• #HeresWhy Q&A: Mark Sussman

    In our next installment of our #HeresWhy industry Q&A sessions, we interviewed Mark Sussman, Vice President, Business Development for Connections Housing:

    How did you get started in the exhibitions and events industry?

    I studied hotel and restaurant management at Southern New Hampshire University. I knew then I wanted to pursue a career in the hospitality industry early on. After college, I moved to Florida and started interviewing for jobs, one of which was with Marriott. At that time, they had less than 100 hotels, so I wasn’t very familiar with them. After five interviews, they hired me as a catering service supervisor and put me on a management training program. I eventually got into convention services managing large convention size hotels and resorts, which is how I got to know many of the general service contractors and customers affiliated with this business.

    I ended up having a 21-year career with Marriott, and then eventually landed at the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau for 11 ½ years as Director of Trade Show Sales. I then decided to take on another critical component of conventions and trade shows and moved to the housing side of the business.

    What’s been the proudest moment of your career thus far?

    I would say I’m most proud of my service with IAEE’s Southeastern Chapter. I’ve been a board member since 2005 and have also served as chapter chair one year.

    What are the benefits of attending a trade show?

    Every time you attend a trade show, there has to be a specific purpose for that show. Generally speaking, the social and educational aspects of this ever-evolving business make this industry invaluable. With social media and technology constantly changing the landscape, it’s important to stay on top of things like attendee engagement. And part of the educational element is sharing — if I can help pass on knowledge to a customer or potential customer that will help them, that’s a plus.

    Additionally, trade shows provide an opportunity to sit with a customer or a partner and discuss issues and challenges. It’s important to see each other wanting to become more knowledgeable, and that in itself builds a relationship of mutual respect and credibility.

    Are there any trends across the industry you’re seeing right now?

    These days, people are really looking for that experiential time at trade shows; it’s becoming about touching one’s emotions. I recently read an article about how Amazon’s Alexa was being personalized and utilized as an engagement point, and I passed that information on because having touchpoints like that are not only useful but fun for attendees.

    You are an active advocate for the industry – why do you believe advocacy is so important?

    There are so many legislative issues on the state level that affect our industry. Whether it’s the bathroom bill, overtime laws or immigration issues, they have a large impact on the business we do. We all have to keep a close eye on and help support the effort to overcome those issues so they’re not damaging to our industry. Being an active advocate also means you stay on top of what’s going on in the industry, which can benefit your customers and partners as well.

    What gets done at Exhibitions Day is just a starting point. Following through on the state level has to happen for those relationships and our messaging to continue. I think from a chapter level, we can push more information to our members that will help that cause. For example, I previously moderated a panel discussion for the Southeastern chapter, and we discovered most people didn’t know who the congressman or congresswoman was in their district. Engaging our members and getting them involved locally is just as important when it comes to advocacy.

    Is there anything about your job or the industry that non-industry people would find surprising?

    A lot of people think this industry is just wine, dine and glamorous travel, but this is an actual profession. The ongoing question people ask is “so what exactly do you do,” but you end up wearing so many different hats and deal with so many different customers and organizations that eventually you do a little bit of everything. I kind of see myself as Cliff Clavin from Cheers because he knew a little bit about a lot of things.

    Another thing is just how valuable trade shows are from a marketing perspective. When you think of how much an individual corporation would have to spend to get in front of an audience on their own, it far exceeds the cost of participating in a trade show, where your target audience is aggregated for you and you’re face-to-face.

    Why would you encourage people to pursue a career in the exhibitions and events industry?

    There are so many different directions you can go in this industry — you can do anything from electrical services to general contract services to convention and visitors bureaus to hotels to airlines to restaurants. Look at me – I went from hotels to convention and visitor bureaus to a pseudo planner position for housing services. Anything that’s associated with the hospitality industry is an easy transition no matter what stage of your career, because you bring knowledge and customers to the table. There are so many opportunities to advance your career, you just have to find your groove.

     

    Additionally, the comradery between customers and competitors in this industry really shows it’s such a friendly business. I enjoy being around these people and consider them my friends.

     

     

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