Since joining the events and trade show business in 1992, Lori Jenks has risen to the top of her profession, earning kudos for her hard work and extensive industry knowledge. As senior vice president of operations for Emerald Expositions, she manages 60 staffers with responsibility for more than 100 trade shows and conferences. While relishing her family life, Jenks still finds time to volunteer at both a food bank and soup kitchen and serve on several hospitality industry boards. Her organization and self-discipline have proven invaluable when faced with major work challenges, including a Category 4 hurricane. Connect spoke to Jenks about her journey, which is marked by unexpected moments.
When did you first think about planning events and trade shows as a career?
I wasn’t aware of the events industry until I was in my 30s. I attended my first trade show (Action Sports Retailer) and was hooked. The energy of face-to-face events is contagious.
It’s been 25 years since you became operations director at Miller Freeman. What constituted a successful trade show back then?
Connecting buyers and sellers and networking and launching new products. Customers had limited options to promote their products, so face-to-face events were critical to growing their businesses.
Name three critical factors for you when it comes to selecting a host.
Dates: The right timing is critical to every market we serve, to drive increased attendance and exhibitor participation. Location: The host city has to have the infrastructure (e.g., venue space, hotel room inventory, airport lift, entertainment/dining options) required for the event. Experiential: Our customers want a memorable event to experience the city’s culture.
What are some of the typical challenges planners face during a trade show?
Events don’t turn out as originally planned and we have to be adaptable. More than ever, we’re experiencing major weather issues on a regular basis. Last year, six Emerald events were affected by hurricanes and snowstorms. Technology failures are more common because our events are so dependent on it. Our mantra: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Carry on.
What’s the most unusual challenge you’ve experienced doing trade shows?
We were faced with moving International Contemporary Furniture Fair Miami less than two weeks from its opening. Hurricane Irma was to blame. The operations team was able to minimize the impact by keeping the floor plan and layout similar to the previous venue (in Miami) and the new venue (Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center).
It was a major undertaking on many levels and required clear and concise communication. I don’t think we would have been able to make this change without social media.
When planning your shows and events, how do you balance the need to be transactional while finding room for trending issues like technology, sustainability, education, best practices, etc.?
Emerald Operations has been centralized for more than 10 years. The benefit of this structure is that it allows us to implement standards and drive best practices. We can focus our strategic efforts on new trends and scale accordingly to manage new business.