Interview with Mark Johnson, Chairman and CEO of Star Groupe, Who Recently Acquired Exhibitor Media Group

Mark Johnson, signing off on the EXHIBITOR acquisition. “I am ready to move from success to significance.”

At BIG INK, we feel our best form of promotion is sharing and showcasing the amazing work of our clients (with their permission, of course). We have worked with Star Groupe on many projects over many years. But we were really intrigued when we saw the press release announcing that Chairman and CEO of Star Groupe, Mark Johnson, had acquired the Exhibitor Media Group, who is the leader in trade show and corporate event marketing education, producer of EXHIBITOR magazine and also EXHIBITORLIVE conferences.

We spent some time sitting with Mark and asking him about his visionary leap into this new industry. His passion for the trade and event industry, the education of it, the globalizing of it and bringing people and organizations together for “The Great Re-engagement” is both hopeful and inspiring.

Q: How did the Covid 19 pandemic play into the purchase of Exhibitor Media Group?

MJ: As everyone knows, the pandemic had a huge impact to our industry. I heard Lee Knight, founder of Exhibitor Media Group, was ready to leave the business. He was ready to close operations and be done. I decided to step in. Exhibitor Media Group is a globally recognized brand. It’s the best in the industry, all three of its components. If it went away, it would be a huge loss. This is an industry play for me, not a business opportunity. I am ready to move from success to significance. I want to concentrate my work on significantly helping the entire industry.

Q: In the short time you’ve been involved, have there been any surprises or eye-openers?

MJ: The publishing part is a whole new industry for me. I feel my work with exhibit and event organizations has helped prepare me for this. I love learning new things. Being a life long learner is a personal and business goal of mine. It’s been amazing getting to know the people who work in the organization. These guys are rock stars. Lee has done a great job in operations and with the vision. There’s a lot of passion in the staff. It shows in the level of content in the magazine and the quality of the education they provide. There is a large global awareness of the brand. Our senior writer, Charles Pappas, was recently one of the top attractions at a conference in Dubai. We are going to expand the education programs to include international education and talent. There’s a lot of untapped opportunity.

Q: EXHIBITORLIVE was in June. What did you hear from people there?

MJ: We were planning on not having the next Exhibitor Live until later in 2023. At the June Exhibitor Live, we heard exhibitors say “we can’t wait a whole year without seeing our customers.” Everyone is happy and excited to be back face to face. So we are moving the next Exhibitor Live to Louisville in April 2023. Moving forward, we will continue to rotate Exhibitor Live locations, to showcase different convention centers and cities to attendees. Dallas is building a new, $2B convention center. Once that is done, we will go there so our attendees can see and experience the new center.

Q: What part(s) of joining Exhibitor gets you excited?

MJ: Again, I love learning new things. I think we’re in the most exciting time for the industry. It has, and is shifting from COVID. Yet, we’re social beings, trade shows are back. People want to get together.  I and Exhibitor Group are excited to see what’s coming next. We want to highlight the entire trade show and event ecosystem. We want to bring people and organizations together, with advising committees and think groups, to find the big opportunities and create solutions, so we’re all successful. I’ve reached out to different industry organizations and they’re all excited about being together and working together. I see education content digitizing, modernizing and globalizing. It really is an exciting time to take stock and do some re-inventing. Again, I think now is the perfect time for “The Great Re-engagement,” with our customers and with all of us who work in the industry.