June / 19 / 2017

Say Hello To Your New Best Friend - The Official Services Contractor

Reprinted with permission from IAEEHQ.com and originally appeared in  IAEE's special quarterly insert of The Meeting Professional Magazine.

In an industry that can appear to be evolving slowly, a lot has changed. While the grid-style floor plans, pipe and drape, and PowerPoint presentations at some events could be candidates for #ThrowbackThursday, new technologies, competitors, and magnets for attendee attention surface daily. As organizers work toward addressing these new realities, they may have an unexpected ally. General services contractors are moving into a new role—that of official services contractor, strategist, collaborator, and investor.

Over the past decade, the lines of business and the strategic role of the general service contractor have expanded, so much so that the leaders in the category now refer to themselves as official services contractors. The initial focus on exhibitor-centric offerings has widened to encompass attendee services. Firms that were previously extensions of the event-operations team have morphed into experiential brand agencies. Strategists and creatives have begun working alongside logisticians.

Although the change has been fairly slow—“It’s a little like watching your kids grow up,” says Aaron Bludworth, CEO of exposition and corporate event service provider Fern—a number of factors have precipitated the decade-long transition. The continuous barrage of event technology, evolving attendee preferences, competition from digital marketing channels, and desire of organizers to deliver compelling experiences despite limited staffs and budgets created new opportunities for contractors.

Services contractors are keenly aware of the changing requirements from customers and the fact that they are being called upon to provide a broader range of services. “We recognize that we’ve been in the business of providing logistics expertise for a very, very long time, but as we see the world changing and as we see digital and strategy and creative and the experiential part becoming a bigger reason for going to events, we’re pivoting in that direction as well,” says Richard Maranville, chief digital officer of brand experience company Freeman.

Of all the event–industry stakeholders, services contractors were the likeliest companies to step up. “It’s a natural fit,” Bludworth explains. “The big official services contractors, at least, touch more customers and have more resources that any of the other entities—more than buildings, more than bureaus and other types of specialty contractors,” he says.

Addressing solution overload

“The market is saturated with solution providers,” says Randy Pekowski, president and chief operating officer of exhibition and event services provider The Expo Group. His firm recently announced the launch of its strategic positioning services, which aim to help organizations navigate the increasingly crowded supplier marketplace. Through strategic mapping exercises, the company performs a deep dive into client objectives, delivers a list of unbiased, neutral recommendations, manages the execution, and measures the results.

In a solution-rich technology landscape, another challenge for event organizers is the tedious job of integrating solutions with one another. Freeman is focusing specifically on the problem. “Instead of taking sort of a one-off approach where you partner with a company, you announce a partnership, but it doesn’t really integrate anything, we’re doing some of the hard work of integrating the offerings, so that a client actually sees the value, and it’s not one plus one equals two. It’s one plus one equals three,” says Maranville.

Helping to energize audiences

Most organizers focus on the experiential as well as the transactional nature of face-to-face meetings. As attendees continue to up the ante on what they consider a worthwhile way to spend their time and budget, event producers are looking for ways to engage them. GES recently announced the acquisition of Poken, a visitor engagement and measurement platform. Fern acquired KiwiLive, a mobile audience engagement solution.

Organizers want contractors to create a certain “think, know, and, feel quality” and tie that into the design, says Richard Maples, executive vice president of Shepard Exposition Services. As a result, many official services contractors have increased their investments in audio-visual capabilities, production services, and agency-level creative resources. GES offers its agency event services and GES Marketworks, a strategic marketing consulting group. FreemanXP is a brand-experience agency under the Freeman umbrella and The Expo Group’s Level 5 is an in-house team that provides experiential audience engagement activations.

Lowering the risk of innovation

Not every organization has the budget to test drive new technology. Freeman was one of the first companies to lead with a kind of event-technology-as-a-service strategy. It established Freeman Digital Ventures, a fund to accelerate innovation through investments in sophisticated digital event technology providers. With Freeman as an intermediary, event organizers can circumvent the expense and resource allocation required to select, test, implement, and measure new technologies.

There are other ways for event organizers to access technology at lower price points and risk levels. Some solution providers offer freemium (free at a basic level) access or revenue-share models. Many association management firms invest in technology and allocate the costs and capabilities across their customer portfolios. One innovative contractor recently announced a pay-for-performance pricing model that provides funding for innovation in exchange for participation in the positive results.

