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Graph Expo, for the Strategy, Not Just the Technology

There are many reasons to go to trade events,

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: August 18, 2011

There are many reasons to go to trade events, and Graph Expo has traditionally been the venue to see the latest technologies. Today, there is a more important reason to go, and that's the strategy. Technology hunting alone was fine when printing industry volume was rising, and other economic growth factors hid communications trends from view. Today, print spending is being diverted to other media. Growth often hides problems in print businesses, but flat or declining sales exposes all of them, seemingly all at once. Aside from the technology issues of the relationship of digital printing and offset, and the networking infrastructure inside print plants, there are critical management issues that must be addressed before the production technology ones. Technology is meaningless without strategy to use it. Technology is just a tool to deliver value to others. Our industry finds itself at a serious transition point. Last year was breathing room. This is the year that it is essential to act. The economy is deteriorating at worst and flat at best. Digital communications continue to grow, and retrograde economic times increase the interest and incentives in their adoption. From a strategy standpoint, these are the urgent key issues to tackle at Graph Expo, and many of them have educational sessions to support them: mergers & acquisitions non-print media staffing new business opportunities An early educational session is about the state of mergers and acquisitions. It seems odd to have this as a topic early in the show, but it's critical for all executives and owners even if they are not in the market to buy, or considering selling their businesses. It's on Sunday morning (session R2). Owners of healthier shops have reported to me that they are regularly having competitor businesses offered to them in full, or on a tuck-in basis. Getting a sense of the latest valuations and current analysis methods would be worthwhile. If you've been following my columns and blogs lately, you know that our forecast is for continuing tough economics, increasing encroachment by smartphones, tablet PCs, and faster broadband. This puts more pressure on print firms to reposition their businesses and consolidate when that repositioning is not an option. The next group is non-print media. There are two sessions, and they are from the perspective of not just offering new media, but also using them in your business. For the latter, there is a free session on Sunday about social media which should whet the appetite to find out more in paid Monday's educational session. On Tuesday there is an in-depth computer lab session about the nuts and bolts behind getting social media done well. Early in the sessions, there is a general session about technological change. It unfortunately conflicts with the M&A session, but is important nonetheless. So if someone else is with you at the show they should go to it, so be sure to share notes about it. Even if your company does not plan to be directly involved with some of the technologies mentioned, you may be in a situation of needing to buy these services on a subcontractor basis, or having to integrate them into larger projects with clients or partners. Being familiar with them now is very important from a competitive perspective. Whatever the case, the technology trends will be affecting us very deeply these next couple of years. As I have mentioned in many blogs, columns, and presentations, many of our companies need more age diversity, not because of any legal requirement, but because of the changes in communications technologies and the way people use them. I believe that one of the main reasons our industry had disbelief about digital media is because there were not enough young people in our companies, and especially in management. A luncheon seminar discusses the intergenerational workforce, and is key for all printing companies no matter what the size. Even small family print businesses could use the counsel of young freelancers and advisors. New at Graph Expo is a special pavilion about marketing and print, co-sponsored with the American Marketing Association. Be sure to walk through this area of the show floor. The new business opportunities session should be of great interest. Printers are always concerned that they're missing some kind of product offering that competitors have. There is another session about the future of printing profits, which discusses how technologies and product offerings all interact. Finally, my annual breakfast presentation will be on Monday morning, September 13. It is sponsored by manroland for a ninth time, I will discuss some of the new opportunities and changes in the marketplace from my perspective. And, there will be a special announcement coming up soon about this particular event. Register now for Monday morning. Graph Expo's reputation as a technology show is well founded. Over the years, though, some printers have told me that they go to the show only when they are in the market for equipment. I urge those printers to now look at Graph Expo as a strategy show. Technology and strategy have always been tied together, but now there is a new relationship because the marketplace has changed so radically. In some cases, we have to unwind our old technology decisions to implement a new strategy that is more appropriate for the times that we are in. All of those issues can be addressed while attending the show. For years, the show has focused on its “Must See 'ems” as key technologies that owners should see. That list should be accompanies by the “Must Do's” that tie into building our understanding of our industry's ownership economics, new communications tools that we can use and that we compete against, how we staff our businesses, and how we redeploy our resources to move ahead. The way we use trade shows as strategic springboards is probably far more important today than our natural curiosity about equipment has been in the past. And finally, I urge everyone to use Graph Expo as an educational resource for non-production personnel. Walk them through the show in a logical way from image creation through the bindery. There are not many places where that can be done outside of the shop, and for those workers to glimpse the broad expanse of the industry. It's worth the investment.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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