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Commentary & Analysis

Citing Diminished Relevance of Traditional Trade Shows, Kodak to Bow Out of Most Events

Don’t look for exhibits by Eastman Kodak Co. at Print 13 in Chicago this year, at IPEX 14 in the U.K next year, or at most other graphic communications trade shows after that. In a statement published last Friday, the company announced it would significantly reduce its participation in conventional trade shows and turn to other means of engaging with its customers.

By Patrick Henry
Published: January 28, 2013

Don’t look for exhibits by Eastman Kodak Co. at Print 13 in Chicago this year, at IPEX 14 in the U.K next year, or at most other graphic communications trade shows after that. In a statement published last Friday, the company announced it would significantly reduce its participation in conventional trade shows and turn to other means of engaging with its customers.

drupa 16 may remain in Kodak’s plans, according to Chris Payne, the company’s vice president of marketing, commercial business. But trade shows in general are no longer seen as effective ways of achieving the kinds of interaction Kodak wants to achieve with its customers, he said.

Payne is the current chairman of NPES, the vendors’ trade association that co-owns Print and Graph Expo, the Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC) events. He said that Kodak was in discussion with GASC about having a presence at Print 13 in a way that wouldn’t involve booth space and equipment.

Kodak, now striving to emerge from bankruptcy, said in its statement that it had “altered the marketing mix to include a higher number of customer engagement activities to help them make decisions.” These will include expanding the programs of the Graphic Users Association (GUA), the Kodak user group; presentations and meetings at the company’s network of technology demo centers; and “thought leadership forums” co-hosted with resellers and customers.

Kodak also has online resources and an e-newsletter for customer outreach. According to the statement, “print will play an ongoing and important role in the marketing mix” as direct mail.

Payne said that the decision to rely on these channels instead of trade shows must be seen in the perspective of what has happened in recent years both to the expos and to the markets they serve.

Payne, who said he has attended every IPEX and drupa since the late 1980s, acknowledged that in those days, trade shows were “fundamentally important” to exhibitors like Kodak. But now, he said, the marketing landscape in which the shows take place is “very different.”

Today, he said, “customers have other ways of doing due diligence” for capital investment. To some extent, iPads and other electronic media have replaced the kinds of product research that take place in trade show aisles.

According to Payne, equipment buyers now want vendors to engage with them in 1:1 dialogs that address specific problems. A trade show typically doesn’t provide an appropriate setting for these in-depth conversations, he said. And, since most attendees at shows like Print and Graph Expo already are customers of Kodak, the opportunities for developing new business at them are limited.

For these reasons, said Payne, “we don’t see a big need” for the kind of investment that a conventional presence at a trade show requires. He acknowledged that some vendors still depend on trade shows for marketing exposure and that it remains desirable for the industry to have meeting-places.

But, said Payne, “the forums need to change.” What Kodak thinks the industry needs now, he said, are not “shows in the classic sense,” but deliberative events where 1:1 engagement can take place.

Kodak tries to accomplish this at meetings of the GUA, which, said Payne, attract hundreds of Kodak users. The next one, a three-day workshop on performance improvement, is scheduled for April 22-26 in Atlanta.

This year, according to the statement made on Friday, Kodak plans to add a GUA Executive Conference Program to increase overall attendance and value for attendees.

Patrick Henry, Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com is also the director of Liberty or Death Communications, a consultancy specializing in research, education, promotional, and editorial support services for the printing and publishing industries.

Patrick Henry is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at patrick.henry@whattheythink.com.



By Steven Schnoll on Jan 28, 2013

While I agree trade shows are evolving, GASC has done a great job to keep Print 2013 and the Graph Expo brand very industry relevant. Kodak is making a giant mistake. Of course they also thought digital was not going to replace film


By Gordon Pritchard on Jan 28, 2013

A trade show is the only venue where customers can directly compare competing products and vendor claims. The companies that are pulling out of these events are doing so for their own benefit rather than the benefit of their customers.


By Thomas Wetjen on Jan 28, 2013

I have discussed the value of Trade Shows and Conferences with numerous commercial printers. Almost unanimously they told me that they gained knowledge and awareness that they could not find in other ways. While the world has changed and information seems to be ubiquitous there is still value in shows and conferences.


By Erik Nikkanen on Jan 28, 2013

Trade shows must be of value.

Where else can one have mockups of presses and show cartoons and get people to put down money for hundreds of future orders. :-)


By Tony Cruz-Uribe on Jan 28, 2013

I look forward to the day when I can walk around a trade show with a thumb drive containing a test suite of images and have all competitors print these out in the print mode of my desire. That and having available a room where I can privately display these images side-by-side will be when trade shows have taken the next step.


By Cary Sherburne on Jan 28, 2013

Great challenge for trade show exhibitors, Tony! I know they don't like to print random files on the show floor in case there are issues that disrupt demos and such, but it would sure seem like some accommodations could be made. Not sure about the room, tho :-)


By Dan Mustata on Jan 28, 2013

Every study, survey, research...still shows how highly valued by their visitors industry tradeshows are. As long as they are cost effective and well attended by relevant customers, tradeshows are still unmatched ways to meet existing clients and prospects. Kodak will not find the new customers it desperately needs at their own GUA meetings and open houses...


