I’ll admit I was worried on the first day of the TexSom 2017 conference last week. It had been four years since I last attended the annual wine professionals’ pilgrimage to Dallas (also known in the industry as Somm Summer Camp), and I immediately noticed how much everything had changed.
TexSom had always been a thoughtfully curated opportunity for education and business. It was large enough to draw an influential crowd, yet small enough that no one got lost in the shuffle. As soon as I picked up my badge on the first day, I realized there was no longer anything small about it. A few things tipped me off, including the armed Texas state police monitoring the exits and the bouncers at the door of every single seminar — no more sneaking in for those that didn’t pre-register for a class! I also noticed the formerly minute presence of sales people had grown, exponentially. Obviously, TexSom had become a “scene” and I wasn’t sure those of us exhibiting would still be able to network effectively and meet receptive buyers who would take the time to engage in meaningful conversations about our wines.
This year, the conference was attended by over 1,200 beverage professionals from more than 35 states and 8 countries. Over the course of the three-day conference, I saw that TexSom’s growth has only catapulted its effectiveness. It’s no secret that I analyze event sponsorships and trade shows with a fine-toothed comb. Here are some key takeaways that prove TexSom is managing its growth the right way.
Cater to sponsors, but not at the expense of people who are there to learn and forge relationships: The last time I attended TexSom, the sponsor poster had one page…this year, it had four. Everyone from wholesalers, importers and wineries was included and this could have easily resulted in an unbearable mishmash of crowded spaces and conflicting interests. Yet it all went down smoothly. From the location of sponsor tables, timing of breaks and seminars, to the positioning of importer tasting suites, the TexSom producers made sure sponsors felt taken care of, while the organic flow of the conference continued to be the focal point. As sponsors, we would have probably liked to dictate when and how we poured our wines, but TexSom knew that acquiescing to dozens of sponsor whims simultaneously was a recipe for disaster and they did an amazing job of avoiding this pitfall.
Source a vast quantity of support, while maintaining quality: TexSom has the best volunteer corps, hands down. Volunteering at TexSom has become a rite of passage for up and coming wine professionals from across the country, and they did it with all the zeal they bring to the floor at their bar, restaurant or retail jobs. As a sponsor, we had several rotating volunteers assigned to our tables who kept track of everything. They were actual elves. I was completely free to focus on engaging with buyers and colleagues, and have extensive dialogue that led to real business opportunities, because I wasn’t worrying about finding ice and losing corkscrews. This made every difference.
Curate conference content carefully: There are plenty of food and beverage events with jam-packed schedules full of fluff, where anyone who wants to present can do so if the price is right. TexSom has maintained its integrity as few other conferences have, and continues to hand-select the seminar topics every year, while setting the highest bar for all presenters (most, if not all, are Master Sommeliers or Masters of Wine). This has kept the quality of the conference and its attendees as high as possible.
Now more than ever, TexSom is one of the wine industry’s most impactful annual events. I’ll definitely be going back, ‘cuz everything is truly bigger in Texas!
Full Disclosure: This piece is based on my personal experience as a 2017 sponsor in representation of a client, the D.O.s of Ribera del Duero and Rueda.