The Mountains Were Calling. Clarion Events Answered With Successful Live Event

 Q & A with Lisa Berry, Vice President, Clarion Events Gift & Souvenir Portfolio

The Clarion Events Gift & Souvenir Portfolio successfully returned to face-to-face events last month with the 55th annual Smoky Mountain Gift Show – known as the nation’s oldest and most respected event for the resort, gift and souvenir industry.   

Smoky Mountain Gift Show's Lisa Berry and Christina Bell

We had the chance to talk with Lisa Berry, vice president for the Clarion Events Gift & Souvenir Portfolio, about the team’s commitment to creating a safe environment for the show’s buyers and exhibitors, as well as key takeaways and advice for planners looking ahead to their first live events.  (Pictured:  Lisa Berry (center right) and Christina Bell (center left), Smoky Mountain Gift Show Director, flanked by JK2 Apparel exhibitors.) 

Many 2020 trade shows cancelled or pivoted to virtual formats for 2020. What led to Clarion’s decision to move forward with the live edition of the Smoky Mountain Gift Show?

We were really driven by customer feedback. While there were some exhibitors and attendees unable to travel, we did hear from a majority that there was a need and desire to return to a face-to-face setting which is what encouraged us to find every way to meet in-person this year. Our goal was to support the industry after a year where many had faced different hardships and provide a safe, productive, and fun meeting space for them to get back to business. We were thankful to have great partners in Gatlinburg and vendors like the Gatlinburg Convention Center, Connections Housing, Fern, our show decorator, and countless others to help us make this happen. It is so wonderful to hear many of the success stories following the event and we hope to continue to support our gift and souvenir family year-round.

Talk a little about your pre-event marketing strategy/messaging.  How and what did you do to ease minds of both attendee and exhibitor audiences regarding the show’s safety measures.

Clarion Events Smoky Mountain Gift Show at Gatlinburg Convention Center
Communication was a cornerstone of planning and our operations team put together a great safety document that our marketing team turned into our customer-facing We’ve Got You Covered Promise, which was a comprehensive review of all the initiatives we were taking during the show. This document, along with 5 “need-to-know” points, was a prominent part of all of our communication and was featured on our website, in our exhibitor manual, and in all our marketing collateral – from email to direct mail to digital ads and everything in between. In addition, we worked with our registration provider, CompuSystems to include messaging during the registration process and at the show during badge-pick up as well as with and Fern and the Gatlinburg Convention Center to have signage from the moment someone entered the show.

We wanted to be as clear as possible to reassure our customers as well as be clear of what they could expect. You can find our We’ve Got You Covered information here.

Highlight some of the onsite precautions/protocols used to ensure the safety of attendees/exhibitors.  And, were they amenable to the measures?

The safety of all exhibitors, attendees and staff was our top priority. In order to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved, we followed government guidelines issued by the CDC, state and local officials with regards to the protocols and precautions put in place for COVID-19. The health and safety plan our team developed was built on four cornerstones including Physical Distancing, Cleaning & Hygiene, Protect & Detect and Communication.

Some of the most notable precautions were:

·       Upon entry each day every visitor to the convention center, including staff, was required to undergo a temperature screening.

Clarion Events Hosted Successful Smoky Mountain Gift Show Live Event In November 2020

·       Facial coverings were required of everyone in the building

·       All visitors had to confirm they were not recently exposed to someone confirmed to have COVID-19, awaiting test results or experiencing any symptoms

·       Hand sanitizer was readily available and we worked with two of our exhibitors to offer hand sanitizers and masks to attendees as they picked up their badges

·       We developed enhanced and frequent cleaning protocols in common areas in partnership with the convention center and our vendor partners

·       We enforced and promoted physical distancing wherever possible

Attendees and exhibitors were appreciative of precautions and protocols that we put in place.

Were you able to host any sort of hospitality events and if so, what types of special planning/ precautions/safety measures did you undertake?

The Smoky Mountain Gift Show is known for its hospitality. With some small changes we were able to continue some of the hallmark benefits of the show while also keeping in line with our We’ve Got You Covered safety promise. For example: 

Clarion Events Smoky Mountain Gift Show
We continued to offer our daily coffee bar and afternoon wine and beer happy hours, but removed the food options for 2020 and ensured any lines were physically distanced and the beverages could be enjoyed safely or to-go.

·       We offered daily goody bags with exhibitor products for the first attendees at the show as we normally do, but extended the pick-up hours so that there was not a group of people gathering in a small window of time.

·       We typically have tours of different exhibitors like Made in America or Zootique products and for 2020 we decided to move these to social media – doing short interviews from exhibitor booths that we shared on our Facebook and Instagram pages, giving them even further exposure to buyers not at the show.

We were still also able to have our Mountain Money Madness, Gatlinburg VIP Attraction Giveaway, and prize wheel programs,  which naturally are conducive to physical distancing. We did unfortunately have to cancel our show party but look forward to that returning in 2021!

Did the Gatlinburg CVB, Convention Center offer any special support?

The Gatlinburg Convention Center was a great partner leading up to the Smoky Mountain Gift Show.

Clarion Events Smoky Mountain Gift Show
Our operations team worked closely with them leading up to the event as we developed our We’ve Got You Covered safety promise. Pre-show and onsite they communicated with us all of their plans to make the Gatlinburg Convention Center a safe place to meet such as updated cleaning protocols, staff guidelines and their progress on becoming GBAC Gold Star certified.

What role did Connections play in the customer experience?
Connections has been our trusted housing provider for many years and we envision its staff as members of our show team. Connections has strong relationships with area hotels and stayed in close contact with these properties to make sure our exhibitors and attendees were well informed about - and comfortable with - their choice hotel’s safety and cleaning practices. What's more, Connections has a "Hotel Safety and Cleaning" protocol page  that features guidelines from major and independent hotel partners and chains. It is linked to the Connections Housing website and they also embedded it in a promo cube that our attendees could access during the booking process and again on the hotel acknowledgment.

And Connections’ Director of Event Services, Jay Pierce, worked in tandem with our Global Key Accounts Manager Jhana Jordan to make sure our VIP buyers had a convenient and seamless hotel experience – from check in through check out.  

Given the COVID-19 situation, how did overall attendance/exhibit sales stack up to your goals/expectations.

Clarion Events Smoky Mountain Gift Show
In such a challenging year for many in the industry, our goal was to deliver an event that met the expectations of our exhibitors and buyers. We were so pleased to hear great feedback from both groups both during and following the show and feel we really achieved our goal. We heard success stories of exhibitors reaching their objectives for the show within the first day it was open, and buyers finding great new products for their stores. In fact, our post-event surveys are still open, but our exhibitor Net Promotor Score is higher than it has been in the past 3 years.

Having successfully completed a live trade show during a pandemic, do you have a key takeaway or piece of advice you can share with other event planners/show management teams looking ahead to their first live event(s)?

We would say to focus on three things: customer feedback, communication and teamwork. Listen to what your customers need and want and that will help guide your planning. Communicate openly with your vendors and partners and well as attendees and exhibitors in your marketing and communication. There will be a lot of new changes to adapt to – and you will probably have to update and change these new plans every week until the show --  so you want to be as clear as possible.

Clarion Events Smoky Mountain Gift Show 2021

Without great teamwork, it would have been a lot more challenging to host the live event, but we were so thankful to have a team that was flexible, positive and willing to put in the work to deliver a great event for our customers.

We want in-person events to come back and believe we are stronger together, so our team is here to offer any advice or help as others plan for future events.

To learn more, visit the Clarion Events and Smoky Mountain Gift Show websites.

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