Friday, March 13th, close to midnight, I was on my way home from Munich via Brussels. Jan Majnik, Ziga Kovac, and I were on our way home from Schätzl Print Emotion, where we've been filming for two days. Brussels Airport was crowded, Europe was closing down, and just 12 hours after my scheduled arrival back in Copenhagen, the country would effectively close down, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the uncertainty and all the changes, nobody could predict the impact of the COVID-19, but one thing pretty soon materialized was virtual events from everywhere. Canceled or postponed (better legal term these days), forced vendors to be creative. It also created a new space for services like our own 'Learn with us,' as well as 'The Virtual Summit,' and dozens of vendor events from Mimaki, Durst, Koenig & Bauer, Enfocus and many more.
I believe all of the events have delivered pretty exciting content, but I am also quite certain that the audience has been only a fraction of the expected. One of the broadly recognized virtual events takes place every Tuesday and Thursday - the Crown Pub by Vpress - but though the concept is great and the subjects really good, the number of visitors is simply low.
HP, Canon, and most lately, PRINTING United also goes virtual, and the ever-recurring question is - how many will attend. I wouldn't put my hopes too high. There have been SO many virtual events that I believe many have an information-overload situation. The people interested in webinars have seen a lot, and all the ones not interested in virtual events, have apparently never been reached.
I have participated as a guest, contributor, and organizer - and I must say, for all my roles, I am not convinced. I am not convinced that virtual formats have found the right way yet. Some events are too long - like our own 'Learn With Us' that lasted for an entire week daily from 11 to 14. The Virtual Summit was even longer. The virtual events can't be compared to participating in physical events where you expect full programs. Then the Koenig & Bauer event was daily for an hour or so delivered as a German morning session and an afternoon English session. Not sure how many people watched it, and of course, the online events have one huge advantage - they can be replayed, and therefore have a way longer shelf-life than physical ones only.
When events such as PRINTING United expect to be virtual, I can't help thinking of HOW on earth they will cover 600+ exhibitors? Or what platform can eventually deliver a good experience for as many as 30.000 visitors? Who has time to watch a show that lasts for many days, many hours, and with information may be delivered as zoom, teams, or any other of the technologies we have seen the past three months?
A recurring question - also relating to the use of virtual events - is any going to invest in technology these days? Is it possible to sell anything - from media space to consumables, to equipment? The purpose of the events is for all of us to make money. Either by selling seats, products, services, or as I believe is one of the motivations from organizations like PRINTING United to keep the brand as hot as possible, maybe avoid repaying exhibitors, and of course, to keep the position, they have got after the war with APTech.
Will printers invest in products and services now? It depends on who you ask. All of us tend to judge the whole world from the perspective of where we live. If you live in the US where the pandemic is the highest, most people will say "no." But if you ask someone from New Zealand, the answer is most likely "yes." All people working in sales- and marketing have to prepare for the post-COVID-19 time regardless of which market they manage.
In the press release issued from PRINTING United, Ford Bowers cites The Wallstreet Journal, "they expect the American economy to grow robustly in 2021 — by its fastest pace in nearly 40 years." Financially strong companies also take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to position themselves. They invest in new technology (confirmed by several vendors), but they also acquire competitors to be stronger after the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the entire global economy is in recession and has a fall in GDP not seen since the great recession in the 30s, print volume in some segments will surely fall. The companies that survive this are the ones that have invested in the latest technology, market shares, and size is an important factor.
Vendors must keep pushing sales- and marketing. The question is, of course, how? If the virtual events aren't the solution - what is?
We believe that online/virtual events have a limited LIVE audience, but have a great value since it's something you can go back to again and again. So the replay-option is an important part of the virtual ecosystem. Since most can't travel the tactile experience of paper, substrates, print-samples, enhancements are more important than ever. Printed trade-media should, therefore, have a golden moment if they get support from the vendors and deliver content that has value for the printers. For the trade media that produces film, this could also be a golden opportunity, since films can be used to present the technology that vendors need to sell.
The important thing is, therefore, to have something that is less time-dependent. Something that can be replayed, and something that share, inspire and educate the audience at the same time.
In Europe, COVID-19 still affects many people, but almost every country is back to almost "normal." That is nice and great to experience, and we can see printers are getting back to normal as well. A friend from Antalis even said that commercial print in some countries is on 80% of normal now. That is by all measures encouraging to hear, and that also means that markets will start to look into investments as well. When Ford Bowers uses the Wallstreet Journal as a reference to 2021, this is good news. We all know that selling cycles start on equity investments 6-12 months before sales - so ladies and gentlemen - prepare for growth with fewer competitors - potentially strengthen your market position.