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CGX emerge Conference : New Standard for Events

August 2011 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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Consolidated Graphics (CGX) is setting the bar so high—and annoying fellow printers in the process—it's making it hard for others to host any kind of educational event for clients. Not that the Houston-based giant needs the approval of industry colleagues when it plans its annual emerge conference. It's just that the run-of-the-mill customer open house pales in comparison.

On the other hand, if CGX continues to conduct its can-you-top-this educational and fraternal expo (the most recent of which was held May 17-20 in Dallas), it may run out of ideas. Just not anytime soon.

This year's extravaganza boasted nearly 1,000 attendees—CGX finally had to cap its guest list, notes Aaron Grohs, executive vice president of sales and marketing. There was no curtailing of the excitement sparked by CGX's roster of keynote speakers, educational seminars and supplier partners, not to mention a party at Cowboys Stadium (how 'bout them sheetfed printers!) and a printing awards competition aimed at clients.

CGX Chairman and CEO Joe Davis spared no expense in adding class to the event while raising the company's brand awareness. One of the most enduring images is the waterfall at the Dallas Hyatt Regency wrapped in event graphics, a massive nine-hour undertaking that scored points with all attendees.

Grohs' boundless enthusiasm for the latest CGX event is further heightened by the expressions of gratitude he has received from attendees. "Two customers walked up to me at the event, took me by the hands and said they wanted to congratulate me and CGX on an unbelievable experience," Grohs enthuses. "They said that they go to a lot of industry events. But, when they're at emerge, they feel like part of the CGX family."

That clients came away feeling like they belonged is a happy offshoot of the event, and speaks to the warmth and friendliness generated by the printer and its vendors. That emerge didn't come off feeling like an infomercial for CGX was no accident; building relationships beyond the customer/vendor level has been an active ingredient in CGX's 21st century marketing campaign.

The event featured 70 industry experts representing 45 suppliers, from HP to Kodak and Getty Images. According to Grohs, the suppliers showcased a wide cross-section of technologies beyond just the paper and equipment arenas. Again, the thrust of the event was to provide education as opposed to making it a CGX selling expo.

Among the featured speakers was Eileen Gittins, founder and CEO of self-publishing platform Blurb. Her high-energy keynote illustrated the many tools that have reshaped the publishing business, including mobile apps, and really showcased Gittins' passion for the business, according to Grohs.

Don Pettit, chairman and CEO of cosmetics newcomer Mally Beauty, gave a rousing talk on the ins and outs of building a brand and establishing brand awareness. The top exec of the online/QVC cosmetics giant discussed some of the tools used to put his company on the map in a highly competitive field.

With almost perfect timing to coincide with the release of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," John Sabel, executive vice president, motion picture creative print marketing for Walt Disney Studios, shared the experience of marketing and branding surrounding a major motion picture launch. Sabel was responsible for the creative vision via billboards and signage leading up to the film's May 20 release.

Jamey Rootes, president of the National Football League's Houston Texans, also got the crowd fired up as he detailed what it takes to develop a pro football brand. Rootes, ironically, also helped segue into the party at Cowboys Stadium, which included a live band and 16 breath-taking cheerleaders.

Back by customer requests from the previous year, CGX rolled out its Premiere Series of panel discussions—three events covering marketing, technology and digital. It also took the opportunity to announce the June 1 opening of a new "cloud computing" data center. The center, a partnership effort with HP, gives CGX the ability to house all of its information, systems and technology, and make it scalable through the cloud environment.

CGX also unveiled its new Web-to-print application, called Streamline, which is part of the company's Worksmart Suite technology-based marketing offering. "We demoed it in the business expo area and received a lot of positive feedback. Our customers are really excited about it," Grohs notes. "Streamline is fast, sleek, easy to build and there's a lot of great functionality built into it. It integrates cross-media and personalization into it. It's taking all the things our customers wanted and built into an integrated platform."

Client Salute

Speaking of parlaying customer feedback into reality, CGX also hosted its inaugural Encore Awards, a competition designed to honor customers as opposed to printers. CGX enlisted its member companies to submit, on behalf of their clients, more than 500 entries across nine categories. A panel of independent judges from leading agencies across the country convened in Dallas earlier this year to judge the entries and select the top three from each of the nine categories. All 27 finalist entries were on display at emerge, where attendees could vote for the People's Encore Award for the top overall piece. Award winners were given a piece of custom-made Tiffany crystal at a gala held the first night.

"It went over really well. This was all about thanking our customers and recognizing the work that they're doing," notes Grohs, who added that the awards will become an annual part of emerge.

Last, but certainly not least, Grohs acknowledged the associates from around the CGX chain who helped pitch in to make the event a rousing success. Each day, the 20 or so associates wore a different (brightly) colored shirt to make them more recognizable. The associates, who participate in the company's leadership development program, brought energy, fun and a willingness to help emerge attendees wherever possible.

"I can't say enough about what a wonderful job they did," he adds.

Emerge 2012 is set to take place in New Orleans on April 17-20. PI





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