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SISO Update


10 Sep 2021

SISO Update

SISO Summer Conference 2021 Recap: 150+ trade show executives gather

in Louisville, KY, to network and exchange ideas


By Danica Tormohlen, Editor-At-Large, SISO

After canceling last year's summer meeting due to Covid, SISO hosted 150+ executives for the SISO Summer Conference 2021, held August 24-26 at the Marriott Downtown in Louisville, KY. While many industry association events have been held virtually since the pandemic, SISO has led the return to in-person by hosting this event and the SISO CEO Summit in April.

SISO Chair and Emerald CEO and President Hervé Sedky welcomed the audience: “There's no substitute for face to face, and I want to thank you all for being here.”

SISO members gathered to discuss industry trends, exchange ideas and network with colleagues and suppliers. While travel restrictions kept most international attendees from coming into the U.S., the event attracted executives from large, public companies like Emerald and Informa Markets, as well as small and medium-sized businesses like JDC Events and MJBiz. See the full list of attendees here. Offering one and one-half days of programming, the SISO Summer Conference featured 18 sessions, including breakouts for revenue, operations, marketing and business/management.

“This year's SISO Summer Conference in Louisville was a great success because so many people put an amazing amount of work into it,” said SISO CEO David Audrain. “We had a terrific volunteer Program Planning Committee, co-chaired by Courtney Muller and David Adler; really informative speakers from the opening panel discussion session led by Danica Tormohlen to the closing general session led by Cassandra Farrington — and everyone in between.The Louisville Host team and city partners were wonderful and created a great experience for the participants. Our many sponsors, representing the best suppliers and services the industry has to offer, were as supportive as ever. I have received more positive direct comments and feedback from participants than I have ever received from a previous SISO Summer Conference. It is really encouraging to see so many people invest their time in the middle of such challenges as we are all still experiencing during our industry's recovery.”

Women's Leadership Forum

The SISO Women's Leadership Forum returned to the Summer Conference with education and networking. The forum kicked off with an afternoon of sessions on Monday, Aug. 23. One highlight was a keynote by Dr. Megan Bloomer, Owner & Founder, Shattering Ceilings, who has been featured on the TEDX stage.  During a session titled How you can show up for yourself and your company and what that really means, she shared her experience with leading a diverse and inclusive team at the Cheesecake Factory.

“You have to earn trust from your team,” Bloomer said. “Meet people where they are every day. Ask about their personal life and if there is anything you need to know that will impact their job today. Remember: We are human beings taking care of other human beings.”

Following three hours of programming, the evening featured a dinner and reception at the Bluegrass Brewing Company (BBC). The group enjoyed at a three-course dinner served with accompanying beer and bourbon cocktails, along with a presentation by Andrea Meriweather, a historical curator of bourbon, food and all things Louisville. Hosted by Louisville Tourism, the dinner was held in the BBC's Bourbon Barrel Loft, a renovated space on the third floor of the circa 1880 building that is listed on the National Historic Register.

On Tuesday, a full day of sessions covered topics ranging from The Art of (Self) Negotiation and A Mindset For Successfully Navigating Change and Uncertainty to Bring Your Seat to the Table or Build Your Own and Understanding and Embracing Generational Differences.

Networking & More

On Tuesday, Aug. 24, the opening reception was held at Falls City Market in the Omni Hotel, located across the street from the Marriott. The unique and memorable venue featured a mouthwatering selection of food and drinks for attendees to savor while meeting new colleagues and catching up with old friends. On Wednesday, the Kentucky International Convention Center, which is connected via skybridge to the Marriott, hosted a seated buffet luncheon. The Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR accredited venue showcased one of its catering options for pandemic-era events. The menu featured assorted breads and rolls, potato vichyssoise, watermelon Panzanella and a key lime tart. On Wednesday evening, attendees were treated to an old-fashioned Derby Party at the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs. Guests got a behind-the-scenes tour of the iconic horse track. SISO attendees enjoyed Derby delicacies and adult beverages while networking and experiencing some of Louisville's most cherished history.

What's Next

The SISO CEO Summit will be held March 21-24, 2022, in St. Petersburg, FL, and the SISO Summer Conference will be held Aug. 9-11, 2022, in
Oklahoma City.

Key Quotes and Takeaways from the 2021 SISO Summit Conference

Follow local guidance on masks and vaccinations. “Our company's position is to follow the local health department's guidelines,” said Tricia Barglof, Executive Director of the OFFPRICE Division for Tarsus Group, during the opening keynote titled Deeper Dive Live: A Q&A with Pandemic-Era Producers. “They are the experts.” For the OFFPRICE Show in August in Las Vegas, “we were planning to have masks be recommended, but we had to pivot quickly when the state of Nevada reinstituted the indoor mask mandate two weeks before the show opened.” Masks were required at the OFFPRICE Show in February in Orlando and at the OFFPRICE Show in August in Las Vegas.

