Stay Creative and Adaptable for Innovative Events
For Hayley King, 2021 was an opportunity to spice up tried-and-true programming—and make creative pandemic-responsive changes to improve attendee experience.
Our eighth planner of productivity is Hayley King, meeting planner for the Technical Association of the Paper & Pulp Industry. Formed more than a century ago, TAPPI has 14,000 members around the world who represent an array of industries including cardboard packaging, biofuels, and nanotechnology. The volunteer-powered legacy association sets global industry standards while delivering a steady stream of educational opportunities and events for members.
To serve its diverse constituents, TAPPI organizes various live and virtual events throughout the year; maintains an eLibrary with more than 25,000 technical papers; and publishes three magazines and six newsletters to keep members informed about industry trends and best practices. With historical papermaking equipment on display for visitors, even TAPPI’s headquarters in Atlanta has an educational component.
TAPPI’s annual line-up of more than 30 events ranges from niche-topic webinars to the quadrennial SuperCorrExpo exhibition and networking event planned by King. In August, SuperCorrExpo 2021 brought 3,000 attendees and 220 exhibitors to Orlando, a city King values for its hospitality culture and easy accessibility for international guests.
The event featured ramped-up versions of pre-pandemic crowd-pleasers like the Box Packaging Olympics product competition and the Corrugated Classic Golf Tournament, held at Orlando’s newly revamped Shingle Creek Golf Club. King came up with creative ways to ensure attendees’ safety and respect their comfort levels around pandemic-era networking — and helped them make the most of their time in Orlando.
VO: SuperCorrExpo 2021 has taken place in Orlando for six years. What do you love about the city that keeps you coming back?
HK: The hospitality from the people of Orlando is really what makes the city so great. From the transportation companies to the hotel employees and the temporary workers we hire, our group was met with friendly faces and positive attitudes.
VO: Were there any stand-out experiences at this year’s event?
HK: We hosted our evening event at Universal Studios. Attendees had a private dinner at Margaritaville and exclusive access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was a whole new way to experience the park, and everyone loved it! The fun and excitement really brought out everyone’s inner kid, with people running from ride to ride without having to wait in line. We had the most positive feedback on this event that we have ever received.
VO: How did Visit Orlando support you in planning and executing this event?
HK: Visit Orlando was essential in making this event a success. Their vendor suggestions yielded some amazing contacts in Orlando who gave us top-of-the-line service. They also made sure we were aware of all COVID protocol changes in the city and even provided a list of nearby places for our attendees to receive COVID tests if needed.
VO: How do you define innovation, and how did you infuse it into this year’s SuperCorr Expo?
HK: To me, innovation is how we adapt to changes in our environment and improve current processes. The events and hospitality industries took a real hit in 2020, but we have bounced back with the help of innovation and information.
We had to get creative to make sure we made our events safe while also keeping them fun and interactive. We’ve pivoted to using outdoor event spaces for social events and using only GBAC-certified facilities and hotels. We also implemented color-coded wristbands for our attendees to indicate their comfort level for networking. Green meant “high fives and handshakes welcome.” Yellow meant that they were still being cautious with their interactions, and red meant “no contact, six-foot social distancing preferred.”They were similar to Livestrong bracelets, so they were reusable each day and people could keep them after the conference.
Clear and concise communication was also key in organizing this event, not just with attendees, but with our vendors, sponsors, and stakeholders. We had a single page on our website with a bulleted list of all the information and resources members needed to make an informed decision about attending.
VO: How did these strategies improve the experience for SuperCorr Expo attendees?
HK: I think they gave our attendees some peace of mind. We had options in place for all comfort levels. Seating was spread out so you could choose how close you wanted to be to other people. For those who really wanted to spread out, we set up highboy tables in the back of the session rooms, where there was plenty of room for social distancing.
VO: What advice would you give to peers about managing—and exceeding—consumer expectations?
We have always strived to make each event a unique and enjoyable experience, but it’s more important now than ever. With all the barriers in place to attend events in today’s climate, we as organizers need to get creative in the ways we bring value to them. Surveying your group to understand their needs will help you create more relevant events.