By Thomas Smith on Jan 29, 2013

I would like to see "research" that asks questions around acquisition...Did you buy from C, K, X, R, PB, HP, BH....BECAUSE of what you learned and experienced at the tradeshow? Did the tradeshow make you consider an additoinal supplier? Did you find a "new" supplier your did not know about? Experience tells me that customers are in local demo centers to touch and feel and in the large regional centers...Boca, Rochester, Boulder, Alpharetta...to test and make the buying decision.


By Gordon Pritchard on Jan 29, 2013

Having been a Creo/Kodak demonstrator at their Vancouver demo center I can say that the customers that go there are generally 90% of the way to making the purchase. The demos just confirm they've made the right decision and answers any lingering questions.


By Greg Imhoff on Jan 30, 2013

Trade Shows have existed and grown for Millennia because this is a neutral place where Buyers and Sellers can gather and meet to compare and contrast. When topics of interest are popular and affordable it is good business to attend gather and socialize. When not, it is not.

Professionally NPES does a great job in these trying times and large suppliers if they have the data saying PRINT (or IPEX etc) are no longer worthy, it may for their interest to bring this data forward. Maybe they have now or maybe the costs are simply not in their Re Org plan.

Many industry manufacturers are downsizing if not backing out of Shows so the question may now be - how does Print improve?


By Paul Gardner on Jan 30, 2013

Gordon, Greg and others have exposed the lie...

As any well-educated marketer knows, the place to market and sell your wares is ANYWHERE that the customers are.

Sure, customer attendance at some shows may have been a little light these past few years, but there is still no larger gathering of customers for makers of printing machines and solutions than the trade show.

Sure, they CAN BE expensive, but that's just an excuse.

The lack of participation in these shows an ABSENCE of IMAGINATION.

Shame on you Agfa, HP, Heidelberg, Kodak, Komori, Xerox and any other companies who abandon the trade shows without putting ANY effort into figuring out how to leverage these events to server their customers in new, innovative - and less expensive - ways.


By Stan Najmr on Jan 30, 2013

This executive decision has a potential to kill the entire printing industry. How often one of the large manufacturers tried to “focus on their own events” and failed to increase revenue at the same time? Why? Because company organized events are mostly for existing customers.I understand we all have fiber internet, virtual reality rose glasses and social media feel good time now, but if you think everybody is loading your web page instead of the latest computer game you better ask who is actually working and who is not. It is impossible to find a time to sit in front of the computer or read tiny social media happy messages while waiting for a customer or driving to a next appointment. If I purchased your equipment I want to see operators running it. They are not getting paid for scanning the net. We are told about new venues just about to be introduced to get us excited about your products. In reality, these are same good old company road shows with Power Point and talking heads. Shows can’t be replaced by anything because shows address prospects, customers, students, educators, consultants ….basically everyone. If you think you can do it any other way you believe your own marketing and you are wrong. For manufacturers this is an opportunity to learn from their own customers as well as prospect. When was it last time you had a chance to visit your competitors and get inspired by them? Shows work for many other industries as meeting points for everyone who is interested. There was a time when you could meet CEO, inventor, VP of Marketing on the show floor. Now you will meet them in carefully produced promotional video posted on YouTube. Do you really think they are capable to beat Angry Birds on somebody’s gear? Do you think that somebody will come to your party when you decided not to show up? You need to ask with Paul: “What has happened to your imagination?”


By Jim Hamilton on Jan 31, 2013

Certainly there has been a major exodus from IPEX, but is that the case with Print 13? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think so.

Paul calls out Agfa, HP, Heidelberg, Kodak, Komori, and Xerox for ditching trade shows, but from what I can see on the current Print 13 show floor map (http://www.gasc.org/Portals/0/print13/PRINT-13-SOUTH.pdf) the only ones missing from his list are Heidelberg and Kodak. Heidelberg has skipped Graph Expos in the past, so this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Kodak is still emerging from bankruptcy so they have to be careful about spending.

Everyone should have serious concerns about IPEX moving forward, but I'm less concerned about the future of Graph Expo/Print.


By Henry Freedman on Jan 31, 2013

Interesting with so many pullouts the companies
leaving the shows are actually delivering more private shows to their competitors.


By Gordon Pritchard on Feb 10, 2013

I wonder if the auto industry will follow suit, after all, if you want to check out a new car all you need to do is go to a car dealership where you can engage with the vendor in 1:1 dialogs that address specific problems. And once you've become a customer the car company and its dealers have online resources and e-newsletters for customer outreach. There's also brand specific car user groups or clubs to engage with.
Yep, not need for those annual car shows anymore.


By Shone Fix on Feb 11, 2013

and have to deal with all the high pressure sales tactics.. No Thanks! I was just at a major US auto show and in 5 hours was able to get a look at the latest models from all the auto makers that attended and even got to test drive some models with no pressure... To think that I would try and spend my own time and money visiting every one of the same dealers in my city to try and have the same experience is crazy.


By Thomas Smith on Feb 11, 2013

The Auto industry comparison is an interesting one but a consumer can "kick" the tires of products that are not yet on the market...the concept vehicles. I have yet to see equipment vendors really talk future tech let alone show future tech.


By Gordon Pritchard on Feb 11, 2013

I've seen concept/future tech shown many times at print shows. Here's one example:
Like many auto concepts, this print technology never came to market.


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