• #HeresWhy Exhibitions Day Q&A: Jack Patronski

    In our next installment of our #HeresWhy industry Q&A sessions, we interviewed Jack Patronski, Executive Vice President, Industry Development for Global Experience Specialists (GES): 

    Tell us about your experience at Exhibition’s Day.

    I have participated in Exhibitions Day for 3 years and we have had strong representation from our GES organization. I was uncertain about this year, but once I arrived and connected with the Exhibitions Day Illinois group, I felt we were going to accomplish some good things for the day. Advocacy is something I believe in and I am very active within our industry.  I found Exhibitions Day to be rewarding and interesting, especially the first time I went, to learn more about the process on Capitol Hill and how you deliver a message. I’ve had some experience in working with the legislative process in Springfield, Illinois, seeking funding for Choose Chicago, and during the push for major labor legislation for Chicago a few years back, and learning about the process to get significant and positive change passed into law. With that said, I thought the experience this year at Exhibitions Day was great and we had a lot of fun. Some of the group did not know each other well and some not at all. When we met, we decided how we would begin with the Senator or Representative, what information we would share, how we would do introductions, and what key issues we would focus on.

    One thing that was noticeable from prior years was that every one of our issues or “asks” that we put on the table for discussion in each of the congressional offices; they knew what we were talking about and understood the impact of the exhibition industry. We provided some of the big GDP numbers, 80 billion dollars, along with the number of attendees and number of exhibitions, both for all 50 states and for the State of Illinois. The information was engaging which made the discussions a lot easier. It was very rewarding because as we were able to focus more on the issues specifically and had time to address any questions that they had for our group.  We had five separate productive meetings that day.

    Was there a particular issue that you felt the most passionate about?

    Safety and security and the direction IAEE is taking to work with the Department of Homeland Security to focus on the venues and the exhibition halls to develop the Exhibition and Meetings Safety and Security Initiative.  I believe it is one of the most critical pieces that we are going to need to concentrate on as we move forward. I personally do not have concern about the exhibitors, the labor workforce or people that work in the building. It’s going to be somebody that’s in the building that shouldn’t be that could potentially cause some type of negative activity during a big exhibition, event, or conference. We do need to continue to push for funding for improved security and training for all venues. There was not a bill that was introduced for this specifically, but it was one of those “asks” that if funding for venue security training is requested through budget talks, we wanted them to be aware of it the importance of the issue. I think everybody understands the need for safety and security without making changes that could negatively impact our business. When it comes down to the safety of all people in those facilities, I think what IAEE is doing is a major step towards strengthening event and venue security.

    Did the people that you met with recognize the magnitude and seriousness of the trade show industry?

    In the state of Illinois, because there’s such a reliance on tourism, travel, exhibitions, and meetings to generate dollars for the city, state, and tax dollars, everybody was aware of our industry. I think it becomes more positive when you can present facts to them, which they understood the overall economic impact of the Exhibition and Events industry.  We also had additional data for the state of Illinois on investing in tourism and travel – for every dollar that’s invested, there’s a 9:1 return to the state. Rep. Danny Davis, who I met with last year also, spent a half an hour with us. His district includes McCormick Place, it includes Navy Pier, four major hospitals and several universities with medical programs, so he was well informed of the impact of exhibitions and medical meetings and the economic impact associated with our industry. The three items that we brought up for Rep. Danny Davis to ask for his support, he just said, “Yeah, I will support all of those initiatives.” He told some short stories about each “ask” and why he would support those bills.

    I think the other issues of understanding was Brand USA and the online booking scams. Everyone we meet was familiar with Brand USA and each said in his or her own words, “We do not want to let that dollars to move to some other program.  We need to promote tourism and travel.” So that was an easy one.  Online booking scams was a house bill in 2016 and now is a house bill and senate bill in 2017.  It has gained momentum.

    What would you say to somebody in the industry that may be interested in Exhibition’s Day, but may be intimidated by having to meet with their representatives face-to-face?

    My advice. Give it a shot. I think some people are hesitant. I had some first timers talk to me, especially when I arrived at the orientation meeting.  They said, “Hey, what’s going to go on here? How does this go? How do you plan your meetings?” I provided them a short overview of how we did it in the past. There is usually at least one or two people from a group that have participated in the past, and they may have not been the leader, but they may have been involved in the process.  For our group, with two new participants, we talked a little bit after the orientation, but then the following morning we planned to meet after breakfast before our appointments. That is when we divided responsibilities.  Who would talk about a particular issue, who would pass the baton, who would do the opening, etc. I think people are more comfortable with that whole process once they understand what they are going to do at the meetings.

    You might be a little bit nervous about participating and have not participated before, but our representatives and senators are people just like us and they actually want to hear from you and about the issues.  You do not have to be a resident expert on a topic, because you receive your talking points and focus for the day.  And we are taught at orientation “If they ask you a question and you don’t know the answer, you just say, “I don’t know, I’ll get back you.”

    What does being an advocate mean to you and how can your fellow industry members be better advocates?

    I think there’s multiple parts to the answer to that question. Advocacy, to me, is participating or contributing to something that you believe in. It does not always have to be something that deals with law or the legal side of a topic. It could have to do with charitable events or causes that you believe in.  I have personal interests that I have been able to participate with our organization, GES, where they support some major industry charitable events. There is the Party with a Purpose with PCMA’s Education Foundation, which is something we begin 20-something years ago. We are involved with IAEE with Humanity Rocks; I was not the driver for that event, but we looked at common lines of support similar to PCMA and what we should do with IAEE.  Those common lines dealt with giving back to the community and leaving something behind.

    For other areas of advocacy such as Exhibition’s Day, it is important to contribute to where you work and where your clients work. Supporting Exhibitions Day, to me, is something you should consider and something you should really do.

    How did you get involved in the industry and what are you most proud of in your career?

    I’ve been in the industry for a long time. I graduated from NIU with a degree in business focused on marketing, but I ended up becoming a police officer for a few years. I started learning more about the exhibition business and after a few years in law enforcement, I interviewed to be director of operations for the Rosemont Convention Center when it first opened.  During my time there, I set up different departments for electrical, plumbing, customer service, accounting functions, and was involved in client relations and contract negotiations. Through that process, I started learning more about associations, building relationships with many clients and worked with all of the major service contractors.

    Three years later, I was prepared to move on and joined Andrews Bartlett. I continued working for them until 1993 when we merged with GES. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to work on acquisitions, training, business development, account management and serve on our senior management team with a focus on client service and business development.

    What am I most proud of in my career?  Keeping my personal values a top priority with a focus on integrity and commitment. Working with clients and sharing the ups and downs of the industry and facing the changes with enthusiasm as our business models change. Having the ability to serve on various industry boards and gaining knowledge from the leaders before me.  Mentoring and connecting people.

    What would be something – either personal and/or professional – that you have learned from being in the industry?

    I have this saying “if you’re not learning something new every day, you should be teaching somebody something new every day”. That’s what is interesting about our business, that it’s ever-changing and right now it’s changing at an accelerated pace. The services that we provide now – in this day and age – weren’t even on the radar screen 15 years ago. Everything is continually changing, so you have an opportunity to learn new things. As we bring additional expertise into our organization and you get to work with those individuals, you find that there’s another world out there about how people look at business. Our clients are looking at their business differently and making sure that they are staying ahead of any new trends, negative or positive. Exhibitions, events and conferences have to be much more memorable to be successful, so you have to do a lot more. It is still an interesting industry!


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