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SISO appoints new executive director

On Jan. 1, 2016, Lew Shomer, president and CEO, Shomex Productions, will hand over the reins to David Audrain, CEO, Exposition Development Company Inc. (ExpoDevCo), as executive director of the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO), the premier organization for the for-profit show organizer.

The organization retains a management company to administer its affairs along with a personal management contract with the CEO to act as executive director. SISO Chairman Charlie McCurdy announced Audrain’s appointment by a unanimous vote of the Board during the annual report to members’ luncheon at SISO’s CEO Summit, which took place April 13-16 in Kiawah Island, SC. Tony Calanca headed the search committee that found Audrain.

“I am thrilled that the Board has chosen David to be the Executive Director when I step down,” said Lew Shomer, current executive director, SISO. “David and I have known each other for more than 10 years and I was proud to serve under his leadership when he was Chair of SISO. His unique entrepreneurial drive mixed with his managerial style for organizing and producing shows all over the world will help SISO maintain the many relationships we have developed, which make SISO such an integral part of the overall global industry.”

SISO Chairman Charlie McCurdy expressed the organization’s gratitude to Shomer, who will have completed seven years of leadership service in 2015.

“[The Board] wanted to thank Shomex Productions and Lew Shomer for their success in bringing SISO to the level it has reached as the premier organization serving the for-profit show organizer,” McCurdy boasted.

Shomer, who has been involved with SISO for over two decades, will remain a member through his company, 5NET4 Productions, and hopes to stay involved in its educational component. He will be working full time producing Abilities Expo, the nation’s leading exhibition for people with disabilities, alongside David Korse, who runs day-to-day operations. The two will further opportunities to grow the brand and sponsorship outside of the U.S.

Leaving a rich legacy for his successor, Shomer contributed much to SISO’s growth under his leadership. As the de facto head of the organization, he worked to requalify membership, expanding it by 10 percent in 2014 alone.

“SISO is representative of the industry on a large scale with major organizers on the Western hemisphere like Advanstar and Reed Exhibitions,” Audrain stated.

Increasing international membership and participation from 3 to 35 percent, Shomer drew members from over 20 countries including New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico and throughout Asia, Latin America, Europe and Africa.

“SISO is in great shape with a very diverse and robust membership that spans the globe—it’s a great organization with lots of upside still to come,” said McCurdy.

Along with a healthy membership base, Shomer built a robust financial reserve, positioning SISO’s group of sponsors to reinvest in the community.

Shomer expressed confidence in his successor’s abilities to carry out the organization’s strategic plan, created in August 2014 for the next executive director. Planned objectives include maintaining a high level of networking activity, providing strategic content to decision-making CEOs, and developing curricula to grow student awareness of face-to-face marketing along with its benefits and career paths that would attract young professionals to the industry.

“With the achievements we’ve made after seven years, SISO is in an extremely good position to expand on its goals. What David’s responsibility is going forward will be the ability to find new ways to implement our strategic plans and grow membership,” Shomer said. “David is well-prepared for the position because he’s been involved with SISO for many years; he’s familiar with its operation and philosophy. We looked for that in a successor – an entrepreneur – which will make his transition easy. He will be able to work with the Board and implement the strategic plan that he helped to develop.”

With the management contract approved on April 13, the transition between Shomex and ExpoDevCo will include transfer of documents, strategies and infrastructure for Audrain and his company to smoothly continue operations and sales by the start of 2016. SISO staff members Anna Osnower, operations for SISO and HR manager for Shomex, and Gillian Campbell, who handles association membership, will remain on board under Audrain’s leadership.

“We have developed a transition program that will make the passing of the leadership virtually seamless, ensuring our members and sponsors will continue to receive the very best service that they have come to expect,” McCurdy added. “We are confident that David will continue to lead SISO at the forefront of the industry as we concentrate on member benefits and continuing education to schools, universities and our member organizations.”

His leadership experience extends to other organizations as a past chairman of the International Association for Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), and current seat on the Board of Directors of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR).

“We are certainly very excited about the opportunity to manage SISO; I personally have always put the highest value in SISO and look forward to working closely with Charlie McCurdy, SISO’s new Chairman of the Board, and all of the other members of the Board,” Audrain commented. “SISO has an incredibly strong membership that represents the largest to the smallest of the for-profit show organizer companies from around the world, and we will ensure that it will continue to grow its membership and ROI for those members.”

Offering advice to the man who will fill his “Crocs,” according to Audrain, Shomer pointed to his successor’s own innovative approach to business.

“My best advice to David is not to copy necessarily what was done in the past, but to bring his own personality into the position,” Shomer counseled. “David has different strengths; he’s very tech-savvy. I think technology will play a big part in what SISO will do in the future – host different types of events not done in the past, have more social media and Web presence. It will continue creating a community that gives our attendees and sponsors the types of results that they expect.”

Having served on the Board and the Executive Committee of SISO and as Chairman in 2013-2014, Audrain shared the key element that differentiates the organization from other trade associations.

“SISO is an organization of purely independent, for-profit organizers. It outsources management to someone who actually organizes events. To have one of its members act as director and organize events as part of their other business suits the association very well,” Audrain stated. “SISO is lucky to have excellent leadership – in both the board and executive committee – certainly a who’s who in the exhibition industry.”

Founded by Audrain as president and CEO, with Stephanie Everett, executive vice president, ExpoDevCo is an Atlanta-based service company specializing in the organization and management of tradeshows and conferences in North America that include owned events, licensed shows and show management contracts. Operated in a virtual setup, staff members telecommute and use a cloud-based infrastructure, enabling the company to remotely work on projects.

A long-time member, Audrain spoke highly of the association’s offerings.

“SISO has always been the most influential grouping of organizers globally from the for-profit sector. I wouldn’t dream of missing the CEO conference; it’s the best networking and peer collaboration that I’ve seen in this industry,” said Audrain. “Participation at the CEO Summit includes one-third of attendees from outside of U.S., becoming a global grouping.”

To further its industry relations, the organization maintains reciprocity agreement with other allied associations to develop cross marketing and educational partnerships. SISO members are able to attend other organization’s events all over the world.

Its agreement with the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, also known as UFI, includes presentations and participation at its events. Working closely with fellow industry organizations to support each other’s activities, SISO also has a permanent representative on the CEIR Board of Directors as well as a seat on the board of the U.S. Travel Association.

“Education is a hotspot for SISO,” according to Audrain.

Committed to providing substantial support for CEOs, the executive director is focusing on education for all levels – from young professionals to C-suite executives. Hosting two conferences each year, SISO helps mid-level executives develop senior managing skills during its annual Executive Conference while company owners, presidents and CEOs meet at the CEO Summit to strategize long-term plans in all aspects of the industry, such as technology, hotel attrition rates, visa allocation challenges and exclusive venue practices.

At the entry-level, SISO is targeting institutes of higher education.

“We’re making strong efforts to increase face-to-face marketing in university teachings, which are woefully short,” commented Audrain. “Students are graduating with marketing or business degrees without knowing what a tradeshow is, which is key at the entry-level.”

To educate young professionals, Audrain will focus on helping colleges and universities showcase face-to-face communications within marketing programs and business schools. In partnership with CEIR, SISO funded the “2015 Young Professional Exhibitor Needs and Preferences Study,” a first-ever initiative offering insights on young exhibitor attitudes and preferences about business-to-business exhibitions.

Planning for the future of SISO, Audrain will reassess the association website to maximize communications with its members. Intending to become more data-driven, he aims to bring current its membership database and build conference attendee data on past activities as well as future interests.

For more information, visit siso.org

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