2019 ECEF Bookended by Data and an ‘Epiphany’

Author: Michelle Russell       

‘Brave New World in the Event Business’ panel. (Photo Courtesy ECEF)

Around 200 exhibition industry leaders gathered on May 29 for the annual one-day Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF), produced by Lippman Connects and held at the JW Marriott in Washington, D.C. Lippman Connects President Sam Lippman kicked off the program with his fast-paced “5 Data Points in 5 Minutes” — his takeaways from the 2019 ECEF Pulse research, the annual study of 200 C-level exhibition executives, conducted jointly with Freeman. What “jumped out” at Lippman this year, he said, were the following:

› Net square feet sold, exhibiting companies, and sponsorship sales have declined or leveled off. However, after four years of a downward trend, more respondents reported growth in attendance. “Attendee acquisition is crucial,” Lippman said, “and we’re doing better in that regard.”

› The reason we are experiencing that growth is that “we continue to invest,” Lippman said. Forty-five percent of respondents are investing more in attendee acquisition by 9 percent a year — be it new staff, technology, or outsourcing.

› For the first time since 2015, more are pessimistic than optimistic about next year’s growth. “The potential for exhibitors leaving us, taking their marketing dollars,” Lippman said, and investing them instead in “digital and online channels is becoming much more of a concern.” Profit expectations are evenly split between growth and no change.

› Year-round engagement is critical. “Almost half of you are realizing that if we don’t stay connected with our audience 24/7 365 days a year,” Lippman said, “someone else will.”

› Digital extensions serve audiences and strengthen brands. Forty-two percent of respondents currently include or have plans to add digital extensions to their events, such as offering event content to prospects.

Sam Lippman gives the Reader’s Digest version of the ECEF Pulse research — five things that stood out to him, delivered in five minutes. (Courtesy ECEF)

Following Lippman’s analysis, opening keynoter Cassandra Farrington, CEO of Marijuana Business Daily, shared how MJBizCon has become the fastest-growing business-to-business trade-show event in the world. Kai Hattendorf, managing director/CEO of UFI, provided an overview of the world’s conventions and exhibitions evolution (hint: personalized and curated experiences are critical), and Dina Cappiello, editorial director and group head of editorial and media strategies for Edelman, spoke about the importance of approaching events “with the story we want to tell top of mind.” Stories, she said, are about problems, so “position yourself as a solution to that problem.”

After a networking lunch, there were several panel presentations, including a deep dive into the sale of the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) huge annual exhibition to Winsight LLC. Panelists Dawn Sweeney, NRA CEO; Mary Pat Heftman, president Restaurant Show Group – Winsight; Galen Poss, vice chairman, Winsight Board of Directors; and Mike Wood, Winsight CEO, shared the ins and outs of the sale, which represents a new model between associations and independents.

Gary Shapiro, president & CEO of the Consumer Technology Association and New York Times bestselling author, ended the program on a high note. He shared with the audience his recent “epiphany” — that these times call for business leaders to take a stand on the issues dividing the country. That realization became the most-often cited takeaway shared by the audience, via second-screen technology provided by PSAV.

The second-screen iPads were used throughout the day for live polling, to ask questions of speakers, to take notes, for personal messaging, and to access resources. There were a total of 2,395 interactions during the event, and the technology itself became a talking point. “Really enjoyed the second screen,” wrote Sacha Carey, senior director of Water Environment Federation, “and learning how it can add engagement to learning and content.”

ECEF 2020 will be held May 27.

Learn more about ECEF and other industry events at lippmanconnects.com.

Michelle Russell is Editor in Chief of Convene.