No more temp checks. OFFPRICE Show did temperature checks in February in Orlando but not in August in Las Vegas. Airport Experience News (AXN) Conference, produced by Clarion Events North America, did not have temp checks in August in Dallas. Super Pet Expo, produced by All Show Services, did temp checks of exhibitors because the building asked them to in August 2020. Going forward, Clarion, Tarsus and All Show Services reported they currently have no plans for temperature checks for any upcoming events. 

Carpet vs. concrete. A number of independent show organizers, like Informa and Emerald, have removed carpeting from show floors since the pandemic, citing not only health and safety but also sustainability. Tarsus and Clarion carpeted aisles at their trade shows held in August while Super Pet Expo didn't have carpeting pre-pandemic. “We had a germicidal eradication sponsor that came to us because they do GBAC-certified cleaning at airports,” said AXN Director of Business Development & Marketing Mel Montes. “On site, there was signage to let attendees know that the carpeting had been freshly sanitized, so that gave them some comfort.”

Pre-reg and online ticket sales on the rise. “Prior to the pandemic, online tickets represented about 60% of sales in a typical year for our shows, which is very high for a consumer show,” said Eric Udler, Owner, All Show Services, which also produces the New Jersey Home and Garden Show. “When we did our pandemic show, we were over 80%. One of the ways we incentivized attendees was to only offer discounted tickets for online purchases. It saved us money at the box office in terms of staffing. Instead of two cashiers, we had one.”

Events can be safer than going to the grocery store in most U.S. cities. According to Epistemix research that was funded in part by SISO, events are not a major driver of increasing cases in most U.S. cities, said Epistemix CEO John Cordier during the session titled Learnings from 21 months of managing Covid: An epidemiologist's tale. “Cases are driven by local vaccination coverage and mobility.” Show organizers can use and communicate Epistemix research to provide data-driven solutions to local public health officials and key stakeholders.

Most events will have higher vaccination coverage than the community. According to the CDC Vaccine Tracker, 64.7% of Americans 18 and older have been vaccinated as of Sept. 7. By comparison: “Overall, 80% of attendees at B2B events have been fully vaccinated,” Cordier said. “Leaders can make choices to ensure safety at events while maintaining attendance and avoiding shutdowns.” How should show organizers respond? “Any mitigation plan reduces risks for exhibitors and attendees,” Cordier said. “Your demographics, location and venue matter.”

Leverage influencer marketing for B2B events. Targeted, qualified individuals can amplify the reach and credibility of campaign messaging, said Connor Stewart, Director of Social Media for mdg, a marketing and PR agency specializing in audience acquisition for live and online events. “No matter what industry your event serves, you'll find networks of influencers within your audience.” Paid influencer content can earn up to three times higher click-through rates (CTRs) compared with brand ads, he said during a session titled Using Your Influencers' Clout to Grow Your Audiences.

Incorporate speakers as influencers. “Leverage keynoters and educational speakers as influencers,” Stewart said. “Book speakers with an eye for reach.” He also recommended incorporating promotional requirements in speaker agreements and remembering to secure content usage rights. He uses Klear, an influencer marketing software tool, to identify influencers by category and location.

New sustainability initiatives since Covid. “New this year: we are rolling out new policies around digital access, so we are removing the need for paper badges, lanyards and badge holders,” said Lacey Gautier, Group Show Director for Informa Markets, who works on Natural Products Expo East and West. “We have also removed carpeting, which has quite an impact on the show floor. We have some new marketing and communication measures in place to amplify these changes on site. We are leaning into partnerships within the local community and identifying ways to support important organizations in our host cities while still maintaining and strengthening our existing vendor-partner relationships.”

Remove all the plastic you can control. “2019 is when we decided we would pick plastic, and we started our measurement process,” said Jennifer Pelkey, Senior Marketing Director for Outdoor Retailer, produced by Emerald. Questions asked: How much is coming in, how much is going out, where is recycling going, how can we do better and what do we do with that? “We wanted to be an outdoor brand not a trade show brand, so we examined what we were doing within the ecosystem of outdoor brands,” she said. Her advice: “Partnerships are critical. We have been trying to become plastic-free for about 10 years, but when we moved to Denver, we were able to make that a reality. It was quite a huge step. Other shows, like icast and CEDIA, can benefit from those changes at the Colorado Convention Center.”

Becoming sustainable brands. “We contracted Honeycomb Strategies to help us with measurement and diversion. We now have baselines,” Pelkey said. Informa also works with Honeycomb Strategies. “The ability to start measuring impact and have that be the core component of the story is such a game changer,” Gautier said. “It's huge.” What Pelkey discovered: “There is no such thing as recycling. You have to stop it from coming in.”

