Jennifer “Jen” Hoff, president of Taffy Event Strategies, a full-service trade show and management company in Arlington, Virginia, says she loves the “melting pot of skills and personality” it takes to make the show happen. Similar to her love of participating in trade show activities is her obsession with spaghetti and meatballs. Her go-to is Lavo in the Palazzo in Las Vegas, which has meatballs made from wagyu beef, Italian sausage and veal, and served with whipped ricotta cheese. The Virginia Beach native says maybe it’s having grown up in a tourist town, but she likes finding off-the-beaten-path activities when she’s at a trade show. She mixes it up with Connect.
How have trade shows evolved throughout your career?
I see more synergy between the functional departments sales, marketing, operations, and program development. People seem to appreciate how each piece is greater than the sum of its parts. By understanding the big picture and not staying in your silo kingdom, individuals can be part of a collaboration with huge impact.
Why did you get into event planning?
Like most of my peers in the industry, I didn’t know what I was getting into
at the time. My college roommate got a job as an accountant at an association in Northern Virginia when we graduated. I was looking for a job anywhere and wasn’t sure what I was looking for. My roommate said, ‘There’s a job here; they said since you worked for a caterer you might be qualified.’ It turned out to be a conference speaker coordinator position. During the interview process, I thought that meant I would be organizing audiovisual speakers and answering the questions to that angle. Somehow, I got the job and my responsibilities evolved to the logistical and operations aspects of events.
And what draws you to trade shows?
I enjoy how there are so many pieces to a trade show and how it all culminates over a certain period of time to create a community for those in the industry to network and do business. Then having the opportunity to evaluate how to evolve and make the next event even better for the industry is exciting. I also appreciate the network of planners and vendors in the industry. It’s an engaged, creative and fun community, and I like being a part of it.
What are the keys to achieving your goals during events?
Understanding who the customer is and what they are trying to accomplish. At a trade show, you have diverse customers (exhibitors, attendees, speakers, etc.) trying to accomplish different things. You need to understand what the driver is for each constituent at the trade show and ensure their needs are being met.
What are typical goals?
Our typical goals are to ensure a seamless, productive, meaningful and profitable experience for all involved in the trade show. We quantify that based on different variables, but those are typically the key things we are working against.
Who are your mentors?
Diana Simmons, COO of Hargrove, was influential during my early career. I saw her grow as a leader and set a great example. She helped me focus and gave me confidence by giving me opportunities and empowering me to solve issues. I keep in touch with her to this day, and love to connect with her.
What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced
during a trade show and how did you overcome them?
Construction in the venues has been a recurring challenge over the years. As soon as I hear there is even a possibility that a construction project could potentially impact an event, even when it is years out, I keep it as a frontline topic with my contacts at the venue. When the situation arises and there is an impact on an event, you need to stay in constant contact with the venue and get as much information as you can as it becomes available. Coming up with creative solutions and workarounds is key when the space you thought you were getting gets disrupted.
How has the advent of technological advances affected
We’ve gone from reports to dashboards that have enhanced how we as organizers market to attendees, analyze data, sell booth space and so much more. I find that organizers are using the data collected in smarter ways as reviewing and analyzing it has become easier and more effective.
Technology has also enabled us to engage more effectively with all of our audiences. From mobile apps, gamification, matchmaking, audience polling, social media, streaming and other technologies, communications between our attendees, exhibitors and show management have really developed. It has enabled us to market our events more efficiently and cost-effectively.
The not-so-great side is that you have to understand how to leverage technology to enhance your goals and event. There are many opportunities out there; you don’t want to confuse your audience, and you need to ensure the audience is ready for the technology you are deploying. Another challenge is getting all of the technologies to work together seamlessly and having multiple dashboards for each instead of one view into everything.
What lies ahead?
Taffy Events is a new company in the industry. We are excited to continue to evolve, to grow our shows for the industries they serve and to have fun doing it.
What technology will be important in 2018?
I think continued enhancements with attendee marketing platforms, data management, beacon technology and event management software. Developments with mobile apps will continue to enhance audience engagement—polling, audience response, competitions, gamification, audio tours, matchmaking and more. I think we will start to see more chat bots as well to enhance customer satisfaction with quick responses to questions attendees, exhibitors or speakers may have. AR/VR will continue to grow for the experiential elements.