By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager
Darlene Gudea is a seasoned professional with four decades of experience as a writer, researcher, editor and publisher in the trade show industry. She began her career in the trade show business in 1978 as managing editor of Tradeshow Week, published by Reed Business Information in Los Angeles. She rose through the ranks and was named VP/Publisher & Editor-in-Chief in December 1986.
Darlene joined Trade Show Executive magazine in September 2002, expanding the bi-monthly publication to 12 issues per year; launched five directories including the World’s Top Convention Centers and the popular Who’s Who series; launched a website and E-clips Breaking News; and added an event division to launch the Gold 100 Awards & Summit.
Darlene has been an IAEE member since 1984, and her industry involvement is well-known through her active involvement with associations such as IAEE, CEIR, TSEA and EDPA. She is recognized throughout the industry as an avid advocate for exhibitions and events, earning her more than 56 awards across the publishing and trade show industries. In 2017, IAEE recognized her dedication to the industry and immense body of work with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Here, Darlene shares with IAEE her profound sense of gratitude for the industry, the personal and professional insights that only 40+ years in the industry can provide, and her post-retirement plans that are – not surprisingly – full of challenges and rewards!
IAEE: You have watched the exhibitions and events industry grow and change over four decades from front row and center. What changes/innovations have impressed you the most and how do you interpret the effect they had on the industry?
Darlene: I have seen the steady advances in building design, registration, security and operations which have made trade show processes easier and more efficient, and have contributed mightily to industry growth. But if I had to boil it down to three of the most transformative trends, here’s my list:
- The evolution of trade shows into rich, experiential events. The idea of creating an emotional connection to and at a trade show has transformed the way exhibitors sell, attendees buy, and delegates learn at events. That has also increased long-term brand loyalty.
- The advent and explosive growth of social media and mobile technology has exponentially increased the number of interactions with the “always on” customer, not just during four days of the year. Today, smartphone technology and app-driven registration, communication and tracking are at the heart of the trade show. Technology has paved the way for faster and more targeted marketing and better customer service thanks to big data, easy customization, cookies, self-service and customer chat functions.
- The continued globalization of trade shows has brought an even broader network of possibilities to buyers and sellers.
IAEE: IAEE honored you with its Lifetime Achievement Award not because you simply watched the industry grow, but for your ardent dedication and service as a prominent voice. What inspired you to take on the role as an advocate of exhibitions and events?
Darlene: Chalk it up partly to birth order! As long as I can remember, I was given a lot of responsibility and it became a pattern and a way of life. After college, I was drawn in by the incredible allure of the trade show industry. The passion and love that people had for this business was infectious. Within three weeks of joining Tradeshow Week in 1978, I knew I found my life’s calling. Never a boring day. So many interesting people to interview.
The ability to broaden my outlook by meeting accomplished executives in the U.S. and abroad who were eager to teach me. I found it so intriguing to see a mini-economy in action, such as the IMTS show, one of the first shows I covered. I marveled at the massive amount of manufacturing equipment on display, the industry’s thought leaders gathered in one place, and the striking number of business deals negotiated and closed.
That sums up my joy of working in the trade show industry. For 40+ years, the trade show medium struck me as the most efficient, enjoyable and effective way to conduct business. I continue to be one of the industry’s strongest advocates. I was caught off guard but deeply appreciative when IAEE presented me with its Lifetime Achievement Award and its Krakoff Leadership Institute Legend of the Industry Award because there are so many other high achievers in our industry. It was never “work” to sing the praises of trade shows… and I always spoke from my heart.
IAEE: You have initiated groundbreaking research initiatives that have benefitted various facets of the industry. Where do you see the future of data collection about the industry going and/or where do you think it can continue to progress?
Darlene: Solid data is the foundation of good business decisions. Objective research enables you to establish benchmarks, identify trends, minimize risk, eliminate guesswork, uncover new opportunities, and rule out duds. Research in the future will surely be enhanced by greater immediacy, additional qualitative perspectives and predictive elements.
IAEE: In your role as a journalist, you have had the opportunity to work closely with all the different organizations that make up our industry. What have you enjoyed the most about collaborating with the variety of groups, and what would you consider the industry’s greatest strength collectively?
