Taking the Industry's Pulse on Merits of Annual Printing Trade Show
"Do We Need Graph Expo Every Year?" That was the provocative question addressed in an Andy Tribute commentary, and official response from GASC, appearing on WTT earlier this week. It's a timely topic, especially given the current state of the U.S. economy and the printing industry. In conversations with several industry vendors that annually exhibit at Graph Expo and, once every four years, at PRINT, they are openly questioning how to get the most payback from their shrinking marketing and sales budgets. Many have asked me to express my personal opinion on this admittedly touchy subject.
As Ralph Nappi, president of the Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC), which organizes the trade exhibition, indicated in his response to the commentary, “The heart of the issue...is the ROI that exhibitors and attendees realize from these shows.” I couldn't agree more.
Unfortunately, though, ROI justification is very different for an exhibitor that signs up for a 10,000- or 20,000-square-foot booth versus a company that pays for 200 square feet. Larger exhibitors typically have the added costs of bringing equipment and supporting staff to the show. The investment for a small stand is minor in comparison, but that exhibitor still reaps the benefits of the crowds generated by the “anchor” exhibitors. Larger exhibitors have also invested heavily in demo centers, road shows and even their own targeted, mini-trade shows as ways to interact more intimately with customers and prospects. So, the opinion of whether the show should be held every year may even vary from one supplier to another.
Either way, Ralph Nappi finds himself in a very tough spot. As President of GASC, he also serves as President of NPES, the association that represents industry manufacturers. If Nappi puts on his NPES hat, he may feel compelled to do something even more drastic than the $3 million stimulus package that was created to keep several PRINT 09 vendors from pulling out of the show completely, or cutting back on their square footage commitments, and/or from electing to scale back or not bring any equipment to the show.
Nappi well knows that most, if not all, of his NPES member companies are being crushed by this recession. Just look at the financial results of the major suppliers to our industry and that tells the whole story. They're struggling largely because printers, finishers and mailers have severely curtailed their new capital equipment expenditures and because credit markets for financing remain tight.