Straight Talk with Ed Nichols, Vice President of Events, Hannover Fairs USA
According to colleagues who have known him for years, Ed Nichols is a force for making things happen in the trade show industry. As vice president of events for Hannover Fairs USA, this 24-year industry veteran says he not only loves the challenge of launching, acquiring and growing events to meet the needs of exhibitors and attendees, but also the incredible people who comprise this dynamic industry. TSNN sat down with Nichols to learn how he and his teams have been fairing during the COVID era, what he expects for the industry going forward and why he can’t imagine doing anything differently with his life.
What is the biggest change your organization has had to navigate during this challenging time?
Staff cuts. Making ends meet through this included losing some really good people and friends, and that has been hard. I think the ongoing challenge is the uncertainty – when will we be back to live events? I’ve got two in my portfolio next fall, and we are going to work each day optimistic that they will take place, ultimately focusing on what we can affect and doing our best not to dwell on what we can’t.
How do you think the industry will be most changed going forward?
We all need to be sharper. Those not working hard to extend the life and value of their brand throughout the year or developing virtual opportunities have learned that not doing so is a luxury we can’t afford anymore. Beyond the initial reeling from this in the spring – akin to taking a flurry of punches from Mike Tyson in the first round of a fight – I actually have enjoyed the challenge of examining every aspect of the business to be sure it’s necessary and still provides value.
Virtual – here to stay, or a stop-gap until live events return?
I may be in the minority here, but it depends. It’s a vital component of our brands, be that for content delivery or lead generation, or both. What I have not seen is anyone replace the essence of our events virtually. Additionally, the economics don’t work for any of us. A virtual component to our brands is not only here to stay but will be expected as we move forward. My feeling, however, is that this has demonstrated that you can’t replace all that our brands deliver virtually.
What have you learned most about yourself during the pandemic?
I learned that I traveled – a lot (at least that’s what my wife reminds me of the most)! I am by nature an extrovert, and my family is made up of Type A extroverts. So the travel and social gathering restrictions have felt claustrophobic at times, particularly in the spring and with homeschooling as my wife, our two boys and I were trying to get our footing. Now, I’ve realized not only the 24/7 nature of our work, but that we don’t need to be within the four walls of an office to be productive. I think that flexibility is here to stay in the workplace, and that’s not something I would have agreed to at the outset of this.
And about your teams?
How resilient they are and how much they care about our mission, although I’m not surprised but impressed by their commitment. We have some young events — one we were planning to launch in October that’s now postponed to 2021 — and you really live these events every day. The other learning is to check in [with them] every day. Make sure to schedule a call, knowing that everyone has good days and difficult days throughout this. [Leaders need to] understand where someone is – if it’s a good day or a “get through this” day — and to manage interactions and expectations accordingly.
What kind of self-care has been key for your mental health this year?
I’ve gotten more serious about exercise that I couldn’t make the time for previously. I entered the Indy 500 Virtual Challenge where participants log their own miles either walking, running, swimming or biking with a goal of achieving 500 miles between June 22–Dec. 31. I’m just shy of 400 miles to date, so I’m feeling good about that. I also get out of the house, whether it’s dropping the boys off at school or going to the store, and I take time each day to get away from the computer and the phone. And we got a puppy, a Goldendoodle who we named Rosie.
Where is the first place you want to travel when things open up?
Actually, we like to host. So once we can all travel, we plan to hold the biggest party for family and friends and just enjoy being together again. As far as my travel, I do look forward to returning to business travel and will not take the flexibility to go somewhere, whether personally or professionally, for granted again.