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2012 Preview : A Trade Show Redefined

September 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor

There are many observers within the printing industry realm that believe the term marketing services provider has gotten out of hand. Marketing is such a macro concept and, at the granular level, purveyors of such services are offering such diverse and changing capabilities that it's nearly impossible to pin down. No one knows exactly what it means and no one is bothering to define the standards.

Fortunately, print is still a significant aspect of an integrated marketing package. And that's where Graph Expo can provide its greatest support in the quest to define who you are, as a printer, if this whole "marketing" thing leaves you confused and frustrated. Want to talk marketing? Let's worry about marketing the printer's capabilities first.

The Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC) has compiled an impressive array of learning opportunities offered in a variety of formats. In addition to the show floor, packed with more than 450 vendors, a host of new learning opportunities will include more than 50 seminars in 31 educational categories; new sessions for a 12th industry segment (photo imagers); an in-plant seminar track; 48 co-located conferences, user group meetings and events; the new Converting and Package Printing (CPP) Zone; and the Marketing Pavilion (yes, marketing). And that's only scratching the surface of all the events that will be happening when the masses converge on McCormick Place in Chicago from Oct. 7-10.

However, as the face of the industry continues to morph, printers need to know how they can best serve the evolving needs of their clients, and the first step is becoming thoroughly immersed in the latest tools available. With knowledge comes confidence, which makes the printer a more effective shopper. After all, you can't just pop in a how-to DVD that was taped to the side of your new wide-format printer and become a signage producing stalwart.

"Companies can't sit back—not attend events like Graph Expo—and say that they'll invest when the economy gets better," notes Ralph Nappi, president of GASC, which produces the Graph Expo and PRINT shows. "Whether they're commercial printers, photo imagers or transactional printers, they all realize this is the new reality, the new normal. And that's why, despite the fact that the industry is still struggling, we were up 12 percent on company attendance and 7 percent in individual attendees last year. And, I believe we'll see increases again this year."

GASC made substantial changes to its Must See 'ems product/technology awards, a fixture of the Executive Outlook conference held the day prior to Graph Expo's opening. The overview of these not-to-be-missed technologies will be announced in a pre-show Webinar. At the conclusion of Executive Outlook, the Best in Category awards will be chosen among the Must See 'ems selections. Also new is the Legacy award, which will be presented to a 10-year-old technology (a former Must See 'ems) that has had the greatest impact on the industry. Back for a third year is the Positively Print award given to the entity that effectively promotes the power of print message through its organization's campaign.

Must See 'ems is not leaving Executive Outlook; it was felt that by getting word of the lauded technologies out to attendees earlier, they could better prepare their agendas. "In the past, I don't think we leveraged the value and potential of the Must See 'ems enough," Nappi relates. "By revealing the winners in advance, we believe it will not only spark more interest in the show, but also help attendees make the most of their time onsite by planning their booth visits in advance."

The co-located growth trend continues this year; the last three shows will have brought in 22, 34 and 48, respectively. CPP Expo will be the first co-located show at PRINT 13 next year, occupying the front of the North Hall. The influx of users and dealer groups, award ceremonies, association meetings, workshops and the like only validates Graph Expo as the "place to be," according to Nappi.

He's not alone in that assessment. Bill Lamparter, president of PrintCom Consulting Group, believes the show is playing to its strengths. "GASC is rolling with the times and doing an intelligent thing in making Graph Expo a meeting and learning type event," he says. "If you take a close look at the seminar programs, you'll see they've shifted in emphasis. For a printer sitting in the weeds who says 'I'm not going because I'm not going to buy any equipment,' that's the wrong mindset. This is your chance to get information in certain topic areas where you need education."

Jim Hamilton, production group director for InfoTrends, feels there will be ample story lines to follow in Chicago from an exhibitor standpoint. Some dramas began to play themselves out before Germany and may impact what is seen next month: Eastman Kodak selling some of its intellectual property; Heidelberg in the post-Bernhard Schreier era; Benny Landa and the Nanographic printing process; and the fact that some technologies displayed in Germany won't be available for at least another year.

More specifically, Hamilton expects to see some exciting developments on the color inkjet end, B2-format digital and short-run packaging. But with Landa and other technologies still in process, he wonders what will satiate printers' desires for the near term.

"This begs the question: What currently available digital print, workflow and finishing options can my shop implement today to help automate processes, drive innovative applications and create new business opportunities?" Hamilton asks.

He offers one caveat: B2-format digital products can't get by on being offset clones. "To succeed, this next generation of products needs to incorporate these features: automatic duplex, the ability to draw from multiple paper sources and connectivity to in-line finishing," he says. "I don't believe that B2-format digital devices will succeed if they have conventional offset feed and delivery units."

On the finishing side, it seems that digital applications will be high on the list for many Graph Expo attendees. Just ask Trish Witkowski, the chief folding fanatic at whose popular video blog, the 60-second Super-cool Fold of the Week, appears in Printing Impressions' e-newsletter, Today on PIWorld. She will be focused on in-line finishing solutions for direct mail.

"(I'm excited about) short-run digital; long-run, automated web solutions—anything that is making the process of designing and producing mail faster, more efficient, more creative and highly targeted," she says. "Technology solutions that enhance print's relevance and effectiveness as a marketing tool are also on my radar, but I'll really be looking for new things that I haven't seen before, or advancements in existing technologies. True to character, I'll be snooping for cool folded print samples, too."

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