Reducing event-data FOMO

All of the discussion around using data to market more effectively, create better experiences, and develop new revenue streams leaves some of the less capable organizers feeling disadvantaged. Official services contractors are helping them assuage this fear of missing out (FOMO) by crunching some of the numbers for them. Fern analyzes data trends from customer events, validates them using publicly available data sources, and provides organizers with a rich, more reliable data set from the event, Bludworth explains.

With its broad range of acquisitions in registration, housing, travel planning, exhibitor services, and attendee engagement, GES has access to a huge supply of event data, which it can deliver to event organizers. “If we can provide greater data about the ROI for exhibitors or insight into the attendee experience, we can help clients develop better go-to-market strategies, attendee engagement programs, and new environments,” explains Chuck Grouzard, executive vice president of exhibition sales at GES.

Relieving the pinch of a small staff

In many ways, the expanded service offerings from official services contractors are a reflection of the needs of organizers to do more with less, including fewer employees. “Especially with events that travel,” says Richard Maples, “Organizers don’t always have partners in every city. We’re with them as business consultants wherever they go and with whatever they’re doing. It’s also the reason why organizers don’t change official services contractors as often as they do other service providers. It’s a relationship with a large impact.”

While official services contractors can use their expertise and resources help fill in the gaps created by thin staffs, at least one firm has invested in a program that provides contract staff to organizers. Shepard’s “Sandbox Sherpas” offer pre-qualified meeting-industry professionals with specialty skills from show-floor management to marketing and show operations to exhibit sales. “We don’t recommend anyone who doesn’t share the Shepard values,” Maples explains.

Facilitating change management

In the past, services contractors were looked upon as logisticians. Today, they’re viewed as thought leaders. One of the reasons for the shift, says Maples, is that organizers are under pressure to change more quickly than they have in the past. “Ten years ago, we consulted at a surface level. Now we’re getting involved in the core business and working with all the event’s stakeholders. They see us as a way to deliver change at a much faster pace than they could if they were trying to take it on internally.”

The role of the exhibition and meeting planner has also changed in the past decade. Many are required to play a more strategic role in the business. “Planners aren’t just walking around with a checklist anymore. They have to perform more complex tasks, work with multiple vendors, and integrate different platforms and databases. They need partners with a broader range of services and expertise so they can work at a higher level,” says Marsha Flanagan, M.Ed., vice president of learning experiences at the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE).

Driving down costs

Richard Maples from Shepard echoes what many services contractors say. When customers allow them to deliver more services, they can offer some economies of scale. “If organizers can align their general service contracting and exhibits portion with me and give me an opportunity to provide marketing, audio-visual, production and entertainment, now my revenue streams have doubled and I can give them a better package.  They might see an additional five to ten percent impact on the budget,” he says.

The digital transformation that is impacting all businesses is also finding its way into the business of services contracting. And it’s helping to lower the costs of producing events. For example, online portals that improve the communication and collaboration between organizers and services contractors and digital products—virtual tours of facilities, web-based floor plans, and all-in-one eLearning platforms, etc.—which result in more process efficiencies, help drive operating costs down.

The new customer view

The way that many organizers see services contractors has changed too. At IAEE’s most recent annual meeting, Expo! Expo!, GES, the official services contractor was integrated into almost every aspect of the show from the development of the trade show floor plan to the design of the general sessions, educational offerings, charity event and the Young Professionals initiative, explains Nicole Bowman, MBA, vice president, marketing and communications at IAEE. “It’s not just about ordering services. These companies are helping organizers extend their brands and enhance their business strategies,” Flanagan adds.

The word “partnership” comes up in a lot of conversations about the new role of services contractors. “Certainly an organizer can benefit from the official services contractor’s vast knowledge and experience, drawing from other shows. However, it is also important for the contractor and the organizer to have a collaborative partnership and customization strategy geared for a show’s unique strategic objectives and characteristics,” says Scott Craighead, CEM, vice president, exhibitions and events at IAEE.

While there are many general service contractors committed to providing exhibitor-focused logistics services, a few in the space have been slowly pulling away from a siloed business model. Instead, they have invested vertically (with more robust capabilities in every line of business) and horizontally (cutting across boundaries and revenue streams) in what they see as the future of a thriving industry just starting to get its digital and experiential mojo. For a full list of official services contractors, visit IAEE.com.

Reprinted with permission from IAEEHQ.com and originally appeared in  IAEE's special quarterly insert of The Meeting Professional Magazine.

