In an interview with PrintWeek, drupa Director Sabine Geldermann, explains, "Why the drupa show must go on." Though all her arguments are sound, there must have been better days for drupa and Messecenter Düsseldorf. Just a few weeks ago, both Xerox and Bobst announced their exit from drupa - and though the reasons for this are very different - the impact for drupa is the same - fewer exhibitors and most likely fewer visitors.

In the past weeks, numerous rumors about exhibitors canceling their participation or reducing their exhibition space today led to the confirmation of one of the more consistent rumors - Heidelberg pulling the plug.

The decision to withdraw from an event like drupa must be one of the harder ones, and how can this be spun into a positive story? Bobst chose to spin the story around environmental concerns. Heidelberg is in deep financial crisis, but in the announcement, the story was spun around shorter innovation cycles, yet another virtual event, and the decision to use the Print Media Centres around the globe to meet customers face-to-face. Xerox - well, I don't even remember seeing any reasons for their cancellations - but the COVID-19 is the driver for all the changes.

When Sabine Geldermann speaks about the necessity of drupa - the question is whether this is a wish or a fact?

Heidelberg CEO Rainer Hundsdörfer told PrintWeek, "We all love drupa… it used to be a festival, but this is not going to happen next year with distance and masks." - This statement is answering the question that many are asking themselves. Can drupa and all the other events take place in 2021? If the COVID-19 isn't under control, the answer is, of course, no. Is it possible to gather 200-300.000 people for super events like drupa where one super-spreader can influence thousands of people at all possible?

So - we have at least a couple of speculations to consider. 1) CAN drupa take place? 2) Does it make sense to have a drupa at all? 3) what are vendors going to exhibit? 4) If vendors can achieve more for the price of one, can the investment then be justified? 5) what are the alternatives?

1) drupa can take place if the authorities allow it. drupa can take place if they get support from the exhibitors. drupa can take place if visitors are willing to take the risk to go to a super-event. drupa can take place if it makes sense for drupa to run the show. drupa needs to consider eventual repayments, liabilities to visitors, and exhibitors, their brand-value, and of course, their entire existence, if they proceed.

Will exhibitors and visitors have a different opinion about drupa if there is an efficient vaccine? Will it at all be possible to fly thousands of people to Düsseldorf in April? So many questions and huge investments involved for vendors, exhibitors, media, and more need to be answered soon. drupa won't survive yet another round of investments in pre-drupa activities with a potential cancelation or further postponement.

drupa can be forced to cancel the 2021 event if more major exhibitors cancel or reduce booth space too much.

2) Whether an event like drupa at all makes sense is evaluated upon several parameters. You can count the number of qualified leads you get from a tradeshow. But what is a qualified lead from a tradeshow? How many unique leads do you get - and the cost of each is a concern more, and more exhibitors airs publicly. How many devices or solutions are sold during a show? Or what about the maybe less measurable parameters such as brand value, marketing, and well - a "blink" effect does your presence give you? Does size matter? Well, I think it also depends a bit on what you are talking about. But when Heidelberg and HP compete over the largest drupa presence, I believe it most likely is a question about market importance.

HP won that price at the last drupa - and by the way, for us who went to the 2016 edition (maybe the last one ever), Heidelberg had a huge, lovely booth - very polished.

HP delivered the largest 'work-shop' where you could meet partners, all the different technologies, and well - maybe a bit more what all this is about? Discussing whether drupa makes sense is an impossible question to answer, and it depends on the measures. I love tradeshows and tradeshows is an indispensable part of our story, but I also believe that tradeshows need to reinvent themselves. I once wrote to Thayer Long from APTech, who used to organize the GraphExpo/Print shows in Chicago, that the shows need to reinvent themselves. You can't have tradeshows where the formula is more or less the same as thirty years ago. Better food, better floorplans, better wifi, more value, and all the things that are yet undefined. The COVID-19 have forced virtual events to become replacements - and though I don't really believe these are that good, a combination of the real thing with virtual ones could be a cocktail that could work?

drupa hasn't taken any initiative to deliver a virtual experience. For some, this may be strange, but then again. drupa isn't really a part of the printing industry. It's grown from being an exhibition center with a need to fill endless halls with exhibitors willing to pay a premium price per square meter. I acknowledge that drupa has become a part of the industry, but if they started doing virtual events, how should they justify thousands of square meters in Düsseldorf?

