Jenn Heinold, senior vice president of events at Access Intelligence, is a—ahem—Jenn-of-all-trades. In her role for the B2B media company, Heinold manages the operations team responsible for the production and planning of more than 200 events in five different markets: aerospace, health care, energy, media and marketing. Its largest event is the annual Satellite trade show, which attracts nearly 15,000 satellite communication professionals and 350 exhibitors to Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. We sat down with Heinold to learn how she got started in the industry 14 years ago and how she keeps up with each of the markets she serves.
How did you get into event planning?
Honestly, like most, I just fell into it, but I quickly fell in love with it. I love the business of trade shows. If we do our jobs right, we are the stewards for the communities we serve. We should deliver the next customer to our customer, and help the industries move forward. You can tell when business is done on a show floor, and that’s the magical part of what we do.
What’s it like planning your events?
The best analogy I ever heard is if you can run a trade show, you can run a small business. The trade show teams consist of sales, marketing, content development and operations, so we do everything, from booking the venue to selling the booths to getting the people—“the asses in the aisles,” as people like to say. That’s what’s involved.
What considerations do you make when booking a venue or selecting a destination?
For us, we certainly try to listen to the markets first: Where does our audience want to go? Fun factor always plays a big part for us. We see a lot of our attendees making our annual trade show a vacation getaway, so we want to make sure we’re going to a destination that would make for a great experience all around.
If we’re not thinking about the destination as a fun and attractive place to visit, we’re thinking about what city has the best potential for attendance for the industry. Washington, D.C., is a great location for our Satellite show because there’s a lot of satellite technology and providers in D.C. That gives us an immediate boost.
You plan for a range of trade shows for different industries. How do you make sure your event meets the needs of each market?
I always try to be a part of the community as much as possible, but we certainly have market experts. The conference directors who are planning our content are in the markets day in and day out, and the rest of the team tries to be as much as possible—I think that’s really important. Getting involved is where the best ideas come from. You get new launch ideas by being in the market and talking to the market… Each has its own drivers, and I think figuring out what makes each community tick is a fun part of what we do.
What challenges do you encounter with the conferences you plan?
I think a challenge all planners face with trade shows is trying to stay ahead of the curve within our markets. You can become irrelevant in events pretty quickly, so I’ve tried to never take that for granted. Our Satellite show is the No. 1 show in the market, so we strive to deliver the next customer. We’re in the market talking to our exhibitors and saying, ‘Who’s buying from you?’ and ‘Where are you finding your next customer?’ and really trying to build our marketing plans around that.
How does Access Intelligence stay ahead of the curve?
We’ve bought a lot of shows launched by entrepreneurs that have come from within the community the show serves. These entrepreneurs don’t really have any trade show experience, but they saw a hole and a need, and they launched an event around it.
There’s something to be said for being in the market you serve versus being in the events business. You have to have an element of really being a part of the market you serve and making sure your show leaders are spending time in the communities in order to be successful. If you’re not serving your community, and even some of the communities or verticals that touch your community, others will come in and do so. We’ve been successful in focusing on specific niches like that.
Technology has come a long way for events. Do you see any needs that haven’t been met within the industry?
The best technology makes events easier to navigate by quickly accessing information, or connecting a buyer with the right solution, or by connecting two people who should meet at an event. We still haven’t fully mastered as an event industry presenting 365-day solutions to our markets either. Being a B2B media company, we have a lot of websites that serve the community year-round, and I think that gives us, in many ways, an advantage. But still, we find challenges on how to engage with the community at the right time, tone and pace. How do we help build brand loyalty and have them come to us as a No. 1 resource whether it’s for a show, news or information?
How have trade shows evolved since you started 14 years ago?
They’ve certainly gotten more experiential. We do so much more on our show floors than we did even five years ago. Our customers are continuing to get more sophisticated. There’s also been a trend in niche shows that are very focused on a specific community and are becoming much more relevant. It can be challenging to do the big shows because, inevitably, there’s some segment that doesn't feel like we’re fully meeting their needs. In some ways, it’s easier to do a niche show where you’re very focused on what you need to deliver. I’m not saying big shows need to go away—because I think we all love what they offer—but there’s definitely more competition.
What lies ahead?
I’m hoping for a prosperous 2018, that’s for sure. The markets we’re serving are really stable, and that’s good. We are ticking around a few ideas for some launches in the next year or so. I hope my team, who I value so tremendously, continues to feel challenged and fulfilled, and has their own growth paths in their respective positions. It’s been a while since I’ve personally had an acquisition in our aerospace group, so I’d love to buy a show and integrate that in because that’s always a fun experience.