Driving Growth in the Events Industry With Danica Tormohlen
Eva Talk

Driving Growth in the Events Industry With Danica Tormohlen

As the events industry continues to grow, careers and employment opportunities have been growing at a staggering rate. Through the evolving landscape of events, an entirely new set of skills and roles have emerged.

In the wake of the industry’s massive shift to virtual events in 2020, events industry professionals have realized they need to learn new skills to deliver high-quality, business-driven events that provide attendees with value. Also, the hybrid event model has opened up new avenues for global event collaborations and increased client reach, ensuring sustainable and progressive growth for the industry.

As part of the event experts series, 10times interviewed Danica Tormohlen to learn more about her professional journey in the events industry, the lessons she has learnt, and what advice she would give her peers.

Danica Tormohlen is an award-winning writer and editor with a demonstrated history of working in the publishing and event industry since 1994. She has also served as the Director of Content, Publisher, and Editor-In-Chief of the Society of Independent Show Organizers, Editor at large at Trade Show Executive, and Editor-In-Chief and Publisher of EXPO magazine.

* Could you tell us about your journey in the events industry and some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way?

I’ll start from the beginning of my journey and share lessons learned along the way in the hopes that it might help other event professionals, especially women with diverse backgrounds who are moms. I attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and I knew I wanted to work for a magazine.

Unfortunately when I graduated, there was a recession, so I took a job as a salesperson at The Limited Corp. because I had student loans to repay. I love fashion, so it was a great fit. I was promoted to sales manager and eventually store manager. Retail management is a great training ground for trade shows – working on nights and weekends, managing teams, delivering exceptional customer service, hitting sales goals and dealing with crisis on a daily basis.

Lesson learned: Management experience is always valuable and transferrable.

When the economy heated up again, I responded to a classified newspaper ad for an assistant editor (the lowest rung on the editorial totem pole) at EXPO magazine, and the magazine’s co-founder Donna Sanford hired me in 1994. I had no idea what the trade show industry was when I accepted the editorial position, but I fell in love with the events industry immediately!

The people, the business, the experience, the travel, the connections, the technology, the markets, the design, the writing, the interviews, the web sites … what’s not to love?! The first exhibition I attended was IAEM (now IAEE) Expo!Expo! in Las Vegas. I remember wanting to go so badly that I offered to share a hotel room at CircusCircus with a colleague so we could stay under budget. (Never again!) 

Lesson learned: You might have to take a paycut to follow your dreams, especially to break into your desired career path.

Over the course of the next 17 years, I rose through ranks to become editor in chief and publisher – my dream job!

I reported on the first U.S. trade show in Cuba, the sale of COMDEX to Softbank, private equity investments the trade show industry, companies going public, the rise of E3, the launch and crash of Internet World, the promotion of Nancy Hasselback as the first female president and CEO of a Diversified Communications, the devastation of 9/11 and so much more. 

Lesson learned: Get involved. I spoke at industry events, served on the IAEE education committee, founded a local chapter for business press editors and earned editorial recognition.

* What major challenges have you encountered in your events career so far?

In 2003, I had a son, and he attended his first event, the SISO CEO Summit, when he was five months old. When I had my second child, I decided to step down because I didn’t think I could succeed and juggle both jobs (mom of two and editor in chief /publisher who travels the world). It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made, but I launched my career as freelancer in 2008, with EXPO and Donna as my first and only client.

Lesson learned: Trust your gut. Fourteen years ago, I had no clue I could actually make working from home a reality. 

While I settled into my role as mom of two and part-time freelancer, I also dove head-first into volunteering in my community, serving as President, VP and Board Member of both the Parent-Teacher Association and the Highlands Elementary School Community Education Foundation. I also served as a Cub Scout Den mom, and I am proud to say my now 18-year-old son earned his Eagle Scout rank earlier this year.

Lesson learned: Give back to your personal and professional communities and build your network. 

When EXPO folded in 2010, Trade Show Executive Publisher Darlene Gudea reached out, and we both knew it was a match made in heaven! I worked with Trade Show Executive for 10 years, eventually becoming Editor at Large. My dream job … until Covid hit. I took a pay cut to help the magazine survive, but we eventually decided to part ways when I was asked to sign a non-compete. (Never again!) 

Lesson learned: Don’t sign a non-compete. It’s always negotiable. I signed a non-compete in 1994 when EXPO offered me $100. I was just a kid out of college so $100 to sign a piece a paper seemed like a great idea. It’s not!

* How does the integration of digital and live events affect the events industry today?

A deeper connection with customers – buyers and sellers, exhibitors and attendees, partners and leaders. The integration of digital and live events offers organizers — and more importantly their communities — the opportunity to connect year-round beyond the 3- or 4- day in-person experience.

The industry’s best known brands — like Reed, Informa, CES, Emerald — have made significant investments in digital products and services to enhance their portfolios and connections with customers.

For example, in September, RXGlobal launched ReedPop ENGAGE, a world-first audience platform that unites its global reach in market-leading events and digital journalism.

How it works: ReedPop ENGAGE unites passive and active data from across the physical and digital realms, including content consumption, targeted user surveys, ticket sales and interaction with physical stands and signage. The resultant profiles offer unparalleled detail to target client campaigns. 