Darlene: In the early ‘80s, with only a few years of experience under my belt, I was asked to serve on an IAEE committee. I was so honored to be considered at that young age! For me, IAEE was truly where opportunity and experience intersected. Participating on committees and boards was an important part of my growth and development as a manager. I found that for every hour I put into committee and board meetings, I got twice as much back. I learned new skills (such as diplomacy), developed friendships with inspiring people (isn’t everyone in the trade show industry inspiring in one way or the other?), and was jolted out of myopia which can happen when you are young and think you know it all. So many good ideas emerge when you are that close to your market. I understood the tremendous trust people placed in me and I never betrayed any confidences or exploited the situation.
I have also served on boards and committees for CEIR, EDPA, ESCA and TSEA. All of these experiences opened my mind to the important role each group plays in the success of a trade show, in and of itself, and the industry as a whole. And one thing we may take for granted: What a great industry this is with all groups working together as friends and allies instead of numerous warring factions focusing on their own turf. I don’t think there is any other industry made up of such collegial, entrepreneurial, generous and positive people. This is what makes the trade show industry so enjoyable, and likewise, it is our greatest strength.
IAEE: As someone who is very familiar with the ins and outs of the industry, where do you see it going over the next decade?
Darlene: I don’t think we will see gains of 15% annually in square footage as we did in the roaring ‘80s but bigger is not necessarily better anyway. For the most part, trade shows will continue to reflect the strength of the industries they serve. For example, here’s a hot industry: solar energy. In May, the state of California mandated that all houses, condos and apartments built in 2020 and thereafter must have solar panels. This will generate a host of new vendors and buyers, which will spearhead growth in the trade shows serving that group.
The trade show business is not immune to outside influences. Politics, activism, terrorism, cybercrime and who knows what else might spring up and test our thinking. But our industry is well-equipped to deal with change. First, our industry associations constantly monitor developments that could impact our industry, positively or negatively. Second, we have leaders with backbone and principles. Third, there are many smart people in our industry who are generous with their time and knowledge and serve on both standing and ad hoc committees. These groups look at issues in a very thorough way. They weigh responses through the lens of the entire trade show ecosystem and come up with solutions.
One example: IAEE is developing industry guidelines and standards to align with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect the industry in the event of a terror act. Another example is ESCA, which has had great success with its unique WIS (Worker Identification System) badge program that verifies that each worker is approved to enter a participating facility during trade show setup and teardown. Those examples are specific to security measures but there are many other initiatives such as IAEE’s forward-thinking Future Trends Task Force. There’s Exhibitions Day which brings industry leaders to Capitol Hill to meet with legislators to advocate for the exhibition industry. SISO has developed a Best Practices Library which offers great resources for newcomers and old-timers alike.
On the whole, I see the trade show industry prospering as industry members and associations continue to make a good thing even better.
IAEE: Now that you are enjoying retirement, what does the future hold for Darlene Gudea?
Darlene: It would be easy to relax in retirement, but that is not how I am wired. It’s payback time! After four decades devoted to a demanding career, my family is now the priority. I’m taking care of my 93-year old mother who is partially paralyzed, taking risks in new adventures with my husband Elias, and celebrating my three children as they advance in their careers. In the past, due to constant deadlines and a few days of travel each month, my children often had to figure out things for themselves and help each other. In retrospect, it made them stronger and more self-sufficient, and now they are way ahead of the game. They are good managers because they are accustomed to taking charge and being resourceful. But I can’t deny that I still have a tinge of guilt. So I feel good when I can help them, day or night, such as when their child is sick on the eve of an important presentation or when they just need a break. Those three grandsons of mine are a big and happy part of my life now, and they provide a special oasis of fun and fascination for Elias and me.
I am also going outside my comfort zone, doing things I never had the time or desire for such as learning Spanish (conjugation is a humbling experience), piano lessons, and training for the half-century cycling race. I play Words with Friends with a lot of trade show buddies. Elias and I are evaluating various charities to assist in our spare time. I am looking forward to a long vacation in South America later this year so I have to get cracking with my Spanish lessons. And you can bet I won’t be able to resist visiting a convention center or two and connecting with long-time friends.
It has been a true honor and privilege to work in this industry. I constantly count my blessings and the great opportunities given to me by the trade show industry, and by associations such as IAEE, and also my bosses, mentors and friends. My advice to industry newcomers and old-timers alike: Make time to serve IAEE in a voluntary role. Everyone will benefit!
IAEE is now accepting nominations for the 2018 IAEE Awards! Get complete details, including award criteria and deadline information here!