Kevin Rabbitt to Depart GES in Fall; Jastrem to Lead GES and EG

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Phoenix, AZ – A concerted effort by Viad Corp to build up its creative-services offerings for trade shows has culminated in a reorganization that will combine its venerable GES Exposition Services and Exhibitgroup/Giltspur (EG) divisions.

The reorganization announced July 13 means that industry veteran Kevin Rabbitt will step down as president and CEO of GES on September 30. John Jastrem, who holds the same job at EG and has a long resume in the marketing arena, will lead the new business unit, which will be known as Viad’s Marketing & Events Group.

Dave Hall, executive vice president and CFO of GES moves into the position of COO and CFO of GES; Steve Moster remains executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer of GES. Both will report to Jastrem. Rabbitt was promoted to head up GES in 2006 at the same time Dykstra took over the helm of Viad.

The goal will be to enhance the cooperative efforts that GES and EG have undertaken and capture a larger slice of the growing market for customer engagement that takes place well outside the dates of the show.

“We want to keep as much work between our own companies as we can,” said Paul Dykstra, chairman, president and CEO of Viad, in an interview with Trade Show Executive. “With this new structure, we expect to deliver the best of both companies and create even stronger event experiences for organizers, exhibitors and attendees.”

GES and EG will operate under their current brands. Jastrem told Trade Show Executive that there will be no change in the account teams. “They (show organizers) will still have the trusted players they have come to know.”

“The change will be in our ability to bring additional marketing and creative capabilities to show organizers to help them get more-compelling and engaging experiences for the attendees and the exhibitors,” Jastrem said.

An Eye Candy Diet

Trade shows are visually stimulating events, and show organizers are challenged to make each show more enjoyable than the last one.

Jastrem uses the analogy of the National Basketball Association and compares the “experience” of a game ten years ago to the glitzy, high-energy contests of today. “There is a very dramatic difference in terms of the experience,” Jastrem said. “There are sponsorships and activities that go on now that didn’t go on before, many of which are additional revenue streams for the NBA team. We see that same opportunity with show organizers and are working with them to bring that type of excitement to their audience.”

The “experience” side of the show marketing strategy has also come to include the reinforcing of brand loyalty well before the show dates and long after the GES crews have loaded up the final trucks.

With more than 150 employees on the creative and design staff, Viad’s Marketing & Events Group will offer show organizers a single source for both EG’s marketing and design expertise required for the entire show process and the heavy lifting on the show floor that GES has supplied for decades.

Home Field Advantage

The new emphasis on sophisticated brand marketing and community building in the exhibition world has attracted the attention of traditional communications companies that see trade shows as a hot prospect for their services. “Our competition is not just the other trade show contractors nor the other exhibit designers,” Jastrem said. “It is the entire advertising and marketing services world.”

Viad, however, is not treating this reorganization and new emphasis as a defensive move to protect its turf. It sees GES’ capabilities along with the relationships that Rabbitt and the GES leadership have built up over the years as an asset that the Madison Avenue crowd doesn’t have.

“Show organizers can go to an advertising agency, but that’s very expensive,” Jastrem said. “They can only develop a piece of a solution, where we can offer the entire solution. And face it, we are in an environment where you not only have to be really good and really talented, but you also have to be really cost effective.”

Reach Paul Dykstra at (602) 207-4000 or pdykstra@viad.com; John Jastrem at (630) 307-2400 or jjastrem@e-g.com; Kevin Rabbitt at (702) 263-1500 or krabbitt@ges.com