Brave new worlds

In November of 2021, the long running Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF), an information-sharing and networking event for leaders at associations and independent organisers, took place in Washington, DC, writes Stephanie Selesnick. One of the sessions, HLTH and Money 20/20 Case Studies, focused on those events held in October 2021. 

The forces behind these events, Monique Ruff-Bell, vice-president Events, USA, Money 20/20 and Rich Scarfo, president of health industry event HLTH, held an interesting session (available on demand). I caught up with Monique and Rich recently to learn more about what they and their teams did right. 

Money 20/20 was celebrating its 10th anniversary at the Venetian Expo (formerly Sands) in Las Vegas, NV, US and had 10,000 people. HLTH held its 4th annual event (including one digital) with a record 6,500 in-person attendees (and another 1,000 digitally) at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in Boston, MA, US.

ROE first

Here’s the big secret to the success for both events: They embraced CHANGE. They put the experience and ROE (Return on Everything) of visitors, exhibitors, and sponsors first. In the case of Money 20/20 USA, they brought in Cirque de Soleil’s co-creation partner and agency, Sid Lee to conduct multiple workshops for the whole team, making both ideation and buy-in on changes more effective than a ‘top down’ directive. 

In HLTH’s case, Rich said they “re-examined and reimagined every touch point with attendees, start-ups, exhibitors and sponsors”. Since they run a leading health industry event, safety was especially top of mind. HLTH required attendees to be fully vaccinated, masked and to produce a negative Covid test result. They included a redesign of the registration area which included complimentary and mandatory on-site testing, a results-waiting area and a ‘puppy park’ to entertain those attendees. Over 4,000 tests were carried out by 30 health professionals in three days. 

New sponsorship opportunities

As long as we’re stuck with Covid and its variants, a same day, proctored negative Covid test will be de rigueur for entry. It’s a health and safety investment B2B events will have to build into the cost of doing business, by either charging an entry fee to attendees and exhibitors, taking it on as an additional line-item expense, or creating a substantial sponsorship. I think HLTH’s dedicated waiting area (replete with champagne or smoothies, depending on one’s mood) within the registration space was a smart idea. What a great place for additional sponsorships with many literal ‘captive eyeballs’. 

Something else HLTH offered were coloured wrist bands – red for ‘stay away’, yellow for ‘fist bumps’ and green for ‘hugs’. This is something CES 2022, PCMA 2022 and some other shows and conferences presently offer. Another sponsorship offering, perhaps? 

Money 20/20 USA also offered no-cost testing to the unvaccinated and masking (per the current rules in Las Vegas, NV) was required for all. 


Monique and Rich explained how their respective consultative approaches to sales helped drive revenue and satisfaction – and how they made the live experience integral to their events. Both organisations used digital events to drive attendance to their in-person events. Something else Money 20/20 USA did was hold a series of Summits all over the country to get their audience acclimated to being back at in-person events.

For her team, Monique said they needed to make the exhibition floor the “heartbeat of the show”, which included changing up the traditional exhibits grid system into a series of circles. As one visitor shared, “Getting lost on the show floor brought us to some new people and discoveries.” 

Multiple-sized stages featuring big industry speakers and other experiences were set up on the show floor. She shared: “Our thought was that if we invest and put on a fabulous show in 2021, we will create enough FOMO to last for the next few years – not that we won’t try to top ourselves in 2022.”

For companies who didn’t want to exhibit, there were meeting rooms, hospitality suites and other sponsorship opportunities to get in front of buyers. Monique said: “Money 20/20 USA brings in anyone and everyone in Fintech. Sponsors and exhibitors wanted engagement with buyers. One particularly successful area was the Connections Lounge, an area with 300 tables set aside for one-to-one meetings. Using Grip, we facilitated close to 7,000 meetings – a significant increase from 2018 (700 meetings) and 2019 (4,000 meetings).”

Meetings of the willing

HLTH is not a large trade show, by design. In fact, they limit the size of stands. Many of their exhibitors are start-ups and use the platform to pitch their ideas and products to investors. The HLTH sales team worked with clients to find exhibitor and sponsor goals, and the event delivered them. (The 2021 event had an NPS score of 48!)

Rich explained: “If a company wanted branding around the event – great! If a company wanted meetings with new prospects and no exhibitor floor presence – we delivered it! If a company wanted booth space – no problem! If they wanted an activation or something else entirely, our attitude was: we can do that! Let’s make this happen! And they responded.”

Meetings with hosted buyers were sold in packages of five, with a limit of up to 50 meetings per company. The meets were arranged through an AI system with a double opt-in approach. Rich said when both parties were agreeable, it was a “meeting of the willing”. For visitors unable to be on site, digital meetings were arranged with sponsors/exhibitors who were on site. Over 3,000 meetings were held. 

Money 20/20 USA does not have hosted buyers and charges a premium price for entry, beginning at USD $3,500 per qualified attendee. Both organisations knew keeping their attendees and exhibitors/sponsors engaged throughout the event would take a serious investment in food and beverages – and did not stint on it. Money 20/20 USA even flew chefs from the Venetian Expo to the RAI in Amsterdam (where Money 20/20 Europe takes place) to illuminate their high F&B expectations. 

The success of both Money 20/20 and HLTH made their whole ecosystems feel respected, involved, and heard. The words “surprise and delight” came up more than once. Creating FOMO was key, as was keeping the experience fun and surprising. It was about having the right people and companies at each event – much easier said than done. It takes a certain amount of bravery within an organising company to blow up their current business model – but when done right – it can be successful, memorable, and last (but certainly not least), profitable. 

PCMA 2022 – It’s about who was there 

Community is defined as a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Some 2,500 people in the B2B meetings industry reunited live in Las Vegas, NV in the second week of January to partake in communal activities – learn, engage, network, be entertained and have fun – together.

Under a strict safety protocol – including providing proof of vaccinations and mask wearing while indoors, there was a huge buzz – an intangible energy in the air from the opening reception through the closing one. Smiles were obvious, even covered by masks, and genuine hugs (and fist bumps) shared between friends and colleagues who hadn’t seen each other in years was nice to behold. 

What PCMA did so well this particular year was bring the community together – in person. The education rocked, as did the entertainment. Elements meant to surprise and delight were there. And, yes, crowds were smaller than in years past. Those who chose to attend virtually could. However, every single person who was there in person wanted to be there. Didn’t have to. Wanted to.

That’s the message we as an industry must continue to project out – consistently. It’s not about who isn’t at the next in person conference or expo – it’s about who is. Please help pass the message along. 

Click here to read the feature in the EW February/ March 2022 magazine.