Fashion Industry Insider: How to Become a Community-Centric Powerhouse

6 Ways to Help Learners Connect at Conferences

Courtney Harold

Visionary leader Courtney Harold is Head of Business Development for Tarsus/Informa’s OFFPRICE, an apparel sourcing brand with trade shows in Las Vegas and Orlando. During her 20-year career, Courtney has successfully launched recurring, scalable, and profitable new products, sponsorships, partnerships, and trade shows across various industries. With a strong focus on operational excellence, her superpowers are leveraging assets, forging partnerships, and implementing innovative marketing programs to fuel company growth and bring communities together. Courtney’s expertise spans multiple sectors, including advertising, events, trade shows, media, and more.


As a growth marketer, how do you view the role of community building in your organization’s marketing and growth strategy, and what steps do you take to prioritize it?

The role of trade shows across industries is at a pivotal juncture, brimming with untapped potential. Regardless of which sector you’re in, stakeholders are no longer satisfied with a trade show once or twice a year; they crave a supportive community capable of tackling industry challenges. (Something associations do/have the capability to do much better than others.) Trade shows have traditionally been hailed as the epicenters of their respective communities, yet it’s high time they shed their event-centric identity in favor of becoming community-centric powerhouses. This transformation is desirable and imperative for their sustained relevance, particularly when faced with disruptive forces like the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting market dynamics.

Trade shows have traditionally served as launchpads for new products, and this role can be greatly expanded as we nurture deeper bonds with our communities. We possess the potential to emerge as the primary platforms – note the emphasis on “primary” – for introducing innovative solutions and leveraging our understanding of our industry’s unique needs. I often reference Complex Con, even though it is a B2C event; it exemplifies the potential for product launches and collaborations, even for global giants like Nike and Adidas. Given our strong relationships with our exhibitors, there’s no reason why B2B events can’t follow suit. However, to embark on this transformative journey, trade shows must proactively engage their entire community, offering new product solutions aligned with exhibitors’ needs and asserting ownership over messaging, SEO, and other digital facets to ensure they own the voice of their community.


What strategies are you using to build and maintain a strong community for the OFFPRICE Show, and how do you plan to evolve these strategies?

Understanding your community’s composition and needs is foundational to success. Building a comprehensive strategy hinges on a deep understanding of your audience and the challenges they encounter. Traditionally, trade shows have excelled in facilitating connections between buyers and sellers during the event, but there’s undeniable potential to extend this engagement well beyond the core event itself.

Central to this evolution is the imperative to reshape audience behavior. Trade show websites and engagement traditionally contain event-related information like dates, contracts, and registration. To diversify revenue streams beyond your core event, it’s essential to transform this behavior and foster deeper, ongoing relationships that deliver continuous value and compelling reasons for engagement. This shift in behavior is not without its challenges, particularly in the absence of a robust content infrastructure that can underpin digital advertising and other income-generating initiatives. Building such a content strategy requires substantial investment and time.

In response to these dynamics, I am developing a product that facilitates livestream shopping, bridging the gap between buyers and sellers in a dynamic digital environment. By immersing ourselves in the nuances of our audience’s needs and preferences and innovating how we engage them, we can transcend the confines of the traditional trade show model and prosper in the industry’s ever-evolving landscape.


What emerging trends or technologies will shape the future of community building and engagement?

The future of community building and engagement hinges significantly on emerging trends and technologies. Nevertheless, it remains crucial to emphasize that the effectiveness of these tools is intrinsically tied to an organization’s capacity to drive behavioral change within its community. Altering community behavior is a foundational prerequisite for any technology or trend to yield substantial benefits.

While acknowledging this, several noteworthy trends and technologies are poised to usher in transformative possibilities. Among them, the strategic adoption of AI for personalized experiences, the immersive potential of virtual and augmented reality, the trust and security enhancements offered by blockchain, the invaluable insights derived from data analytics, the instant responses facilitated by video chatbots, the efficiency gains achieved through automation, and the amplified reach of social media integration are all notable avenues.

In particular, our primary focus is on harnessing the power of one-to-one video chat to increase sales. This technology holds immense promise in fostering more personalized and interactive connections with community members.


Community building can often be challenging, particularly when engaging and retaining members. What advice for event professionals looking to build a solid and sustainable community? 

Addressing your community’s recurring challenges is crucial to developing new recurring solutions. A uniform approach, such as relying solely on webinars outside your core revenue, may only suit some situations. In sectors like OFFPRICE, where seizing opportunities is central, we are actively developing new products that align with our community’s specific timing and needs, meeting them precisely when and where they need support.

Furthermore, the timeless wisdom of “keeping it simple” should not be underestimated. Clear and concise messaging is critical; there’s no need to over-engineer communication. Direct messaging is often the most effective way to convey information and connect with your audience.