A new type of event was born at the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook, NY, June 3-4, 2010. The first annual Enterprise Engagement Alliance Networking Expo & Conference, a synergistic blend of Education, Exhibits and Events, was roundly praised by attendees and participants alike as an unqualified, first-of-its-kind success.
“The industry was clearly looking for a small, intimate opportunity to talk and learn, where there is time for quality conversation and an exchange of ideas,” says Allan Schweyer, Chairman of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance. “One of our partners called it ‘Future Show’ – an event that’s about relationship-building, discovery, problem-solving and collaboration.”
“It signaled the coming together of numerous cutting-edge concepts in seminar content, exhibit design, scheduling and environment that reflects the same holistic and enterprise-wide approach that the EEA takes to engagement,” explain Bruce Bolger, President of Selling Communications, Inc., one of the event’s main sponsors. “The Expo took a comprehensive, broad-based view of people, performance and profitability, and how they work together to affect corporations in a positive way.”
Exhibitor Chris Harrison, VP, special markets at Brinkman Corporation, calls the event a “home run,” adding, “it’s a great hybrid…an improvement on the typical trade show. It had the feel of engagement – we sat around tables and helped buyers and other attendees plan things out.”
Another exhibitor, Tom Parker, head of Corporate Sales for Smartbox Experience Inc., was equally effusive in his praise: “Our expectations were pretty high going in, but this exceeded our expectations in every regard,” he says “The people we wanted to talk to were there… and not only did we get to meet them, but because of the format we were actually able to sit down and talk to them as opposed to ‘hawking our wares’ as we might at a booth at a large trade show. We got to spend quality time with people, and we feel like we made a lot of progress there.”
The Expo featured a unique exhibitor set-up developed by the Hughes Group as part of its “Future Show” concept. Instead of traditional trade show booths where exhibitors stand behind or beside counters stacked with product and/or literature, the main ballroom of the hotel and parts of the lobby and several corridors were lined with Conversation Centers featuring informal group seating, Internet access and signage, with each exhibitor’s area separated from other by “soft” barriers of translucent material with special lighting.
According to Hughes Group Founder and President Robert Hughes, the Future Show concept is “a new way to get face to face with customers that’s more economical than the traditional sales trip – and more comfortable and engaging that the traditional trade show. By offering exhibitors a semi-private place to meet with customers – along with interesting learning and networking opportunities for all – the Future Show becomes a way to see 15 to 30 customers over two days instead of two weeks, and talk about the big picture as well as specific business needs.”
LauraLee Pullara, Director of New Business Development for Bulova, liked the idea of the conversation centers. “The layout was good, and I thought the quantity and quality of time that we were able to spend with each person was exceptional.”
Jim Dittman, Founder and President of Dittman Incentive Marketing, was also impressed. “The idea of having plenary sessions in a room ringed by some of the brands’ exhibits was very smart,” he says. “I also thought the construction of the exhibits – and it’s almost not right to call them exhibits – and the way they were set up, with brightly colored, translucent screens, was very conducive to intimate business meetings, as opposed to what typically goes on at trade shows.”
Corey Wolfe, with exhibitor Links Unlimited, liked the format of the show as well. “We really enjoyed having a suite and being able to actually sit down with people for anywhere from half an hour to an hour sometimes. It gave us an opportunity to just get into their thoughts and really talk about their business, instead of trying to shove something in within a 10-minute timeframe as they are walking by our booth at a typical trade show.”
Attendees also praised the education and networking components of the Expo. The roster of presenters this year included industry “thought leaders” like William Schiemann, CEO of Metrus Group; Don Peppers, Founding Partner of Peppers & Rogers Group; Claire Howells, VP of Engagement for Zions Bancorporation; Rodger Stotz, Principal of Delta Qi Consulting; Todd Hanson, CEO of Catalyst Performance Group; Nicole Harris, Director of Merchandising & Sourcing at Maritz; Doug Stover, Eastern Regional Partner at Gallup; Sandra Daniel, President & CEO of FIRE Light Group; Thomas Agnew, Senior Consultant for Hay Group Insight; Chris Cottle, Senior VP of Allegiance; David Peer, VP client Services at Hinda Incentives; and Melissa Van Dyke, President of the Incentive Research Foundation.
