Live Events on the Horizon: An Outlook for the Printing Industry
With expertise in display and exhibit applications, Go Graphix, based in East Longmeadow, Mass., knows its way around banner stands, roll-up banners, pop-up displays, soft signage backdrops, and everything else that helps exhibitors use their booth graphics to support their marketing objectives. As one of the businesses providing an essential component of trade show success, is Go Graphix President Jim White feeling optimism for the return of events in 2021?
“It’s more than just a feeling,” he explains. “Our customers are very optimistic. I had to ask myself, is it just my eternal optimism, is it that it’s spring, the sun is shining, the days are getting longer … or is it real? But we feel really good about what's coming. So, I think it's more than anecdotal. It's definitely more than a feeling. The momentum is positive, and there's a lot of pent-up demand. People want to get out. I think the end of 2021 is going to be super.”
The word, “optimism,” is slowly returning. Flipping through the pages of the printing and packaging industry trade publications throughout 2020, it would be interesting to identify how many times the word “cancelled” appeared. By the end of the year, it was overly familiar, but no less disheartening, with descriptions of events and conferences vanishing from printing industry calendars. However, with vaccination rates soaring, it seems optimism is slowly edging it out as a characterization of upcoming industry events.
As of April 13, 2021, around 192 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the United States (Statista), and President Biden announced that all U.S. adults will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19. Speaking on April 13, he assured the U.S. that there are enough vaccine doses for “every single solitary American,” and with a significant number of citizens across the country receiving the vaccines daily, a spike in optimism is understandable.
The positive sentiment is echoed in both research and opinion in the events industry. Event agency Freeman’s recent report shows that the majority of attendees and exhibitors in the U.S. plan to return to face-to-face events by the fall of 2021. Seventy-eight percent of attendees, plan to be back at events in Q3, increasing to 94% in winter, and event organizers are even more bullish about trade show recovery, with 80% returning this fall, increasing to 95% by winter. These figures are a clear indicator of the desire and need for bringing people back together in a live environment.
In a press release, Bob Priest-Heck, CEO of Freeman, comments on the findings, “This research shows a light at the end of the tunnel with confidence in returning to in-person events up from an all-time low last spring. When events return, commerce returns — by not only providing a platform for small business and larger corporations, but also benefiting the travel, hospitality, and tourism industries as well."
The research also finds that vaccination success is playing a key role in boosting confidence in returning to events, with 86% of those surveyed more willing to do so once vaccinated. To put that into perspective, the overall Confidence Index in returning to in-person events is now at 75%, up from the all-time low last spring, which was in the 40s.
On the association side, Chris Vest, VP, corporate communications and public relations, at the American Society of Association Executives, also describes how much the COVID-19 pandemic has driven home the importance of in-person events.
“This past year has really highlighted how much we value and crave human interaction, and how difficult it is on all of us when that is missing,” he says. “We can't wait to meet again, face-to-face, ensuring it’s safe and makes sense to do so.”
Vest agrees that Q3 and Q4 of 2021 are a safe bet for events returning.
“A lot of organizations we’ve spoken to are looking at the last half of the year as an opportunity to start ramping up again in terms of in-person meetings and events,” he says. “What we're doing right now is also talking to a lot of destinations and learning what sort of challenges convention centers and convention bureaus are facing right now too — it really has to be a very collaborative process at the moment.”
Shepard, the event services provider for PRINTING United Expo, is certainly keeping a close eye on what’s required safety-wise. Kevin Bird, executive VP of sales at Shepard, also notes that optimism is on the rise.
“There is tremendous excitement — whether it's attendees, or exhibitors, or show organizers,” he explains. “Over the first quarter of 2021, Shepard has done probably 30 events. That's not a lot! Events have been more local and regional by nature. In Q2, we're probably going to do 45 to 50 events. So, it's building in numbers, but I would say the second quarter events we're going to do are much, much larger. From our perspective, it certainly looks like Q3 and Q4 is where the real rebound starts.
“The vaccine rollout has people more excited and more secure in their plans,” he continues. “The fact that they saw other events taking place helps. The handful of events we've done this year, and the ones we are doing in the second quarter, gives credibility and comfort to the other show organizers that it can be done safely and successfully.”
So, the outlook for events in general is looking hopeful — but what does this mean for printing industry events specifically? For PRINTING United Expo, taking place at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), Oct. 6-8, 2021, the word from Orlando, Fla., and the convention center itself is highly encouraging; the team is leading the charge in facilitating a safe and strategic return to large corporate events.
OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester, comments, “The Center’s ability to serve our community and successfully host conventions and live events is made possible through the perseverance of our team, partnerships, and collaboration. Our fall and winter calendar is packed, and we are looking at a very strong 2022.
“As the first convention center nationwide to release our safety guidelines — which enabled us to host modified conventions and events — we are grateful for the immense support that we have received from the Orange County government, our clients, stakeholders, employees, and our community. We are proud to lead the region’s economic recovery.”
Start Preparing Now for Key Industry Events
The PRINTING United Expo outlook is good news for Jim White of Go Graphix. “I'm an old trade show warrior,” he says. “I love the trade shows, I love going to PRINTING United and other events to learn. Even though we've been using a lot of Zoom or GoToMeeting and teleconferencing, we need the in-person trade shows.”
Conversations with customers and prospects are certainly backing that up for White, and he echoes the projection that the second half of the year is when event recovery hits its stride.
“The second half of the year is when we see it hitting for the population en masse,” he says. “The summer is generally slow to begin with, and I think everyone is waiting. In our line of business, we're the end of the line. We're often the ones that are thought of last, and then we become one of the most important aspects of these events!”
White also calls for exhibitors to consider bringing their event graphics partners into the mix a little sooner in the process given the current climate.
“We just know that this time it's going to come in in a rush, because everyone's going to be vaccinated with a short space of time, and things are going to all open up at the same time,” he explains. “For print and signage businesses, we're limited in our capacity, whether that's on the production side, or in our case we do the installations as well, so there’s only so much manpower. So, we're reaching out and just saying, ‘Look, we want to work with you — can we put some thought into this now and plan so that we can all be better off?'"
An additional driver of peace of mind is the abundance of safety measures undertaken by every trade show event stakeholder, from the service providers, the event spaces themselves, event organizers, show staff, and everyone in between.
In a comment provided by OCCC, it says: “Conventions, trade shows, and events at the Orange County Convention Center are implementing multiple health and safety measures to ensure attendees, exhibitors, and employees are safe. Increased hand sanitizer stations, staggered attendance, specific entries and exits, wider aisles with directional signage, floor stickers, temperature checks for all guests entering the exhibit halls, and enhanced cleaning protocols are just some of the extensive procedures put in place throughout our events.”
Events as we knew them pre-pandemic are unlikely to be exactly the format we see as we move confidently into the second half of 2021. In some places, events will be scaled back, other events may be more local, and certainly all will come with an increased focus on safety and hygiene. However, the research and the feedback of those in the events industry and print itself speaks volumes — the appetite and optimism for the return of live events is undeniable, and our communities are crying out for the opportunity to meet, network, and socialize with peers, as well as keep their fingers on the pulse of print.
Karis Copp is a U.K.-based journalist and communications specialist. With a background as a writer and editor in the print industry, she writes about print and technology news and trends, reports on industry events, and works with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppMedia.