In Conversation With Sam Lippman, President, Lippman Connects

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Hiring and retaining staff was a growing challenge even before the pandemic. Now it has reached crisis proportions

ES. Please tell us about your professional journey. What milestones did you reach on your way to the top which stand out as the most significant?

Sam Lippman. I started working for a general service contractor over 30 years ago producing shows in major venues. It was my privilege to produce the first ChicagoFest at Navy Pier. This experience gave me a lifelong appreciation for the difficulty of producing large shows, as well as a lasting respect for the skilled contractors all organizers depend on.

Once I became familiar with the role and responsibilities of a show manager, I became fascinated by it and decided that was my calling. I was hired by AFIPS, a federation of computer associations, to work on the largest computer conference of its time: the National Computer Conference (NCC) attracted over 80,000 registrants with 420,000 net square feet of exhibits. Also, I worked on the launch of the Office Automation Conference (OAC). For a period of five years, I produced these two shows annually in Anaheim, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Working in seven cities, producing two very different sized events a year taught me three important lessons: over-communicate all the time; confirm every detail; and never over-promise.

Then I went to the Consumer Technology Association as the Director of Operations for the semi-annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and was later appointed Vice President. The 1995 Winter CES held at the Las Vegas Convention Center; the Las Vegas Hilton, the Sahara Hotel, and the Mirage Hotel covered over 1 million net square feet. To accommodate all exhibitors, we constructed 450,000 gross square feet of temporary structures on the parking lots of the Convention Center. In 1995 I was hired by another association, GASC, to produce PRINT, Graph Expo, Graph Expo East, Midwest Graphics and the Charlotte Show. A highlight of PRINT 2007 was the single largest indoor booth ever constructed in McCormick Place covering 100,000 nsf.

In 2000, I launched Lippman Connects to provide consulting to the exhibition industry. And by 2005 I was producing nine Lippman Connects events each year – the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF), the Attendee Acquisition Roundtable, Exhibit Sales Roundtable, and Large Show Roundtable. When in-person events were being postponed and canceled in May 2020, I launched the Digital Summit series of virtual discussions. The highlight of creating and facilitating these 153 events has been witnessing in person the strength and courage of event producers during a global pandemic.

ES. How has the industry changed in the past few years?ES. How has the industry changed in the past few years?

Sam Lippman. Our industry has changed a lot in some respects but not so much in most respects.  Our goal and our satisfaction are still the same: to convene our cohort, in-person, so they can learn, buy, and laugh with each other.  How we accomplish this has changed a lot.  The marketing tools and technical skills needed to implement them have become more specialized.  At the same time, our customers have become more demanding; if we can’t demonstrate we know them as well as Amazon and Netflix, they won’t respond to us.

ES. As an active member of the International Association of Exhibition and Events (IAEE), Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), and the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO), how do you view the role associations play in consolidating the Exhibition industry?

Sam Lippman. IAEE, PCMA, and SISO have all played a crucial role in helping the exhibition industry weather the COVID-19 crisis. Their lobbying efforts; outreach to members; and promoting the financial and emotional benefits of gathering in-person have been critically important these last two years. And I would add UFI to that group.

ES. We’d like to know more about Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum 2022. What will be the highlights of ECEF 2022? What are some major events organized/conducted by your company?

Sam Lippman. ECEF 2022 will be held June 1 in Washington D.C., USA. It is the premier networking and information exchange for executives from associations and independent organizers. ECEF is renowned for providing a day of top-to-top networking, a TechDemo with executive-level access to transformational technologies, fresh data briefings, and strategic C-level presentations. This is the preliminary ECEF Program:

  • 5 Key Data Points in 5 Minutes – Sam Lippman, President, Lippman Connects.
  • Business of Belonging: Transformative Events in Extraordinary Times – Erin Uritus, CEO, Out & Equal.
  • Despite COVID: Surprising Reasons Behind the SHOT Show’s Growth – Chris Dolnak, Senior Vice President & Chief Customer Officer, National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and Jeff Pressman, President and CEO, ConvExx.
  • From the Anchor’s Desk: Exhibitor/Sponsor Delivers the News – Jeannie Wert, Director Exhibit Management, Siemens Healthineers & Board President of Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association (HCEA).
  • The 140-Year-Old Startup – Debbie Holton, President, Metrix Connect, an ASME Company.
  • Succession: A New Season with an All-Star Cast – Megan Tanel, President, AEM and Nicolle Hallada, Senior Vice President, Exhibitions & Marketing, AEM.
  • Executive Panel: Navigating the New Normal – Ken Holsinger, Senior Vice President, Data Solutions, Freeman, facilitates a panel of leading organizers.

Lippman Connects has completed an Exhibit Sales Roundtable and an Attendee Acquisition Roundtable in February and March respectively. The remaining schedule is as follows:

  • Large Show Roundtable: April 7, Las Vegas; August (TBD), New York City.
  • Exhibit Sales Roundtable: June 30, Chicago; September 29, Arlington, VA.
  • Attendee Acquisition Roundtable: July 28, Chicago, IL; October 27, Arlington, VA.

ES. What are the top three major challenges surrounding the industry? What in your view are the current opportunities in this sector?

Sam Lippman. Hiring and retaining staff was a growing challenge even before the pandemic. Now it has reached crisis proportions. We must continue to improve our compensation and benefit packages to compete with other professions; and do a better job explaining the value exhibitions provide the economy and society. The lack of diversity has barely changed in the decades I’ve been in this industry. We must as an industry expend more energy on DEI initiatives. We can’t ignore the “great resignation” among our existing customers. Creative organizers will find a way communicate the benefits and fun available at in-person exhibitions. Social media platforms can be leveraged to provide a window on what happens at our events.

We must adopt sustainability practices and green initiatives. It is time to accelerate adoption of best practices to reduce our carbon footprint and divert materials from landfills. We can also do a better job explaining the efficiency of gathering folks all together in one place at one time to conduct multiple meetings, instead of flying all over the world for one meeting at a time.

ES. In a world of accelerated change, how have you used the crisis as a catalyst and have accelerated the change to boost your business in the coming years?

Sam Lippman. When the COVID-19 crisis decimated in-person event schedules, our customers encouraged Lippman Connects to launch a new series of digital events, Digital Summit. Having never produced a single digital event previously, we produced 31 digital events between May 2020 and July 2021. In addition, we pivoted ECEF, Attendee Acquisition Roundtable, Exhibit Sales Roundtable, and Large Show Roundtable to digital. Our plan is to schedule Digital Summits in response to the topical information needs of our customers.

ES. On another note, what do you enjoy the most about your work?

Sam Lippman. Like so many show organizers, I enjoy bringing people together in person. There’s no feeling quite like that of seeing your customers come together under your auspices. I feel like I am participating in the productivity, joy, and inspiration that only happens when we share the same space at the same time with the same objectives.