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Convention Data Services CEO grows with technology


Doug Levinson

Doug Levinson

When Doug Levinson began his career in the tradeshow industry nearly 11 years ago, he admittedly didn’t have a lot of experience. As the senior vice president of operations at Key 3 Media, later Media Live, producer of COMDEX, he learned from those around him and absorbed as much information as possible. As a businessman, Levinson had the ability to stand back and look at operations as both an insider and an outsider.

At the time, registration services were an area of concern, so Levinson hired Convention Data Services (CDS), a family-owned company out of Massachusetts. When Media Live fell apart in 2005, Levinson reached out to CDS owner Doug Fletcher and became the company’s chief operating officer. A year later, he sat at Fletcher’s funeral, accepting the role as CEO the Fletcher family offered him.

“They said CDS was his baby, and we’d be remiss if we let it go,” Levinson said, recalling the day he lost a friend and gained his legacy. “I was flattered and honored to do it. We’ve never had a board of directors at CDS, so I asked them to be my board of directors. It’s been an absolute great experience. We have a terrific relationship.”

Levinson is fully aware of the shoes he was expected to fill and commonly thinks about what his former boss would think about the state of the company and the industry as a whole.

“I think he’d be very happy,” said Levinson. “We’ve been profitable every year, even with the insane economy. It’s a successful time for us. Acquisition of new business is the reason I selected CDS as a vendor when I was with Media Live. The growth of new business coming through the door has kept us ahead.”

In 2006, shortly before Fletcher’s death, a three-year business plan was written to take the company through 2009. The first business plan written without the company’s founder focuses on return on investment (ROI). Technology and innovation has opened the doors for accountability and organization, Levinson said.

“The old joke in registration was ‘it’s all about the badge.’ It’s not like that anymore,” he said. “You have to leverage registration as a marketing tool.”

Social media and email blasts allow exhibitors to market to their attendees, but information obtained about those attendees is getting more detailed.

Soon, one scan of a bar code on an attendee’s badge will send information directly to the exhibitors’ smart phones.

“It’s much more detailed, much more instantaneous,” said Levinson. “Technology is a large piece but not the only piece.”
Innovations like this in registration services leads to higher exhibitor ROI, which brings companies back to shows instead of cutting them from their budgets, Levinson added.

Sending information straight to exhibitors’ smart phones in real time is currently in the beta testing phase and is set to go live in a few months. Eventually, attendees will have access to the same technology to use for such things as downloading content and making booth appointments.

“It’s new what we have right now, and in the future, it’s just going to get more refined and sophisticated,” Levinson said.
The difference in technology and innovation at CDS is far from what its founder would have, or probably could have, imagined. In nearly five years, Levinson said CDS’ founder would have been impressed at how far it has come.

“I think if Doug walked back in the building, he’d want to know what a mobile app is,” he said. “We didn’t have that in 2005.”




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