The Events Expert Interview Series #19: Travis Stanton

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Hopefully you've been following along as we interview expert event professionals in our industry, sharing their insights, advice, and unique experiences. This week we took a look into the mind of Travis Stanton, who shares his awareness and understanding of the events industry. 

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1) You've got an interesting background in events and publishing. How did your career path lead you from your early days at Best Buy and Christopher Alan Productions to your current position as editor of EXHIBITOR Magazine? And what does a typical day look like for you now?

I had a pretty colorful past prior to coming to EXHIBITOR, having worked at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters, a touring production company, an event-staffing firm, and an LGBT magazine. And now I moonlight on the production team for the Miss Universe Organization’s telecasts. But the trade show industry is such a fusion of so many different industries that every experience has played a role in my success at EXHIBITOR.

While at Best Buy, I dealt a lot with process development and business architecture. At Christopher Alan Productions, I learned about lighting, staging, leadership, and project management. I cut my teeth in publishing as a writer and eventually managing editor at Lavender Magazine, and I fell in love with face-to-face marketing through my role as a brand manager at GT Events.

When I got to EXHIBITOR, I was worried I’d get bored. I remember thinking, “How am I going to write about trade shows every month for the rest of my professional career?” But I quickly learned that the industry was far more nuanced and multifaceted than I had realized. There are elements of sales, business, theater, design, public relations, marketing, and management all rolled into this industry we know and love — and that’s probably one of the reasons why we love it. No day is the same as another, and that variety of challenges and opportunities keeps us engaged and on our toes. 

As for my typical day, there isn’t one. One day my team and I are hard at work vetting story ideas, and another I’m editing content for an upcoming issue, covering an international trade show or world’s fair, speaking at an industry event, editing video footage, managing a Best of Show competition, or (as is often the case) holed up in the Delta Sky Lounge working on next month’s issue. Publishing, like face-to-face marketing, is pretty multifaceted as well. 

2) What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?

The biggest professional challenges are staying on top of what is a constantly evolving industry, and serving a broad swath of readers with varying budgets, experience levels, booth sizes, and industry sectors. Though we publish 12 issues per year, that’s not nearly enough editorial real estate to print every story my team would like to write, and cover every event we’d like to attend.

Personally, the biggest challenge is maintaining some semblance of work/life balance. We like to say that at EXHIBITOR we work hard and play hard, and I think that’s true. But the real truth is that we never stop working in the sense that we’re constantly thinking about this industry and how best to serve our readers. And because we’re always discussing and/or launching new awards programs, research initiatives, and one-off projects, there’s never a dull moment.

My husband and I have literally met up at airports as our travels intersect, and we joke that if we want to spend any quality time together, we need to schedule a vacation. But when you travel as much as we do for work, it’s often hard to imagine choosing to board yet another airplane. And lazy weekends at home are few and very far between.

3) What types of event-related technology do you use, interact with, or see getting attention on the trade show floor? 

Technology is such a big bucket that it’s hard to know what it means anymore. Obviously, a lot of exhibitors are trading traditional hard-walled exhibitry for large-scale multimedia installations. Meanwhile, several are incorporating virtual and augmented reality into their exhibits and events.

And then you’ve got a whole host of other technologies, ranging from NFC and RFID to lead-retrieval apps and geotargeting capabilities. In a sense, technology has gone from being a novelty to just being part of our day-to-day DNA, and I suspect that trend will continue.

Despite the fact that the basic principles of marketing remain the same, trade shows have always been meccas of technology and innovation. So it’s no wonder that exhibitors continue to seek out what’s new in terms of capturing attention, communicating their key messages, and creating a healthy return on their investment. But never forget that event technology should enhance the live, in-person experience, not replace it. 

4) What do you see as the biggest trend(s) in events this year, particularly in relation to event technology?

If I had to pick just one, I’d probably say augmented reality. I suspect that in the coming years, it will usurp virtual reality, because it offers most of the benefits while sidestepping some of VR’s drawbacks. The technology is also ready-made for any company that makes ingredient products or the invisible technology that allows our gadgets and gizmos to function.

At an auto show, for instance, AR allows visitors to see inside a vehicle and take note of all the unique benefits that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. And unlike VR, you don’t have to completely shut out your actual reality in order to participate, which I think makes it more user-friendly in an exhibit and event context.

5) If you could give event planners / marketers one piece of advice, what would that be?

Never forget that trade shows and events are, after all, face-to-face marketing mediums. You can cram all the tech you want into your exhibit, but don’t lose the personal connection that makes this medium special. Your buyers can experience VR at home with cheap, cardboard viewers. They can engage with touchscreens all day, every day.

So don’t expect them to fly halfway around the world to attend a conference if all you’re giving them is an in-booth experience they could have had in the comfort of their own home. The key to live experiences is that they’re live. So be sure to keep them that way or the value proposition for attendees will dissipate over time.