Industry Reflections From the Pandemic Front Lines

Frances Ferrante
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Most of the coverage of COVID’s impact on the trade show and events industry has, understandably, focused on the tangible: statistics, sanitization protocols, and CDC regulations. But behind every canceled show and exhibitor put on hold are the emotional tales of real people. Some are struggling with small businesses on the brink. Some have gone into in full pivot mode. Others are leading the charge to promote the restarting of trade shows and events. 

In this issue of Trade Show Executive, which showcases the efforts of Go Live Together, we are sharing our readers’ real-life stories from the front lines — their dedication and resilience and their hopes for the future: 

Gary Shapiro, President and CEO, Consumer Technology Association
“The pandemic and global health concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have had a profound impact on the trade show industry and incredible partners like the City of Las Vegas. But this time of uncertainty is an opportunity for our industry to evolve and emerge stronger and smarter. Technology helps us all work, learn and connect during the pandemic — and that innovation is also helping us reimagine how we do business.”


Hervé Sedky, President, Reed Exhibitions Americas & Global ReedPop,  RELX Group plc
“In a time of completely unanticipated and entirely novel industry challenges, I am most proud of and inspired by Reed Exhibitions’ employees dedicated efforts and steadfast commitment to our customers. Their resilience, perseverance and quick thinking have enabled us to provide innovative platforms for networking, content and community across our show portfolios. The teams’ resourcefulness and imaginations are matched only by their abilities to deliver on Reed Exhibitions’ values and promises. Small businesses comprise approximately 80% of our exhibitor base: These are individuals and families who rely on our trade shows to help them market innovative products, generate leads and build meaningful connections. They are eager for us to safely reopen when the time is right.  Our work is not just about them — it’s for them.” 

Tommy Blitsch, Director — Conventions Trade Shows & Casino Division, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Secretary Treasurer/CEO, Teamsters Local 631
“The devastation of the COVID-19 Pandemic on our industry has affected every major city in the United States. The Trade Show and Event community was the first to shut down and may be the last to reopen. This country has a long recovery ahead which will not be complete until the Trade Show and Convention Industry is up and running again. 

“The Trade Show and Convention community here in the USA is a large family. All families experience their ups and downs and times of hardship but through it all, families always come together. Our family has been hurting over the past several months while we continue to deal with COVID-19. I want our family to know that we will get through this. While the shows may have stopped, our industry leaders are working hard so our family has a future, and at some point time we will be back. And when it’s time we will Go Live Together.”   

Brian Field,  Interim President and CEO, Emerald
“The devasting impact of COVID-19 on businesses across the world has pushed us and our entire industry to reexamine and reimagine everything we do and how we best support our customers and communities.  Many of the ways things used to be done, how we used to work, are now gone — and we now are challenged to reinvent.   To reinvent ourselves and our industry.  This can be unnerving, at times terrifying — and exciting too — as we embrace these changes and build our future together — with both focus and urgency.”   


Bob McClintock, Executive Vice President, Convention Centers, ASM Global
“I have heard it said many times that this is an industry that you either love working in or you are seeking career change. The hardest part of this is to see so many dedicated professionals who truly love their work and the people they meet faced with the uncertainty of how they will continue on. Our job is to work together to bring this industry back stronger than before so that they can resume doing what they do best.” 



Nicole Hallada, Senior Vice President, Exhibitions & Marketing, Association of Equipment Manufacturers  
“For our vendor and partner friends hardest hit, we see you. We are working hard at developing a transformational future and we will be right back with you with bigger opportunities as soon as we can.”  



Tony Lorenz,  Founder and CEO, HeadSail
“Over 30 years, I have seen thousands of small businesses across every vertical grow as a direct result of their engagement in business events. Without business events, small  business growth is severely stunted. And the resulting impact on the broader economy is negative and significant. Our economy depends on the meta industry of events to drive small business forward, more than any other media on the planet.”   


Steve Hill, CEO and President, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
“While our industry has certainly faced and overcome challenges over the decades, there’s been nothing more devastating than watching the health and economic impact the virus has had on our family, friends, colleagues and guests. 

“There is no full tourism recovery without ensuring health and safety measures are in place for everyone.  To that end, we remain steadfast in our commitment to continue working with our resort and convention partners, health experts and local, state and federal leaders to bring back jobs, visitors, events and conventions as soon and safely as possible. 

“We are resilient.  We are Las Vegas. ” 

Mark Tester, Executive Director, OCCC  
“After weeks of extensive preparations, planning and training, the Orange County Convention Center is excited to welcome back our clients, attendees and employees. We were honored to play a role in the successful execution of the 47th AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships and the Together Again Expo, back-to-back in July. Gaining widespread industry attention, these events provided hope, optimism and practical solutions at a time when our industry needs it most. By providing a responsible, data-driven plan,  The Center of Hospitality  is securing its future as a venue and an economic driver for the destination and the industry. 