For more information on The Expo Group's strategy services, click here

June / 6 / 2017

5 Key Takeaways From XDP

The Expo Group team recently returned from two exciting days at the first ASAE XDP, the re-imagining of what used to be ASAE’s springtime event – and what a reinvention! Kudos to the entire ASAE team for being able to re-energize this event with an entirely new experience.

We had the opportunity to directly engage with over 100 association executives during the event.  And based on that interaction, here are 5 areas of focus that were most common:

1. They are all under pressure, challenged for attendance, exhibitors, sponsors. Everyone we spoke with was under pressure to grow their event revenue or slow/reverse sinking revenues.

2. They are all struggling with how to get more senior people in their industries to attend (which would then help with exhibitors). A significant part of the health of a show, both in terms of revenue and member engagement, is the need to attract more senior-level attendees. This appears to have become increasingly difficult for many show managers and started to negatively impact attendee, exhibitor and sponsor revenue.

3. They are still trying to figure out how to better use social media to market their shows before, during and after the event. How to better use social media before, during and after the event – from strategy to communications to technology, continues to be a challenge for organizations trying to effectively and efficiently leverage the power of social platforms to drive engagement, attendance and growth

4. They are thinking audiences, not just attendees. Show managers are now coming around to thinking about experience design as something that needs to take all its show participants – attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, speakers and employees into account.

5. Multi-generational show design was a large topic of conversation. How do you design an experience for what could be as many as five different generations of attendees – how do you design for their common needs AND their unique differences

Our Approach

A more strategic and holistic approach to experience design can help alleviate these concerns by providing:

    •  A driven growth-focused strategy – not the too often ‘cut and paste’ approach to curriculum, marketing, session and expo development – but a thoughtful approach to designing a show that will purposefully drive revenue

    •  A show curriculum that includes content worthy of senior level attendance – we call it providing “leaps of learning for experienced execs”.

    •  A ‘builds-in’ social media strategy directly connecting into the experience design, and helping to achieve the vital goal of better connecting your community to your show.

    •  A focus on designing for every show participant- attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, speakers and employees.

    •  An intentional multi-generational design that requires an understanding of both the shared values of the community, the shared values amongst the generations and the unique experiential needs of each.

The challenges for show managers are considerable. But so are the opportunities.

What is required is a disciplined, proven approach to experience design focused on growth across audiences of all generations, experience levels and roles.

June / 5 / 2017

2017 June Events

What: Global Exhibitions Day

Where: Washington D.C. and Arlington, Texas

When: June 7

Register: Here for more information on Global Exhibitions Day 2017 and here for IAEE Dallas/Ft Worth GED Activity

This week, the exhibitions and events industry embarks on its fourth annual Exhibitions Day in Washington, DC and at activities around the country. Our industry should be incredibly proud of this effort, which continues to grow in terms of size and attention garnered for the industry. On Wednesday, June 7 we will continue with our charge to give a voice to the women and men in our industry who drive billions of dollars into the US economy.


What: PCMA Education Conference

Where: New York City and Online

When: June 11-14

Register: Here for more information

Look for members of The Expo Group in the Big Apple in June for the PCMA Education Conference. If you can’t make the trip to Manhattan, you can still get a taste of the knowledge in the Education Conference LIVE digital event on June 12 and 13. 

June / 5 / 2017

Webinar - Measuring Engagement To Drive Revenue

You are invited to the 2nd of our webinar series on helping you and your team grow your brand and revenue from your event and exhibit investments.

Join us on Tuesday, June 27 at 1PM EDT for our webinar on Measuring Engagement to Drive Revenue

In this webinar you’ll learn how to use different technologies to measure:

  • How many visits across the show did attendees complete and to what area of the show?
  • What areas were “hot and cold”?
  • What times of day saw most activity?
  • How did sponsors and exhibitors fare?

The webinar will also show you how you can use the attendee engagement data to better price both your exhibit space and sponsorship packages based on real data.

Register here to reserve your seat.

June / 4 / 2017

Exposure Podcast June 2017

Welcome to the June 2017 edition of the Exposure Podcast from The Expo Group produced and hosted by Dana Freker Doody and Todd Carruth. 

This month's podcast features an interview with Kevin Dana, Executive Director of Marketing and Product for CORT Trade Show and Event Furnishings. 

Kevin shares his thoughts on the future of event design, where he gets his inspiration and the coolest thing he's seen lately to wow attendees. 