However, the reason for exhibitions is not a question about having a show, but whether the ROI is relatively certain. Investing in drupa 2021 isn't a sure bet, which leads us to the next thing.

3) drupa has, for centuries, been the hot spot presenting new equipment. The industry has developed products and planned product launches based on these cycles. By postponing drupa 2020, many vendors suddenly realized how fragile it is to plan around something that, because of a virus, can change everything with the snap of a finger! No vendor can postpone product launches without consequences. Which of the competitors will lift the lid and show the new product that will take away focus and deliver market shares? No-one. Every vendor had to figure out how to present the products intended for drupa 2020 and make sure that everybody, despite the COVID-19, would have a chance to see, learn, and hopefully invest.

When event organizers like drupa - and all the others - "just" postpone events and hope that this can be done without consequences, they have forgotten why they exist. Events are a result of the vendors and not the other way around. With no equipment to present, why should they spend millions of Euros? With no new equipment to show, why should printers spend time and money going to an invent? If the organizers want to convince visitors to come, they will need to deliver value that exceeds the cost of going. None of the organizers have suggested a slight change in their programs, justifying the cost of going in the post-COVID-19 time. All of the events have just moved the date for their show, but no-one has made any major changes to why you should go. The more I think of this, the more I am in shock.

So, for now, there is absolutely no reason to go. If drupa wants you to go, they have to reinvent the why. Today headlines have been about the cancelation of Heidelbergs drupa presence. drupa sent out emails about the security measures of the drupa - My God. Their social media presence was a reassuring of the importance of drupa by an almost unimportant Chinese exhibitor?

drupa needs to reinvent themselves, and they have to do it fast.

4) When even Hundsdörfer claim that they can produce 50 events for the price of one drupa, the return on investment on these events can be way smaller, way more agile, and maybe way more aligned with what customers want? One of the complaints about drupa is the lack of agility. If you want a booth in a hall, next to another exhibitor, we've been told that this is almost impossible. So one thing is that you can do more for the same money, but if the quality is higher, then drupa and other exhibitors can't deliver enough value to justify the investment. Hundsdörfer claims that their drupa presence is in the range of ten million euros. It's a lot of money by all measures, and when Heidelberg has tons of problems, they MAY choose to use the same amount of money on their events, but by canceling drupa, they inevitably get the freedom to make those choices themselves.

COVID-19 is, of course, really not good - however, the pandemic has forced all of us to re-think. How do we spend money? How do we achieve the results we need?

5) So the final question in this round is, are there any alternatives? Some of the vendors we have spoken to are achieving their sales-budgets for 2020. Many printing companies aren't, so there isn't one answer to a complex question like this. However, for now, we believe there aren't any alternatives to the exhibitions.

We have both attended and organized virtual events - and all have been good and bad—content-wise good. The execution was very bad. Not because of the organizers, but simply because we rely on the internet considerably worse than I would imagine. Bad image quality. Bad Sound. And none of the software solutions we have seen/used have delivered a quality that is by any measure comparable to the live experience. At the same time - social contact isn't the same. We accept these limitations because we want to. We understand that this is a temporary situation and, fortunately, something that we can use as an addendum to all the conventional means.

So if the event organizers start reinventing themselves and start thinking of visitors first - then exhibitors - and finally themselves - there is a chance that nothing can replace the physical events for now. Does this mean that the drupa, FESPA, the Brand Print, LabelExpo, PRINTING United, etc. are safe bets? NO.

I believe that most vendors will consider spending money on their own events. They can control the quality, space, the time, the total experience -and to be honest - all the "private" events we have attended during the past 2-3 years are by all measures WAY better than any of the conventional ones.

We have covered:
Hunkeler Innovationdays, Argos Solutiondays, CHILI SPICYtalks, ThinkSmartFactory. The content, the size, the entire package was simply not to compare.

Times are changing. Printers are constantly challenged with change, so are vendors and media. Now organizers have to realize that we only need them if they deliver value for money.

Will the postponed events eventually take place? What are your thoughts?