Big picture: ReedPop ENGAGE leverages ReedPop’s in-house content platform, which powers its gaming and pop culture websites, as well as its global ticketing platform for ReedPop events worldwide.

The opportunity: ReedPop’s portfolio of live events includes New York Comic Con, PAX, MCM and EGX — some of the world’s most dedicated fans of movies, comics and TV who gather for days-long celebrations of pop culture. ReedPOP’s most recent digital launch, Popverse, delivers exclusive pop-culture content to paying subscribers worldwide.

This is just one example of many integration stories. In 2023, expect more investment in digital integration and innovation.

* When designing content for hybrid events, what should event planners focus on?

Last year, I produced a Hybrid Hour Clubhouse series with Dana Doody and Juno. I interviewed show organizers from SXSW, Web Summit, UFI, Toy Fair, Questex, International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer and the American Society of Aesthetic Society — to name a few.

Here are some of the tips shared by these leading show organizers:

  • Prioritize experience over technology
  • Think like a broadcaster
  • Less is more
  • Encourage interaction
  • Embrace attention spans
  • Onboarding speakers can make or break you

In addition, I would recommend looking outside the events industry for ideas. Last week, I read some great tips and ideas on planning hybrid gatherings from Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering.

Planning a productive, interesting and memorable hybrid event is not easy, but it can be done. In my experience, the best content from hybrid events comes from interaction via chat, breakouts and Q&A.

Before designing content for hybrid events, Parker offers these tips:

“If you find yourself organizing a hybrid gathering, consider these questions: 

  • What do you want the experience and interaction to be for the IRL guests? What are their roles at this gathering? 
  • What do you want the experience and interaction to be for the virtual attendees? What are their roles? 
  • Do the two groups need to be connected to each other or can they have simultaneous experiences? 
  • Based on the ratios, where should the center of gravity be for this gathering? Does this gathering actually need to be hybrid?”

Download Parker’s free Guide for Hosting Hybrid Gatherings.

* As a female leader in the events sector, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

I would not be where I am today professionally if it was not for the support, encouragement and faith of two strong, smart women leaders with the highest integrity. Today, I am grateful to call Donna and Darlene not only my former bosses but also my friends. 

Lesson learned: Lead by example when it comes to supporting women. Inspired by my mentors both personally and professionally, I am a founding member of the Women in Exhibitions Network in North America and an active member of the Kansas City Chapter of the National Charity League, a multi-generational philanthropic organization of mother and daughters who volunteer close to 3 million hours annually to 6,000+ charities in the U.S. 

* What is the biggest life lesson you have learned during the pandemic?

After leaving TSE in July 2020, I figured I would be out of work in the events industry until Covid ended. Who would be hiring during a pandemic? I made a list of organizations and people who I respect and would want to work with, and I am proud to say that I worked with leading organizations like UFI, PCMA, SISO, ASM Global, Questex, CNTV, mdg, Juno and Avant Food Media.

I wrote case studies about the first events to return to live, launched a Clubhouse series called Hybrid Hour and produced 13 episodes and shared relevant industry news on my social channels. 

Lesson learned: Content is king. During the pandemic, it was never more clear to me.

I was offered and accepted the role of SISO Content Director in January. My dream job! I produced content on the return to live for the RX Global’s Jewelers International Showcase in Miami Beach, GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Informa’s World of Concrete in Las Vegas, Emerald’s Surf Expo in Orlando and Clarion Events’ FDIC International.

Unfortunately, the timing could not have been worse, as the SISO management company announced an early end to its contract. We are parted ways in June. Now what …?

Lesson learned: Every cloud has a silver lining (even Covid).

In July, I partnered with MAD Event Management to produce content for UFI in North America, and I have the opportunity to work with long-time friends Martha Donato, Marty Glynn and Kai Hattendorf.

In addition, I provide media relations consulting and support to ASM Global, the world’s largest venue management company, and I am grateful to work with Bob McClintock (who will be inducted into the EIC Hall of Leaders in October), Anna Nash and Alex Merchan.

In August, I founded Live & Unfiltered Media LLC, producer of This Week in Trade Shows – my take on the top 5 news stories of the week, publisher of daily trade show news and interviews with trade show news makers and shakers like ReedPop’s Lance Fensterman, Emerald’s Karalynn Sprouse and Smithbucklin’s Tom Myers. 

Lesson learned: Do what you love with people you like and respect.

As you can see, my professional journey has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. Lucky for me, mostly ups! 

* What do you see as the biggest game-changing event tech trend in the next few years?

I wish I could predict the future of event tech. I would be a rich woman! I recommend following where public companies are investing in event tech, watching what’s trending on the consumer side for applications for B2B and reading event tech analysts and experts like Marco Giberti, Adam Parry and Julius Solaris.

* Any message you would like to share with the event professionals community?

Savor and celebrate every successful moment at your event, especially after the last two and half-years of living with a global pandemic and the shut-down of our beloved industry.

Contact and Follow Danica:

Twitter: @DanicaTormohlen
LinkedIn: Danica Tormohlen

For more in the Events Industry Experts series, check out our interview with Ashley Brown, Jason Allan Scott, Brandt Krueger, Corbin Ball, Will Curran, and Stephan Murtagh today!

Are you interested in sharing your insights or viewpoints with the events industry? Join the Eva Talk.

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