New York State School Board Association Case Study

Heidi Longton discusses the pandemic's effect on meetings, and how a strong relationship between NYSSBA and Cheshire surmounted challenges.

NYSSBA Case Study

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From October 27 to 29, 2022 the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) hosted their annual convention & education expo at the OnCenter in Syracuse, NY for the first live convention they’ve been able to hold, due to COVID, since 2019 in Rochester. NYSSBA, which serves more than 674 local school boards and boards of cooperative educational services (BOCES), comprises the largest number of elected officials in New York State.

The event included a keynote session featuring Academy Award-winning actress and child advocate Marlee Matlin, Plenary Sessions with such industry leaders as Dr. Betty A. Rosa, NYS Commissioner of Education, and Dr. James Baldwin, Senior Deputy Commissioner for Education Policy, concurrent sessions and an expo. Cheshire provided both service and equipment for this event, as well as digital signage directing guests to meeting rooms and around the expo floor. NYSSBA also elected to have an LED wall in the lobby to feature sponsors, the agenda and the organization’s Twitter feed.

Cheshire had the honor of collaborating with Heidi Longton, CMP Fellow, CMM, DES, who is Director of Convention & Events at NYSSBA. When asked about the biggest challenges they faced during the Convention, she pointed to a ripple effect correlated to the pandemic. “The industry has changed. So many jobs were lost during the pandemic and so many people have left the industry and aren’t coming back, so everyone is understaffed. It’s hard to ensure that the quality of your event won’t be compromised by these shortages. It’s a dramatic change.”

She went on to share that, compounding the already-challenging staffing shortages, Heidi’s convention manager on whom she relies and leads the operations, and who is so adept she can “finish my sentences before I say them” was out due to medical issues.

And as if that weren’t enough, President Biden came to town, meaning that some of the union labor that had been hired chose to work on the President’s event at the last minute, rather than on NYSSBA’s convention.

“Finally, because of the President’s visit, the airspace around Syracuse was closed, so our speakers had to fly into Rochester, and we had to go pick them up there.”

In spite of these many challenges, the event went off seamlessly, from the perspective of their attendees, that included 156 exhibits and 2000 attendees, composed of School Board Members, School Superintendents, corporate partners, and many other education leaders from across the state.

Heidi realized early on that this show wouldn’t look like the Convention in 2019, so part of the success of its outcome would depend on the success of the show itself, but also in managing the expectations of her leadership, Board and members.

She was quick to say that she was happy to have partnered with Cheshire on the show.

“Justin (Cheshire) calls it ‘going to war,’ but I call it going to battle. When I go into a show, I must have the best interests of my association and its members at heart. I’m a die hard on site, and my bar’s pretty high.

“I felt as if Cheshire and we were in partnership every step of the way. Their team and ours blended so well together, and they came with ideas. They didn’t wait for us to come up with them. Most suppliers just give you what you ask for, and sometimes, you don’t know what to ask for. Whenever we were talking through different aspects of the show, they had renderings, sent photos, or shared links. Justin always had the person on the phone with us who could best answer the question or address the situation we were trying to resolve.

“I’m always looking for the biggest bang for the buck, and when I proposed an idea, they’d come back to me with three concepts of that idea, each at a different budget level,” stated Heidi, making her feel she had a choice in selecting the one that best met the association’s event vision and budget. She went on to state that the relationship was based on true partnership and business development for both parties, not just on making a sale.

For many years leading up to COVID, Justin Cheshire had been “behind the scenes” doing business development and other management responsibilities. But for this show, Justin added his expertise and muscle to the hands on deck.

“It’s been quite a few years since I’ve taken a role on the show floor, but I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to work with Heidi and her team. They are one incredible group of professionals. In spite of all the challenges, we crushed it!” exclaimed Justin. 2 NYSSBA Case Study, Continued

In discussing her experience with the Cheshire team, Heidi share, “If Cheshire says they can deliver on something, they will do it. They did work on our behalf even before we signed on.”

“Yes, capability is important. But what’s also important for a planner is to have someone who will listen and be in constant communication. Cheshire not only has the experience and ideas, they’re at the top of their game.”

Technology Highlights from the NYSSBA Convention

Sound System to accommodate:

  • panel discussion 
  • musical artist (Frank Waln) 
  • keynote presentation (Marlee Matlin)

Video System to accommodate: 

  • image magnification with PTZ camera system
  • graphics
  • in-prompt-to hybrid town hall meeting with the commissioner

Staging/Scenic Stage Backdrop:

  • White Synth Velour Drape with LED Strip Lighting Fixtures and Ovation Led lekos to create the ambience needed to differentiate presentations topic and graphics.
  • (5) 1 x 5 LED Towers to display the theme of “Together Again” dynamic graphics NYSSBA graphic guru Lisa Cooper!

Breakout Rooms and Expo Floor:

  • Vertical Digital Signage monitors throughout the conference over 2 venues
  • 7 x 4 LED SPONSOR WALL in lobby displaying social media, daily schedules, and sponsors. 
  • Expo floor with vendors, digital student art displays, classrooms and artists entertaining attendees via a live listening wall.
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