If you want to listen to this episode (or any previous episodes) right from your computer, click here. 

To subscribe on iTunes, please click here


Good News! The Exposure podcast is now available on STITCHER Radio

You can also subscribe using your android device, just copy and paste this link here

Please share this podcast on your social media networks by clicking on any of the social media icons below.  And we would be pleased if you could take a moment and review our podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. 

Questions about the podcast? Contact us at rethink (at) theexpogroup.com.  

June / 1 / 2017

SMOTY Gives You Street Cred

Eric Z Horn poses with fellow SMOTY Winner Wayneston Harberson at the 2015 The Expo Group Show Manager of the Year Awards

What does it mean to win a Show Manager of the Year Award from The Expo Group? According to Eric Z Horn, Show Director for Cosmoprof North America, it means "street cred" and validation on how you do your job.

Here's what Eric had to say: 

"I am still flying over winning the SMOTY Award on Saturday night….I wanted to convey to you how wonderful this event is for associations and for the people who represent them. I am very fortunate and I work for a non-profit that is very generous, thought provoking, forward thinking and above all passionate. They take care of me and the staff and they are very hands off when it comes to event logistics and decision making. They trust us do what is right for the association, because it is like our family and we want to do right by our family members.

These awards enforce their present attitudes and support our board and the Executive Director’s hands off approach. It is a gauge to say that what they are doing and how they govern the association is correct and right. More importantly, it keeps the board believing in us…and that’s all we ask. Believe in us and let us do our jobs and we will do all we can to make our family better! I know that sounds corny, but it is true. So THANK YOU for giving us the ‘street cred’ along with a very cool crystal award! (and a great weekend in Hotlanta!) I loved it!

Show some appreciation to a deserving event professional today.  Nominations are free, easy to fill out and open to any individual responsible for a trade or association exhibition/convention.

 But hurry! The deadline is June 21. NOMINATE HERE.


June / 1 / 2017

Employee Celebrations June 2017

Summer is in full swing and it's time to celebrate for these excellent The Expo Group employees! 

And here's a sneak peek at next month's celebrations. 


May / 17 / 2017

Nominate Away!

SMOTY Winner Leslie Wiernik and The Expo Group's Randy Pekowski pose wth a slightly larger than normal sized check.  

We recently asked Leslie Wiernik, Executive Director at NASP, about being named one of The Expo Group's Show Managers of the Year in 2016 and her thoughts on the event and the award.

Did you have good time at the TSNN/SMOTY Awards event in New Jersey last year?
I had a great time at the TSNN/SMOTY award last year. Of course the awards banquet was the highlight. However, the Roaring 20s party was a huge hit as it provided a great networking opportunity for everybody. I met a lot of wonderful people and have lots of pics to remember the night.

Where is your award right now?
My award is proudly displayed on a shelf in our office’s reception area, and my St. Jude’s “check” is hanging on the wall.  

What qualities do you think a good show manager should have and why?
A good show manager needs to be a “people” person with strong communication skills. No matter how much time and effort goes into planning a show, things are going to happen. So, it’s all about communicating with the right people to effectively resolve those issues and make it seamless for attendees.

What would you say to people who are reluctant to nominate someone for a SMOTY award?
There are so many great show managers out there who deserve to be recognized! Don’t be reluctant! Nominate away…

Show some appreciation to a deserving event professional today.  Nominations are free, easy to fill out and open to any individual responsible for a trade or association exhibition/convention.

 But hurry! The deadline is June 21. NOMINATE HERE.


May / 8 / 2017

Experiential Storytelling Strategy Webinar Replay


It's not too late to check out the first of a series of webinars that can help you and your team grow your brand and revenue from your event and exhibit investments.

You can register here and watch our recorded webinar on Experiential Storytelling Strategy

In this webinar, you’ll learn how some of the world’s most successful brands develop their strategies for designing, developing and delivering unique and memorable events.


Discover how to:

- Develop the highest value event experience for Attendees, Exhibitors and Sponsors

- Design Physical, Emotional and Learning environments for ultimate experiential impact

- How to Kindle, Create and Collaborate to build compelling Attendee Journeys

- How to best use innovative and emerging technologies for superior effect

You will leave this session with a complete set of tools to guide you through creating attendee-centric, content-rich events, exhibits and experiences.

Registration is free and the replay will start immediately

Click Here.