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Craig Dooley, CIS, will be the new president at SDI Meetings and Incentives

Two Minutes with Craig Dooley

Leadership at SmithBucklin’s SDI Meetings and Incentives will change hands in January.

SDI Meetings and Incentives, a subsidiary of SmithBucklin, has announced that Craig Dooley, CIS, will succeed Scott Dillion as company president, effective January 1. Dooley will handle the strategic and day-to-day management of the business, while Dillion will continue in his responsibilities as SDI’s founder. Dooley joined SDI in January 2019 with experience in leadership roles at exposition and event firms and, most recently, running his own performance improvement consultancy. We caught up with Dooley as he gets ready to take the reins of the 27-year-old, Chicago-based company.

MeetingsNet: You’ve spent some of your career in the large exposition world. What do you think corporate meeting and incentive planners can learn from a well-run expo?
Dooley: Most of the same rules apply for large expos as they do for incentives and meetings, starting with “details matter” and ending with “people matter.” In every case, we’re building experiences to have an impact well beyond the event dates. With large expos, we’re building skyscrapers. With incentives and meetings, we’re building custom homes. Both require the same basic materials and the craftsmanship to build something enduring and powerful. They may differ in scale, location, and production values, but the importance of ROI and impact are the same. 

MeetingsNet: Where do you expect to see innovation in the incentive travel space in the years ahead?
Dooley: I’m excited by the more relevant, agile, and immersive attendee experiences that are made possible with tech and data. Framed by the right destination and strong partners, these experiences are tied to personal preferences and provide more seamless handling of logistics and event management. Essentially, innovation is making it easier for everyone to do what they need and want to do. Tied to that, the more data-driven experience will bring better measurements of value and return.

MeetingsNet: What’s the most memorable conference you’ve attended from the perspective of conference design?
Dooley: C2 in Montreal is mind-bending and very disorienting in many aspects of its design and flow, demonstrating how a conference can break out of the traditional mold and bring attendees into the content as an experience. For me, it was an exercise in getting comfortable with the discomfort and taking in the creativity. Held in a film production warehouse, C2 features overhead trapeze artists, public swings, sensory deprivation, introspective experiences, and self-directed workshops using a four-square of mood-changing lights on the floor. Quality of the content still matters just as much, though, because the distraction of the bright lights fades quickly.

MeetingsNet: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Dooley: People might be surprised to learn that I have celiac disease and have been gluten-free for nearly 20 years, which has made me hyper-attuned to, and an advocate for, special diets and accommodations of all kinds at our events. It can be particularly challenging with so much travel and meals on the go, but I’m continuously amazed by and look forward to the creativity and effort I increasingly find by some amazing chefs and catering groups at the properties where we host our programs. This is a great example of the importance of people and details…and it doesn’t get much more personal

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