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GE07: Behind the Scenes at drupa: A Conversation with Managing Director Joachim Schaefer


By Cary Sherburne
Published: September 5, 2007


Although we are just gearing up for Graph Expo, it is also a good time to be looking ahead to drupa 2008. This drupa will be the largest ever in its more than 50-year history: 1.8 million square feet of net exhibit space in 19 halls have been reserved by over 1,800 exhibitors. drupa 2008 will occupy the entire Düsseldorf fairgrounds - including all new halls - from May 29 – June 11, 2008. Messe Düsseldorf credits exhibit space increases by leading international technology suppliers and large joint presentations from Asia with much of the growth.

WhatTheyThink spoke with Joachim Schaefer, Managing Director, Messe Düsseldorf, to get the inside story and to learn how drupa management differs from U.S. trade shows, following Gail Nickel-Kailing’s recent inside look behind the scenes of U.S. trade shows. 

WTT:  Joachim, thanks so much for speaking with us today.  I understand you are somewhat new to the Messe Düsseldorf organization, but not to the world of giant trade shows.

JS:  I joined the company as Managing Director in June of last year.  I came from the U.S., where I had been running the U.S. subsidiary of the Hanover Fair organization that puts on CeBIT, among other things.  So this will be my first drupa, both in this role and actually being at the show. 


WTT:  How many total square meters will drupa 2008 use compared to 2004?  How many exhibitors?  How does this compare with last year and previous years?  Is it the biggest ever?

JS:  We will be right around 170,000 square meters, or 1.8 million square feet.  Drupa  2004 had 161,000 square meters, or 1.7 million square feet.  Since 2004, we have built two additional halls by the north entrance of the fairgrounds, Halls 8A and 8B, each of which accommodates about 8,000 net square meters, or an extra 180,000 square feet total.  That is where much of the growth has come from, giving us the ability to accommodate more companies.  And yes, drupa 2008 will be the biggest drupa ever.

WTT:  Besides the two new buildings, what are the biggest changes since 2004?

JS:  As far as infrastructure goes, the new buildings incorporate a brand-new public transportation center where the light rail is. At the end of the day, it will be a major corridor for exhibitors and attendees, and will smooth out the traffic issues and challenges we have had in the past.  The transportation center will also accommodate taxis, so transportation will be all in one place, feeding people immediately to the registration area and entrance as they enter the fairgrounds. 

WTT:  Can you explain the process an exhibitor goes through to get space at drupa? As you are aware, here in the States it is more or less first come first served, and many companies reserve their space for a trade show for the next year during the current year show.

JS:  drupa is a much bigger challenge since it only happens once every four years and is a huge show. Basically, exhibitors apply, and the applications are collected up to a certain deadline.  Then they go through a review process.  There is no comparison between the typical size of a US show versus drupa or CeBIT or some of the construction equipment shows. They are so big that you have to bring some sense of order to the presentation.  That is ultimately what drives the system, and let’s face it, Germans like order.  So by allocating certain subjects to certain buildings, we try to bring order for the attendee who might be here for only a day or two.  You want people to be able to maximize their time during the show by giving them a presentation that is orderly so what they are looking for is mostly concentrated in one area. 

WTT:  When the applications are received, what happens then?

JS:  Once applications come in, they get allocated to the product areas according to how the companies characterize themselves on their application, and they get ordered into the appropriate hall.  Exhibit sizes are also a vastly larger range in a show this size.  When you have a vast range like that, with small companies, super large companies and all sorts in between, you want to create a show floor that is easily accessible, yet at the same time is fully loaded and has no wasted space.  So for us, the process of allocating space within a hall is like putting a puzzle together.  Rather than letting people pick their location, we try to have a mix of company sizes so that everyone benefits from the traffic in the building.  If you have the big guys in the front and the little guys in back, you won’t have a balanced traffic flow and exhibitors will have inconsistent access to attendees.

WTT:  How do you go about determining how much space each exhibitor gets? Do they always get as much as they ask for?

JS:  In the U.S., most shows have a seniority system.  With drupa, it is not true that the deck is completely reshuffled each time.  There are companies that have grandfathered rights to a location they have had for many shows.  We try to accommodate exhibitor requests, but there are times we simply say we can’t accommodate a request for a variety of reasons.  Yet we are in the customer service business and we do try to accommodate our customers as much as we can.  It is a bit of an art and a bit of a science—a healthy mixture of both.

WTT:  If they don’t like your decisions, what then?

JS:  It is not a completely closed process. Messe Düsseldorf puts on exhibit placement talks in various parts of the world.  We were in Dubai, France, Italy, Switzerland, the U.S. and the UK, in many cases for several days. We invite the larger exhibitors to these sessions.  Market leaders from these various regions come to the meetings, and we discuss our plans and their needs and expectations, and try to work with them to give them what they want.   Life is not perfect.  But we look for ways to be close to the customer by going to the various countries and speaking with the market leaders, and it seems to work.  There are at times compromises.  It is a massive puzzle that we have here in laying out the show. I think most people do understand that, and they typically come to the show happy with their location and placement.