As with attendees and exhibitors, the education program reflected a multi-disciplinary approach, covering the broad range of strategies and tactics that fall under the Engagement umbrella. Sessions featured presentations on issues and tools ranging from breaking down barriers and silos in organizations to performance measurement, collaboration, and using social media to build engagement. Content for the presentations was custom-tailored to attendees, who had direct pre-show input into the educational program via social networking and surveys available through the EEA’s web portal.
Hosted Buyer Jeff Booher, VP of Dallas-based Spear One, reports that he appreciated the shared emphasis on engaging different constituencies. “I liked that the program put the same amount of emphasis on engagement of employees, channel partners and customers,” he says. “For many companies, the discipline is already there for engaging customers, and it makes sense. People see the value in that. CEOs see the value in that. So if we can extend the same discipline to employees and resellers, that’s exciting to me, and I look forward to being involved.”
“I learned a lot in the educational sessions,” says Sybil Stershic, President of Quality Service Marketing. “In fact, after the first day I was thinking there was so much to absorb that my head was going to explode. I’m truly excited about this initiative and about the Enterprise Engagement Alliance. It has incredible potential to improve the workplace and the marketplace, because of its 360° view of engagement.”
The networking aspects of the show, allowing for both formal and informal networking, were also appreciated by many attendees – from the strategically placed snack stations to encourage informal meetings and conversations to the organized networking receptions and the assigned-seating dinner on the second night.
“I thought the venue was good; it was very conducive to those sort of accidental conversations you have with folks over meals, at a coffee break, or at some of the cocktail receptions,” notes Hosted Buyer Tom Miller, President and CEO of The Miller Company. “I met a few people, and I had conversations with people I already know that were very beneficial. I thought the facilities were excellent. It was a great place to have a meeting.”
“Overall, I think it was very good,” echoes Hosted Buyer Mike Murphy, Director, Supply Chain, at Incentium. “When you compare it to other trade shows – where you stand around and meet someone for maybe 30 seconds to a minute versus this, where you can sit down and actually talk about business – it’s a very nice change.”
Links Unlimited’s Corey Wolfe adds that “The whole atmosphere was conducive to having conversations and networking. The outdoor reception on the first night was beautiful, and the assigned-seating dinner was great. It was interesting that they paired you up with people they thought would be good for each other’s business. It was something different, and definitely a positive.”
Attendees at the 1st annual Enterprise Engagement Alliance Networking Expo and Conference were particularly impressed by the Doral Arrowwood facility in Rye Brook, NY, and by the highly competent and accommodating efforts of Westchester Meetings & Events, a FIRE Light Group company, which handled the onsite event planning and coordination.
The Doral Arrowwood was chosen specifically for its proximity to major East Coast markets, and also because it’s relatively secluded and offers a resort-style experience that maximizes networking opportunities and relaxed interaction. The property is a favorite for corporate events run by nearby Pepsico, and it’s also home to the Pfizer Learning Center.
As for the conference itself, its hybrid nature did present some challenges. “It was something new that had not been tried before,” says Sandra Daniel, President and CEO of FIRE Light Group. “The challenge was not knowing how it was going to be received – how people were going to benefit and how people were going to respond to the educational tracks.”
The Westchester Meetings & Events team, headed by Kristen Briggs, handled the registration and coordination for the event, and manned the hospitality desk throughout the whole event. “The service was all very well done,” says Tom Parker of Smartbox Experience. “The meeting staff took care of all the little things whenever I had a need for them.”
“The facilities were great. The layout and exhibits were good. And the staff was very responsive if anyone had any issues with their booths,” adds Mike Murphy of Incentium.
Tom Miller of the Miller Company agrees. “I thought the facilities were excellent, and the meeting space was great,” he says. “I was too busy to take advantage of the golf or spa, but it was a beautiful area, the weather was nice, and it was a very pleasant meeting.”
Bulova’s LauraLee Pollara summed it up this way: “The conference was really well run. In fact, for the first time out it was exceptional.”
For those who missed the First Annual EEA Expo, dates have just been announced for the 2011 event. It will be held on June 15-16, 2011, and will once again take place at the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook, NY.
Program content and attendee feedback from this year’s event will be used to develop a formal Engagement Curriculum for Certification and Continuous Learning that will be released at the 2011 event.
The program will be directed by an Executive Advisory Board composed of management in all areas of the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Claire Howells, VP of Engagement for Zions Bancorporation, and Don Peppers, Founding Partner of Peppers & Rogers Group, will serve as co-chairs.