By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager
Rick McConnell, CEO of Trifecta Events, has been a leader in the trade show and events industry for more than 30 years. He has mentored thousands of people throughout his career and many of the industry’s current leaders – including several past chairs of IAEE – have benefitted from his friendship, leadership and guidance over the years.
Rick has employed over 1,000 employees, worked on approximately 300 events, and left an indelible mark on the exhibitions and events industry with forward-thinking innovations and solutions. His service and dedication earned him the IAEE Pinnacle Award last year, for which he was recognized this past December during virtual Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition (watch the awards presentation and Rick’s acceptance speech here).
Here, Rick shares with IAEE his approach to facing new challenges, his philosophies on building relationships within the industry and what he finds most fulfilling at this stage in his career.
You have seen exhibitions and events evolve over the past three decades. What strikes you the most when you think about how the industry operated when you first entered it versus where it’s at today?
Rick: Wow – I think live events and trade shows have morphed in so many ways. When I first entered the trade show arena, shows traditionally had high renewal rates, consistent floorplans, standard and predictable direct mail programs and unsophisticated broad-based exhibitor marketing.
Fast forward to today, the pace of change is at a far more rapid pace. Exhibitors are more sophisticated in measuring their return on investment and the show organizer must provide good quality leads consistently. Interactive exhibits, customized sponsorships, social media networking, digital marketing and a true understanding of the market or market niche that may be changing before your eyes are all essential to have a handle on.I could go on and on but I think you hear my point!
You have been commended for your vision and creativity. How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the industry and what is most important to you when undertaking a new challenge?
Rick: First and foremost, networking with trade show professionals, market experts, association leaders, trade show associations like IAEE and SISO, and media producers is critically important. Live participation at events and interacting with your teams, the exhibitors and attendees to understand true challenges and issues in the markets they serve, are probably more important than ever. Continuing to learn about the rapidly changing show landscape is a time investment that is a “must” to thrive and survive today.
Most important to me? Understanding the problems business owners, industry executives and customers are facing is the jumping off point when undertaking a new challenge. Researching both through informal and formal means puts you in a unique position to solve those challenges. I never pretend to have all the answers, but when you aggregate all the information gathered from key stakeholders, you tend to make good decisions more often than not!
What about this industry have you found to be the most challenging? On the flip side, what aspects do you consider the most appealing and/or rewarding?
Rick: The ever-changing environment in which we produce events is under siege. COVID is changing what we must do to provide a safe place to conduct business. Allaying the fears that so many of our customer groups face is a big part of our jobs today.
Most rewarding? Making a difference in the industries we serve, helping and mentoring up-and-coming leaders in the event business and sharing experiences and views… all extremely rewarding.
Your peers describe you as a generous mentor ready to share your knowledge. What advice do you have for young professionals interested in building a career in this industry?
Rick: Never lose sight of your uniqueness. I sometimes say “embrace your quirkiness” as folks are attracted to the genuine, authentic you. Embrace it, don’t just emulate others’ approaches. Be patient and always – I mean always – get back on the bike after you fall off of it… again and again. Seems like I’m sounding a bit preachy, but I believe this stuff and live my life that way!
And, of course, build relationships with the positive forces in the industry… and with affiliated or tangential influencers as well. An extensive network happens by truly giving your time to help others, whether it is through IAEE involvement and leadership or through other trade show entities. It really does pay off!
You have been applauded for your dedication to advancing the industry, as well as for your contributions to IAEE. What inspires you to take on such an active role in the industry and what do you hope people will remember most about your contributions?
Rick: I believe my trade show legacy lives on by investing in future leaders… Helping them become successful. I also think that doing far more than is expected opens doors that you never dreamed would open. It’s fun and rewarding to work outside what is familiar and known. That’s how people will remember you!