successful sponsorships at the show last year: Liquid Death replaced 21,000 single-use plastic water bottles in all official hotels with their more sustainable water boxes while paying $70,000 as a sponsorship. Tetra-Pak was the first Waste Diversion sponsor, helping them reinforce their products recyclability and meaningfully connecting with attendees.

The show includes sustainability ratings for products on their digital platforms through a third-party arrangement. This has helped add visitor stickiness to the site and adds real value to their events by helping them make decisions in line with their values. Carlotta added that Gen Z will pay more for sustainable products.

Social sustainability is a core value for Informa she explained, citing the International Roofing Expo adding Spanish language signage, sessions, and communications at the show, with marketing materials pre- and post-show to attract another segment of visitors.

ESG is no longer a fringe issue as evidenced by the manufacturing/engineering industry recognizing it has to be more sustainable. As a result, Informa launched the Sustainable Manufacturing Expo in 2025 with 75% of all visitors having new job titles and job functions compared with other shows in that sector. They also have attracted new, non-traditional companies to exhibit that normally don’t participate in manufacturing/engineering expos.

Carlotta offered organizers some sustainability initiatives which can also be money-makers:

  • Sustainability can seed commercial opportunities.
  • Talk to your market and exhibitors about the right opportunities to support sustainability.
  • Be transparent and authentic with your efforts. No green washing!
  • Socially sustainable activities can bring rewards by being welcoming and inclusive to attendees who traditionally have not attended your show.
  • Think big and empower your team to lead the way – think about adding sustainable and commercially successful events to your portfolio. It also helps retain and get the most out of your talent - especially the younger ones.

M&A: What’s on the Cards for 2024? with Russell Wilcox, Clarion Events Ltd., Gareth Bowhill, CloserStill Media and Simon Foster, Arc Network
Gareth said there is a return of confidence in the exhibition market, and in 2023 CloserStill made some acquisitions. Simon agreed the market is back but is not sure it was ever gone and noted that more companies are interested in selling than buyers interested in buying.

Geographic regions of interest include the UK, Europe (Germany specifically), Southeast Asia and of course, North America. Gareth says with CloserStill, they are not interested in entering new geography without a strategy.

Simon is intrigued about buying shows in China in the next couple of years but will need a Chinese partner to run them. SE Asia is interesting, Europe is steady, and “the US is bubbly alongside the Middle East.” Saudi Arabia is also interesting and reminds him of Abu Dhabi 15 years ago (in terms of development).

Russell said Clarion is still interested in the US.

Advice for sellers: Gareth: There are more sellers and activity – if you have good fundamentals, you will get a good price. 2024 is a very different environment than 2019, so there’s a lot of thought going into deals.

Simon: Think carefully about why you want to sell. What do you want out of a deal? Be prepared and think about how your business/show will fit in with the buyer’s.

Russell: There is a more strategic emphasis on where the proposed new company fits in with your company’s overall culture and alignment.

They went on to briefly discuss deals they wished they had either bid on or wished they hadn’t. Overall, all agreed they had few regrets, then mentioned valuations. As Simon summed up, “You do not buy the past. You buy the future.”

The Anatomy of a Deal with John McGovern, Grimes, McGovern & Associates, Ryan Anderson, GreyLion, Arnie Didier, International Mass Timber Conference, and Rick McConnell, Trifecta Collective
Rick said their objective with Trifecta is to build a portfolio of growing, founder-owned companies, then bring operations know-how, taking the day-to-day stuff away from the owners that they don’t want to do. He mentioned customizing the fit with owners and paying attention to the culture/chemistry are top of mind.

Arnie is happy with the acquisition and growth of both his industry (Mass timber) and their event since the acquisition. He described their operation as a “little company in Missoula, Montana with a global presence.” He named Trifecta team by name and described them all as professionals who wanted to help enhance the business. “Everything they said they were going to do, they did even better than promised.”

Arnie’s advice for those interested in selling: “Get your numbers right, make sure your event/business is growing, and embrace the change your partners bring.”

Advocacy for Our Industry: What’s New from Washington, D.C.? Tommy Goodwin, Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA), Walter Charnizon, TechDay HQ Yancy Weinrich, CloserStill North America, and Nancy Walsh, Informa Markets
The impact over the last couple of years from international exhibitors and visitors being able to get US visas have been significant. In 2022, Informa Markets had an 82% decrease in visitors from China, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, and India. In 2023, it had gone up 360% - well on the way to recovery.

Nancy Walsh shared, “it’s getting better, but people still need to prepare for visas 5-6 months out.”

With ECA’s help, the US State Department has recently received US $50 million in funding to shorten visa wait times around the world. However, as of April 10th, the wait times in Mexico City were 836 days, 471 in Dubai. This issue will remain front and center during the upcoming Legislative Action Day on May 30th.

The conversation then moved to Sustainability/Decarbonization. Yancy said it is a key focus for CloserStill in 2024. They are looking at it internally and how to integrate processes into their shows. These kinds of initiatives must go from the top downward.

Nancy said that 90% of their events are powered by renewable energy. On the social side, they donated 170,000 pounds of food from their shows and the International Roofing Expo replaced thirty roofs in New Orleans recently. She believes the exhibition industry, using industry-led solutions, is taking steps to get to Net Zero Carbon emissions.

She recommended, an organization they work with who bring underserved high school students to Informa’s shows, giving the kids a chance to meet with leaders and learn about various industries (and trade shows).

Walter suggested delegates check out, a workforce development group who work with kids to provide opportunities.

Lastly, Tommy talked about recent ECA wins including the Federal Trade Commission being able to go after scammers preying on exhibitors and visitors.

Following the sessions, delegates went golfing, boating, tennis, or visited the pool for more networking.



  • “Without a doubt the most valuable three days of the year for networking, learning, and meeting colleagues.”
    Tony Calanca, Calanca & Associates LLC
  • “Two of the best acquisitions Access Intelligence had executed came directly from contacts and discussions held at the SISO CEO Summit. Beyond that important networking for transactions, I learn best practices from the best in the industry. The ROI for membership is immeasurable.”
    Don Pazour, CEO, Access Intelligence
  • “The impact of SISO is so much bigger than its size. It feels more like a global council of important tribes than a traditional trade association.”
    David Adler, CEO & Founder, Bizbash Media
  • “Our industry thrives on the personal relationships that face-to-face builds, and the CEO Summit is the ultimate place to build YOUR network!”
    Tom Mitchell, President, Messe Dusseldorf North America
  • “As busy, independent, for-profit organizer, SISO keeps our company connected to all the key players working in this industry and allows great relationships and ongoing learning of best practices from the best in the business. All invaluable assets to help move our business forward."
    Howard Hauben, CEO, H2 Events
  • “The SISO membership represents the entire for-profit tradeshow community and the annual SISO conferences are must-attend events for their educational and networking value.”
    Joel A. Davis, Founder & CEO, JD Events
  • Being a member of SISO has allowed me to navigate the dynamic landscape of our industry in the most effective way possible. Personally, it’s been a journey of continuous learning, networking, and collaboration that fosters deep relationships with industry leaders. Professionally, the insights I’ve gained, the resources I have accessed, and the collaborative initiatives and advocacy work have helped to take my organization to new heights. SISO, to me, is an indispensable asset for my career and business.
    Liz Irving, President, Clarion Events