Heidelberg USA Market Strategy Shift, Will Not Exhibit at PRINT 13 (Commentary by Patrick Henry)

Monday, June 17, 2013

See commentary by Patrick Henry below

Kennesaw, GA – Heidelberg USA is announcing a new, go-to-market strategy that unites its uniquely broad portfolio of products and services with a highly individualized, consultative sales approach. This new approach emphasizes an outreach to the printing community with multiple targeted opportunities responsive to the increasingly complex needs of customers and prospects.

Last month in Dallas, Heidelberg USA launched a series of interactive, application-specific road shows that will visit various U.S. cities through the end of the year. Based on the success of the Dallas show, Heidelberg already has scheduled “On the HEI Way” roadshows in Minneapolis, Columbia, MD, Richmond, VA, Boston, and other cities.

Heidelberg also has invested heavily in its Atlanta Technology Center, and will continue to make use of the facility for individualized presentations to existing and prospective customers. By the time Heidelberg holds its next customer open house in August (the third to be held this calendar year), the facility will be bristling with new equipment, including four new offset presses, digital cut-sheet presses, wide-format inkjet printers, drupa-generation postpress and packaging equipment, along with CtP systems and integrated workflow. The presence of each and all of these solutions in the best-equipped showroom in the world outside of Heidelberg, Germany, fits Heidelberg’s consultative approach to helping existing customers and prospects investigate multi-machine options compatible with their individual business models.

Not to be overlooked is Heidelberg’s continued participation in, and financial support for, select technology expos and educational events sponsored by organizations like SkillsUSA, the In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association, IADD•FSEA Odyssey, and Printing Industries of America, among many other opportunities through which Heidelberg shares its knowledge and expertise with the graphic arts community.

A Change of Focus

Implementation of the new marketing strategy on several fronts unfortunately will preclude Heidelberg’s attendance at Print 13.

“Heidelberg made the difficult determination that no exhibit we could mount at a large-scale national trade show would reasonably or completely address the range of individual solutions our customers and prospects require,” said Andy Rae, Senior Vice President Equipment, Heidelberg USA.  “Given our brand image, and with as much market exposure as Heidelberg has, we have chosen to concentrate on developing a range of targeted opportunities for face-to-face engagement and have shifted our resources in that direction.”

That said, Heidelberg endorses the activities of the Graphic Arts Show Company, including the value to the printing community of its annual Graph Expo and quadrennial Print events. “We feel we can best serve our customers as they work either to solve problems or to grow their businesses by maximizing the live equipment options for them to test and evaluate. Our fully-equipped demonstration facility in Kennesaw offers market leading ability to do this,” Rae said. “We’re excited about this shift and believe it provides the best value to our market.”

Commentary from Patrick Henry

“Implementation of the new marketing strategy on several fronts unfortunately will preclude Heidelberg’s attendance at Print 13.”

Nobody should be surprised by Heidelberg’s announcement that it won’t be taking part in Print 13. There was a precedent in its absence from Graph Expo 2010 and a strong hint in its decision to stay out of Ipex 2014. Last December, at a media briefing in Germany, a member of the management board telegraphed the company’s intentions when he said that Heidelberg was being “very cautious” in weighing the merits of exhibiting at this year’s show in Chicago.

Now that we know just how cautious the thinking was, what does the Print 13 pullback tell us—not just about the state of affairs at Heidelberg, but also about the long-term outlook for the Print and Graph Expo events? Truthfully, not very much to argue with or be alarmed by.

Skeptics might call Heidelberg’s decision a signal that the company has gone to ground and is lowering its profile to lower marketing expense. The skeptics would be wrong.

Resources that would have been dedicated to Print 13 instead are helping to pay for a multi-fronted promotional campaign that Heidelberg sees as being more in line with its present marketing objectives than another spell at McCormick Place. What that campaign consists of and why the company believes it will work will be the subjects of our exclusive interview with Heidelberg’s Andy Rae later this week.

The call on Print 13 shouldn’t be taken as evidence that Heidelberg has fallen out of love with trade shows. But, anchoring them with stands spanning tens of thousands of square feet of display space and tons of heavy machinery probably doesn’t pay the marketing dividends it once did.

For one thing, Heidelberg is a provider not just of offset litho presses, but of digital printing, prepress, postpress, and workflow systems as well. As these assets multiply, setting up a comprehensive cross-section of them in a trade show hall becomes enormously expensive. Nowadays, given the diversity of the customer base that Heidelberg is trying to reach, it probably is impossible to get the mix just right at any price. In the upcoming interview, Rae will assert that there are more cost-effective ways of bringing customers together with the individualized solutions they need. 

That’s one company’s view. To date, about 450 U.S. and international vendors have declared that they think otherwise by signing on as exhibitors at Print 13. 

Although Heidelberg’s decision can’t have been received with much joy by the Graphic Arts Show Company, GASC knows that no single exhibitor’s absence can diminish the cumulative value of the event that it is putting together. Print 13’s panoply of primary exhibits, co-located events, specialty pavilions, conference sessions, and networking occasions may prove to be the richest ever seen at a U.S. graphic arts trade show. It’s a huge opportunity to pass up, and Heidelberg, a linchpin of the Print and Graph Expo shows for as long as they have existed, knows that it is taking a calculated risk by distancing itself from everything GASC is offering the industry this year. 

WhatTheyThink will have more to report about Heidelberg and Print 13 in the run-up to the show. What we’ve just seen isn’t a divorce between the two. Call it an amicable separation that’s open to the possibility of reconciliation in the future. It’s going to be interesting to watch what the parties will accomplish independently of one another.