Add recurring revenue streams. Following the disruption in live events due to the pandemic, event organizers are looking for additional recurring revenue streams, said RD Whitney, CEO of 365 Media, Founder of Community Leaders Institute (CLI) and Co-Founder of Virtual Events Institute (VEI). “Think about the pillars that hold up a community. In addition to conferences and trade shows, other community pillars include online training, virtual events, industry awards programs, SAS businesses, research, database validation, publishing, peer learning, online marketplaces, certification, membership and job boards. How can you leverage your buyer and seller connections? There are lots of these profitable revenue streams you can wrap around your event.”

Built on M&A. Companies like Clarion Events and Tarsus Group are built on mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Moving into 2015, Clarion Events was looking for an anchor acquisition to serve as a foundation to build on in the U.S. “Clarion's acquisition strategy was relatively straightforward: We were looking for scale, global sector alignment, tech or digital events, association partnerships and innovative operating models, and that continues to be our strategy today,” Courtney Muller, Chief Corporate Development & Strategy Officer, Clarion Events North America, said during the session titled Why should you care about M&A? “The bottom line: between 2016 to 2020, we tripled our event revenue and quadrupled our profits. All of this was possible because of the resources of our private equity owners, Providence and Blackstone.” Today, Clarion Events North America has 25 brands and produces 60 events in the U.S., making it the largest division of Clarion Global.

Using CLEAR for trade shows. Clarion is taking a stronger stance in requiring proof of vaccine or negative Covid tests for several of its fall events by using the CLEAR Health Pass for its customers and staff, said Liz Irving, Executive Vice President, Head of Marketing, Technology and Customer Experience, for Clarion Events North America. During the session titled Innovation Showcase, she said: “We are testing using CLEAR, which has excellent brand awareness with customers allowing us to move faster toward adoption. We are establishing an event organization ID and emailing it to customers to support expediting the onsite badge check-in process. With minimal set up requirements, we can launch the program in a much shorter time span of 10 to 14 days allowing our teams and customers greater flexibility.” Customers and staff are encouraged to download the CLEAR app, verify their identities and upload their CDC-approved vaccination card or negative Covid test (within three days of the event) for ease of entry at the event. Organizers can also require users to respond to health screening questions. Known for its secure ID platform used for air travel, CLEAR provides a photo ID, first and last name and status (green for clear). On site, customers and staff must show their status on the app to gain entry. CLEAR does not validate the documentation.

Educating legislators on the value of shows to small businesses. Once the pandemic shut down the exhibition industry in March 2020, “we very quickly realized that something needed to be done to educate legislators on what we do to help small businesses,” said Sedky, who also serves as Chair of the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance (ECA) Board of Directors. During the closing general session titled Industry Advocacy Update, he said: “It's important to remember that 80%+ of our customers are small businesses. Without the platform we offer, it is very difficult for them to do business. What we do is critical to the economy and to small businesses.”

Advocating to reopen borders. International exhibitors and attendees are also a critical focus for ECA. “We have inbound entry restrictions for some of our largest markets,” said Tommy Goodwin, ECA Vice President of Government Affairs. “At this point, the Administration is working on plans for Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the European Union. We hope one by one to see those addressed this fall. At the same time, we're looking at some of the visa processing shortages that we're seeing right now as the State Department is only operating at about 20% to 25% capacity. Right now the average delay for a visa is about three to four months. If you've got exhibitors and attendees who are looking to come for Q1 shows, I'd tell them to start applying for their visas now. We're putting pressure on the State Department both directly and through our allies in Congress to make sure we're getting that capacity ramped back up because that's just unacceptable.”

The Latest from ECA  

With a flurry of activity anticipated for this fall in Washington, DC, the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA) continues to advocate for the recovery and advancement of the face-to-face business events industry.

State of play

While the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate both passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution last month — which sets the stage for a large-scale package of tax and spending measures to be passed into law this fall — ECA anticipates a final bill of $1.5 to $2 trillion. This is important because a smaller bill means less room for ECA's legislative priorities, such as Section 2 of the Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act (HCJRA).

HCJRA update

The ECA-supported HCJRA legislation now has 108 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and seven co-sponsors in the Senate. The HCJRA's three-year convention and trade show restart tax credit would significantly benefit the U.S. economic recovery as follows:

  Direct spending                                          $100 billion

  Contribution to GDP                                   $227 billion

  Tax revenue (federal, state and local)      $16 billion

  Jobs                                                            569,147

 International travel update 

Last month, the European Union recommended limiting nonessential travel from the U.S. Since then, a few countries have implemented new mandatory protocols for travelers coming from the U.S. ECA continues to call for the removal of inbound entry restrictions into the U.S. and the restoration of visa processing capacity at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Despite some recent successes by SISO members, visa processing remains a widespread challenge with many consulates only accepting emergency appointments for urgent business travel (within 14 days of departure) at this time.

Thank you to our SISO sponsors for their support of the 2021 Summer Conference
2021 Sponsor Logos



  • “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