WTT:  How many new exhibitors (i.e., companies who have never exhibited at drupa before) will there been in 2008? Are there any significant exhibitors from previous years who will NOT be there?

JS:  The bigger new ones are companies like Pitney-Bowes with more than 400 square meters (supplement inserting systems) and Ricoh with more than 1,000 square meters (digital color systems). Examples of companies not attending – due to mergers and acquisitions – are Creo (merger with Kodak), VUTEk (merger with EFI) and Basysprint (merger with Xeikon).  We still have some 200 companies on a waiting list that have not been placed.  Once those that applied in time are all placed, then we approach the waiting list if we still have space.

WTT:  One paper company I spoke with recently was in the U.S. Pavilion the last two times but this time is thrilled to be in the paper hall.  What are the pros and cons of the two types of locations?

JS:  In the U.S. Pavilion, for example, you have a lot of things done for you, and you are located with other companies from your country as opposed to being with competitors in the main halls.  It is really a choice for companies, but we would recommend for the first round that they come to the U.S. Pavilion and get a feel for the show and how it works, and then come back the next time to do their own thing.

WTT:  Is there any shift in percentage of hardware versus software exhibitors as compared to the past?  Both in terms of number of exhibitors and space consumed.

JS:  Some of the expansion that we see in the show, compared to 2004, is occurring in those northern halls, 8A and 8B, which are devoted to the subject of digital and digital solutions. Halls 8A and 8B, plus Halls 5 and 9, are occupied by companies like Agfa, Canon, Kodak, Epson, Fuji, HP, Konica, Xerox, etc. Another noticeable bump in exhibitors is the push by India and China, with Chinese pavilions and Chinese government representation.  But the major growth is in the digital side. 

WTT:  Many people are already calling this the “inkjet” drupa.  Do you have any thoughts about that based on the exhibitors that will be there or any other insight?

JS:  That is the fault of the press, isn’t it?  I think Noel Ward from your group is the one that said it first.  As an organizer, I need to take somewhat of a neutral position.  I can’t really make an intelligent statement as to how far we have moved with any particular technology and whether it will truly be the inkjet drupa show.  What we hope is that we are reflecting the current balance of the industry in the show.

WTT:  What else might we expect to see out of the show in 2008 in terms of new exhibit areas, anticipated innovation, etc.?

JS:  We have the drupa Innovation Parc again with 40,000 square feet and 160 companies, covering various workflow and publishing issues, including PDF, XML, and JDF.  That will be a great presentation.  On the conferencing side, we have symposium sessions conducted by the associations, with highly topical, short and to the point presentations on workflow and other important topics. So people can attend those sessions and still take in the show.  We also will have guided tours for some of the attendees on various subject matters, because despite our efforts to place like minded companies and companies with similar products in certain halls, we still end up with subject matter specific solutions spread around in different areas.  They represent a web across the entire fairgrounds because there are many companies whose products span the different categories. So we will be doing guided tours on things like packaging, web to print, and hybrid offset/digital production.  And we will be doing these tours in a number of different languages, including English, German, Spanish, French and Chinese.  That helps make the vastness of the show more manageable and more meaningful for the attendees on these tours.  Lastly, we have the drupacube, a special meeting place for print buyers and marketing decision makers, right outside the southern portion of the fairgrounds near the conference center.  We provide special guidance for these attendees as to how to best approach drupa.  In effect, it is an infotainment location for print buyers.

WTT:  Is Heidelberg still using Buildings 1 and 2?  I had heard rumors they were giving up one of the buildings.  

JS:  They still have those buildings, same as last time.  That was one of the first conversations I had when I started here.  They were anxious to secure the same location and they are in the same setting as 2004.

WTT:  Joachim, thank you so much for speaking with us.  This is been very informative, and we are all looking forward to visiting with you!  Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers, including any commentary about how this show differs from other shows in other parts of the world, in terms of content, logistics, etc.?

JS:  Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes!  We don’t use as much padding under the carpets in the shows here.  It is much more Spartan, and more environmentally conscious.

Prepare well. We have lots of resources on the web that help attendees do effective preshow planning.  The show site is vast and you don’t have the time or the peace and quiet to plan after you get there.  Please use the web extensively, because we put up things there as we progress toward the show that might not be in brochures or in article.

Finally, people should book hotel rooms early.  It can also be enjoyable to stay in private housing and learn a little more about the country.  That can also be a lower cost alternative.  Because of the extensive public transportation system, it is easy and very safe to use.  That is different from a lot of places in the U.S.  Both exhibitor and attendee tickets buy you free transportation on the entire public transportation network, even from Cologne and also north of Düsseldorf.  You can be within a 40 minute commute but find hotels with completely different rates, yet still have easy access to the fairgrounds without having to pay for taxis.


Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.



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