Friday, September 16, 2005
Print05 - Nice to Be Back Home
I was asked numerous questions about what I thought of the show and whether I saw anything new. I can't say that I really did, but I saw lots of improvements, and was quite impressed with what I saw at XMpie. The idea that you can not just change images on the fly but also manipulate them to fit odd sizes or create transparency effects is quite amazing. Some of these manipulations would have taken hours at a stripping table with special camera skills and the craft techniques of veteran dot etchers to just output one static image. And that's for just one static image. I also learned what XMPie means, which is "cross media production in e-business;" that will be a trivia question at some time, I'm sure. It's not revolutionary technology in the sense that it has the potential of changing the industry, unlike Print80's demo of the Scitex Response, or shows decades before where offset was shown to be better than letterpress. It's a technology that enhances or accelerates, but does not change, a trend that is already in place. But it is really cool, and that's why I'm commenting on it.
That reminds me of something. I'm glad I'm not an industry writer having to cover all of these technologies and product announcements. Some say that the phrase "working press" is an oxymoron, but all of the writers I know work trade shows very hard and tirelessly. One of the reasons it's so hard is that they have to cover products whether they think they are cool or not, and they have to make it sound interesting.
Another question I'm asked is what companies will be around for the next Print or even for the next GraphExpo. I never know how to answer those because that's bound to be taken out of context or used in some unintended way. Whatever the answer is, I think we're at the stage where booth size will become less a of testosterone issue and more a reflection of real market opportunity. Some of these booth decisions were made years ago, when expectations were quite different. But expectations shouldn't matter, facts should.
Yet another question was whether or not attendance was good. I have no idea. The show was so large that the attendees were spread out, and crowded booths were more a function of having lots of equipment on the floor that inhibited quick passage or forced people to congregate in certain areas of the booth rather than others. With industry consolidation, trade show attendance is of quite a different nature now. Many plants in a group may be represented by one corporate technical or operations director. The decline in small plants means that there are many fewer of those business owners to come to fill up the same hall. Attendance may not be a good way to judge a show in the context that it was in the past. The industry is different, and trade shows reflect that, and the way they are judged reflects that as well. Many companies made it clear in casual conversation that they often viewed it as more effective to fly key client executives to national training centers or headquarters rather than to meet them at trade shows where their attention can be diverted and would minimize "shopping." But the question remains whether or not individual suppliers created their own attendance and interest in their offerings on their own rather than just hoping the show company did it for them, which is a mistake.
The most important thing that a company can do at a trade show is what it does before. There are still many executives who think trade shows "just happen" when they get there, and I'll never understand how they can spend that much money and not leverage it to its fullest with strong pre-show planning and recruiting.
Do trade shows have a future in our industry? That's another question I get. I almost don't know how to answer. Of course they do. Of course they'll be different. But an industry without a physical place where we meet, ever? I don't think so. Trade shows are here to stay. But the nature and frequency of them might be different. We need to get together; that won't change.
This was my best stay at the Hyatt McCormick Place. The staff seemed happier and more efficient than it has in recent years. I'm an early-riser and I tend to stay on Eastern time during my Chicago visits. After a half hour in the fitness center, I wandered downstairs to look for a cup of tea. I knew it was early, but hotels often have a coffee service set up in the lobby when the coffee shop isn't available. Well, there was none. The worker at the bell station called across the lobby and asked if there was anything I wanted. He ended up going into the office and making me a cup of tea. Didn't ask permission of anyone. Just did it. The Hyatt management knows that someone will end up writing about it, just like this. He could have easily said "the shop won't be open for another half hour." I called guest services later in the day and told them how much I appreciated it, and they informed me he was already up for employee of the year. Hope he gets it.
Two years ago, I was so confused by the time I went down to the fitness center and found it closed. After all, it was 5am (I looked at the time on my computer and not on my watch, and not the clock in my room, so it was all my fault). I called down to the front desk, and was informed that it was really 4am. They could have left it at that. Instead, they told me to wait, and someone came up and opened the fitness center for me.
This was a reminder that value is not something you add, as the buzzword so popular in the industry now. Value is not something you add, value is something you do. If you have to add it, then it's just a task. These weren't tasks that were added, these were acts in a culture that's flexible enough to let customers determine what "value added" is. Maybe that's the best takeaway thought from Print05 I can offer. Value added? Value intrinsic is better.