By Dave Kovaleski
Every June, the 200 biggest names in the exhibition industry travel to Washington, D.C., to attend the one-day Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum to learn about the latest trends in trade shows. SAM LIPPMAN, president of Integrated Show Management and, Arlington, Va., explains the concept behind this unique event and discusses how exhibitions are changing. .
AM: How did you come up with the idea for ECEF?
Lippman: In 2001, we came up with the idea to bring together the top minds in associations and business media companies in one place. The Society of Independent Show Organizers was for independent business media companies and the American Society of Association Executives and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events brought together association executives. (Lippman co-founded ECEF with Mike Hough, who passed away in 2007).
Attendance is by invitation only and is capped at 200 to ensure successful networking and interesting discussions. We have a 3:1 ratio of attendees to sponsors because we realized that executives wouldn't come back if they were inundated with sponsors.
I'm sold out this year with 26 sponsors and I already have 176 total registrations. The attendee ratio has always been 60 percent associations and 40 percent business media companies.
We understood that the executives we wanted to attract would have a much greater chance of saying yes if we said we are only looking for a day out of the office.
AM: What's the process of picking the topics and the speakers?
Lippman: I do not have a program committee or different tracks like many conferences. I vet every, every PowerPoint, and I'm the emcee. It's almost like being the director of a movie.
I put together a conference that I would be interested in because I am my targeted audience. What is interesting to me? What am I curious about? What do I think would be valuable?
I study post-meeting evaluations, I study the ECEF Pulse survey. Plus I have the advantage of running the Large Show Roundtable. Three times a year I spend six hours with 10 to 18 executives at sessions. That's a very high-level focus group.
AM: What is your ultimate goal each year for ECEF?
Lippman: Exceeding expectations. I want to make sure the attendees, sponsors, and speakers all walk away from ECEF saying, “That was valuable.” I want to make sure they get actionable content. I want to make sure they get executive-level research.
AM: What are the key issues facing the exhibition industry?
Lippman: We have to make it easier for sponsors and exhibitors to buy, participate in, and benefit from our events. We need to remove the excess costs from our process. Do we really need individual show décor? Do we really need entrance units with one theme versus another?
The industry needs to come up with a standard metric of value — the U.S. Travel Association's Oxford Study is a great step forward. We need more industrywide promotions like the Convention Industry Council's Face Time campaign.
We need to convince millennials of the value of delayed gratification. When you talk about coming to a face-to-face meeting, you need to plan for it. With instant communication and problem-solving and purchasing, it's going to take a shift for millennials to anticipate anything. Why should they? They can just Google it and get an answer.
AM: How do exhibition managers need to adapt to keep shows relevant?
Lippman: We need to execute. We've gotten so enamored of the next big thing, by the digital tools, that we're losing some basic business skills. I would recommend an association show manager identify his or her top three exhibitors and attendees and do a needs assessment. Then create an event that will fulfill those needs.
The exhibitor floor is evolving. There are more meeting rooms within the floor, more solution centers. Show organizers can't expect attendees to do their own workflow solutions. They have to put together a map, whether it's tour guides or a digital or print map.
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