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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

When it’s gets dark, that’s when Vegas comes to life

This year the Business Events industry convened in Las Vegas for IMEX under the heavy cloud of a violent atrocity in which over 50 attendees at a country music festival lost their lives. One moment we’re struggling with unspeakable evil and dark despair, the next we’re high fiving and tripping the light fantastic. The fact that the two events were a mere week apart made the contrast even more horrific.

We’re at SITE Nite, at the Brooklyn Bowl, revelling in the joy of reunion, new connections, all the magic that’s unleashed when #eventprofs meet and, within a mere whisper of time and space (8 days and not even a mile in distance) attendees at an event are being gunned down by a faceless killer, bringing to mind the great phrase from Shakespeare’s King Lear 

like flies to wanton boys, they crush us for their sport.

And herein the first lesson from this year’s IMEX at Las Vegas. When faced with darkness, the only effective response is light. When faced with things that try to crush us, seek to destroy us, endeavour to quell our resilience of spirit, the best thing we can do is rise up, stand tall and strong, continue doing what we do, but do it even better. That was Vegas-ambassador extraordinaire Michael Dominguez’s message at the Events Industry Council’s Hall of Fame ceremony  and a capacity crowd duly obliged by taking to the dance floor and dancing – as if no-one was looking.


Massive congrats to all recipients but, in particular, to Pacesetter winners Dan Berger (Social Tables) and Guy Bigwood (MCI). Dan’s technology platform has been game-changing for #eventprofs but his uncompromising focus on company culture is even more impressive. As for Guy, I’m privileged to have known and worked with him as an MCI colleague for over 10 years. We’ve kayaked in Borneo, eaten amazing food in Barcelona, drunk Guinness in Dublin but mostly we’ve shared a vision of a safe, sustainable world of fairness and equality.

Our great friend from Maritz, David Peckinpaugh was a timely inductee into the Hall of Leaders as was the pioneering Patti Roscoe, founder of Patti Roscoe & Associates which evolved into AlliedPRA. As DMC guys at heart, @Supergreybeard and I – a countless others – owe a debt to Patti for initiating the professionalisation of the DMC sector.

So what else did I learn at IMEX this year?

The Pantone’s changing …

I had a fascinating conversation with the guys from CortEvents about meeting and event design. Off the bat I learned for 2018 that white is out and grey and shades there of are in. Those all-white lounge settings that’ve become ubiquitous in the world of events are now history, set to be replaced by more muted tones of grey with a splash of lime. Likewise organisers are looking for softer settings overall – more tactile textures and seating that’s easier on the ass.


Concourse areas are increasingly being furnished with modular configurations that facilitate face to face connection and conversation and are endlessly flexible. Configurations also allow for the addition of small tables that provide focus, laptop space, a place to leave your coffee.

The biggest rental item for CortEvents, however, is the Tech Tablet Chair, a dove grey vinyl chair with chrome base that has a built-in gloss white swivel table, an in-arm charging panel with 3 USP ports and a convenient shelf under the seat. There’s an additional A/C plug at the base of the chair too.


My only thought was how do you future proof it? Apple is now shipping only new format USB – C on its MacBook Pros rendering old formats USB redundant!

The Inspiration Hub

The cognoscenti quickly discovered the secret staircase from the middle of the showfloor down to what was, arguably, the coolest area of the whole show – the Inspiration Hub (Thanks Maritz!) If you wanted to understand the “festivalisation” of exhibitions, then this was definitely the place to come to. First there was a slightly edgy feel to this “basement” setting. Then there was a vast food court with a wide variety of food stalls and high top tables. Then there were the singer-songwriter types on a small amplified riser gently strumming Ed Sheeran-style songs.


Exhibition, you ask?

And that was just one part of it. Adjacent to that was a learning zone with 3 capacious billowing white inflatable domes. You got headsets so the noise leakage was kept to a minimum. I attended a great presentation by Howard Givner of Grass Roots on Innovation and Creativity. Among my takeaways is an understanding that brainstorming mightn’t be the best way to workshop new ideas (according to a 1958 Yale survey folks working on their own are more creative!).

Next to that Gary Bordman, Chief Interactive Designer and founder of AE & EC was showcasing LEGO furniture, games and more, all intended to inspire planners to step up their understanding and use of dynamic, interactive meeting and event experiences.

Needless to say Tahira Endean was to be found in the Inspiration Hub, hard-wired into the creative fuzz and buzz of the place.

And, of course, the Song Division team.

Kick-Ass Booths do the business

From what I could see, the US DMOs, with some notable exceptions, don’t try to tell a convincing brand story at their booth at IMEX. You cannot really do that with a 2m x 3m shell scheme so either their budget doesn’t permit anything more compelling or they don’t see the value.


The hotel groups, on the other hand, made significant statements, with pavilion style booths that showcased the essence of their brand. The non-US DMOs also took the ball on the hop and invested in brand-led exhibition booths that allowed guests a real sense of their story, a true live-the-brand experience.


Call me biased but I think Meet in Ireland modelled that approach magnificently with a highly accessible, welcoming pavilion where everyone could be a home – the casual passer-by, the serious business lead, the “regular” dropping in to say Hi.

It was a booth that captured the essence of Ireland – where fun is serious business and business is serious fun – and sent visitors on their way with a smile on their face as well as a  tune in their heads that’ll take eons to shake off – “Rashers and sausages, Rashers and sausages …”


Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with Destinations, Venues, Hotels on Strategy, Marketing and Training for the Business Events Industry


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