“The Orange County Convention Center has incorporated some of the most stringent protocols of the GBAC STAR program into our industry-defining Recovery and Resiliency Guidelines as we continue to work hard to recover from this public health crisis. Additionally, our groundbreaking collaboration with Orlando Health elevates our rigorous protocols and shows our commitment to keeping employees and attendees healthy and safe. 

“We care deeply about our clients, guests and staff and we will always do what is in the best interest of our community. We remain committed to the economic resiliency of our industry and our clients.”  

Roy T. Benear, Vice President, Exhibits + Specialty Events — PSAV
“My role at PSAV is to focus on connecting and inspiring our exhibit AV clients in the F2F tradeshow space. Our team made the shift to virtual, and tapped into PSAV’s depth of experience in digital events, and we were able to gain traction. Thirty-plus shows later and growing, with nearly 700 exhibitors in production who we are helping to find success, reinforces the value of trade shows. Despite the impact of COVID-19 on our industry, trade shows remain a critical part of the global economy. Yes, “Face-to-Face” will return, it’s an innately human need; but in the interim exhibiting, as in life, will survive and return stronger than before.”  


Bruce Bonyun, Vice President, Patient Bond
“We had three people scheduled to attend the HIMSS show to host client meetings and work a small booth on the show floor. We had 30+ meetings scheduled with attendees, vendors and past and current clients. Much of the benefit of this show is to be able to walk the floor and participate in sessions to identify potential vendor partners, to see past colleagues and past clients, all of whom may be a potential partner or could help introduce our solution to prospective clients and partners.  The benefit of attending, networking and meeting new people can’t be understated and realistically can’t be replicated in a virtual environment.  This show took a significant amount of our annual marketing budget for 2020, and with its cancellation and a ‘no refund policy,’ many small companies were materially impacted.” 

Christine Pepper, MBA, CAUE, CEO, National Funeral Directors Association
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been deeply felt by the National Funeral Directors Association. Our members have bravely served on the front lines, caring for the dead with dignity and bringing comfort to those who mourn. Our members relied on us to provide them with vital information and resources so they could keep their doors open and carry out their sacred duties in as safe a manner as possible.” 


Mark Taylor, President & CEO, Apogee Exhibits
“As a small-business owner, I’ve come to value the staff we are fortunate enough to have, and hope to have back. I’ve had to get the mail, sweep the floors and empty the trash while my staff was furloughed. It gives a leader a true sense of the value of their team when they have to walk in their shoes. Their resilience and passion help keep my spirits positive. The future of live events may be different, but we will return and our comeback will be epic.” 


Donna R. Karl, CMP, Director of Event Services, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
“The health and safety of our guests are top priority and it has always been our commitment to provide the highest level of care. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, we have taken this opportunity to improve our cleaning processes and ensure we codify refined practice for our continued safety and protection. In addition, we have taken this opportunity review our customer service tools and we are happy to announce new tools are being introduced. Equally as important as establishing these new protocols will be the process to continue to evaluate and adjust the course where necessary.”


Stacey Gros, Business Manager, AllCuesGo Event Productions
“Our story is not unique. We, like everyone in our industry, watched with concern and trepidation as show after show cancelled.  We looked for opportunities to alter our product offering, launching to deliver broadcast-quality production to live streaming and virtual events. In addition, I  have seized the opportunity to bring awareness to our industry with great organizations like Go Live Together. I have called on Congress and  worked with the Texas Workforce Commission to hold webinars for out-of-work Texans and their employers.”  


Jose Lopez, Vice President, AFR Trade Show Furnishings
“AFR is deeply committed to this great industry and all the amazing individuals within it. We’ve maintained a core group of essential team members to meet our partners’ needs throughout this pandemic. With a thoughtful, measured approach and strict safety protocols we have successfully executed several projects.  We’re all facing similar adversities but there’s no group better prepared to overcome this unprecedented challenge than those who make up Go Live Together. This industry is comprised of problem-solving crisis management miracle workers and our collective mission is to do everything possible to get the great people of our live-events world back to work” 

Don Walsworth, President, Walsworth
“With the amount of money that trade shows contribute to the national and global economy, the number of people employed by these industries and the number of businesses that support these events, we believe their recovery is vital to recovery of our country’s economy.”  



Send Us Your Stories 

How has COVID affected your business six months into this pandemic? Share your 75-word reflection on what you have experienced and learned. We will include your stories online and via social media in the coming months. Email Frances Ferrante at or Gabrielle Weiss at