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What are the effective alternatives?

A look outside the box shows that others can do better than the Düsseldorf drupa specialists

By Andreas Weber and Morten B.Reitoft 

Our previous contributions to drupa have shown that it will never be the way it used to be. The #drupa2021 seems doomed to fail. Not only because of COVID-19, but for homemade reasons on the part of Messe Düsseldorf and the organizers of drupa. As a result, many of the most important exhibitors have dropped out and are going their own way. 

It makes you sit up and take notice when Ludwig Allgoewer, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, notices in a press release on October 27, 2020 that Heidelberg  was able to use in Wiesloch its own means and modern digital concepts to go through Heidelberg Innovation Week to achieve the success of an international trade fair appearance. Over 100,000 views of the specialist videos as well as expert talks, hundreds of one-on-one conversations in 1-to-1 video chats with print shop decision-makers from all major countries in the world. Benchmark! 

As a reminder: Without Heidelberg, there would be no drupa at all. Heidelberg was the bravest first-time exhibitor, occupying an entire hall in 1951 and thus making the trade fair fly from a standstill. From then until 2016, Heidelberg was always the largest exhibitor, which certainly ensured that the visitors flocked through extensive, personal invitation activities around the globe.

So it's not about questioning the format of a trade fair. We are concerned with how success can be achieved with the proper mechanisms of action of a global specialist event. 

A prime example of how this can be achieved was the Frankfurt Book Fair 2020. As recently as July 2020, the organizers in Frankfurt were confident that the exhibition halls would be brought to life with a reduced exhibition space. Under the given high security requirements. The organizers had determined that up to 20,000 visitors could stay on the exhibition grounds at the same time. 

This project had to be abandoned completely and a completely virtual book fair started ad hoc. And it worked perfectly. During the five days of the fair, 2,000 digital sessions took place, with 1.5 million viewers from all over the world on Facebook alone. Viewers who were not only passive, but – thanks to social media – were able to interact. Overall, there were far more book experts and enthusiasts involved than normally come to the fair. About eight times as much. The content presented by the Frankfurt Book Fair and its exhibitors was so attractive that, as usual, the book fair was reported in the media and especially on television, just as if the fair had taken place as usual. 

If you compare that with the unsuccessful start of Drupa Preview on October 27th, 2020 (modest number of 1,900 views in total, sessions with poor content that were not related with regard to market needs, as well as access and transmission problems), this is in comparison with Frankfurt Book Fair a difference like day and night. Even though the print industry can address an incredibly larger number of professionals than the book publishing and book trade community.

The value of the activities at drupa 2021 moves into an even worse picture when you compare it with specialist events that deal with innovation topics relating to digital marketing and social media. 

A look back in history suggests what is going wrong: In June 2019, with an outlook to drupa 2020, the “Print & Digital Convention” took place on May 7th and 8th, 2019 in the Congress Center Süd of Messe Düsseldorf. The idea was to initiate a pilot that would then ignite on a larger scale at drupa 2020. The content was superbly designed (program and exhibitors organized by the German Media Production Association f:mp; with a focus on innovation in marketing communication through interactive digital printing solutions), 

Messe Düsseldorf was not able to activate an audience that paid tribute to the high value of the sessions content and exhibition presentations. Just under 1,200 visitors came from the f: mp ranks. The fatal: At the same time, the #OMR19 Online Marketing Rockstars event took place in Hamburg (focus: digital marketing innovations with over 50,000 visitors) and in Berlin the re:publica as the 'Festival for the Digital Society' with over 20,000 visitors.  

If you want to take seriously the claim made by Messe Düsseldorf and its partners that Drupa is still the leading global trade fair for print technologies, you have to seriously ask yourself whether the drupa team even notice what is happening in the world outside of Düsseldorf.

Because if you look at major international events such as the CES in Las Vegas, which focuses on innovations for the digital age, you can see that Drupa is dismantling to the extent that these new specialist formats prosper. And that in view of the fact that the added value with print amounts to around € 800 billion p.a. is many times higher than with online marketing, social media and consumer electronics.

From our point of view, this has a very simple cause: The Drupa organizers ignore relevant market developments, sit on a high horse and know or do not even want to know what is going on around them! In addition, there is a lack of expertise to deal with innovations in print and the needs of print companies in a smart and competent manner. The Düsseldorfers drupa team are doing themselves and especially the print industry a disservice.