Two of the most anticipated industry events—Messe Dusseldorf’s drupa 2020 and ISA’s Sign Expo 2020—were postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis. drupa was postponed to April 2021 and the Sign Expo had originally been rescheduled for August 2020 before being cancelled entirely. We spoke with the organizers of these events about their rationale for the new dates, the expected impact on the events themselves, and the impact of the pandemic on the printing industry.

(Note that this interview was conducted, and published in our May print edition, before ISA had announced the cancellation of the Sign Expo 2020.)

WhatTheyThink: What was the decisive factor for you to postpone the event?

Sabine Geldermann, Messe Düsseldorf: Messe Düsseldorf is following the recommendation of the crisis management team of the German Federal Government to take into account the principles of the Robert Koch Institute when assessing the risk of major events. Based on this recommendation, and the recent significant increase in the number of people infected with the new coronavirus, Messe Düsseldorf reassessed the situation. In addition, there was the general ruling issued by the city of Düsseldorf on March 11, 2020, in which major events with more than 1,000 participants present at the same time are generally prohibited. Against this background, there was unfortunately no other option than to postpone drupa.

Lori Anderson, International Sign Association: As the coronavirus just started to appear in the U.S., we were full steam ahead in our planning for April’s ISA Sign Expo 2020. Our plans in early March were to continue forward, and we had a lot of industry support, with attendees and exhibitors both saying they planned to be there. Of course, we were keeping a close eye on the news and planned to adhere to any advice given at the federal or state level and guidelines from the CDC. Then things started to shift, quickly and dramatically. As more and more coronavirus cases appeared in the country, we started to hear concerns from attendees and exhibitors alike, with a growing number of companies issuing travel restrictions on their employees. As things continued to shift, our board of directors made the decision to reschedule the event.

WTT: On which criteria did you determine the new dates?

SG: Almost all of Düsseldorf’s major world-leading trade fairs should have taken place from August 2019 until June 2020—with drupa as the finale. Due to the coronavirus and associated official decrees or restrictions, seven trade fairs planned for this spring had already been postponed to the second half of 2020 to spring 2021. Since we need a timeframe of around two months for drupa (for set-up and dismantling in addition to the event itself), there were limited dates available. Having weighed all the options, and taking into account the international trade fair calendar, the dates chosen, April 20–30, 2021, were the earliest and best possible. These dates now allow the greatest possible planning security for all parties involved. Fortunately, we are now also close to the original, traditional May date of drupa.

LA: There aren’t very many cities that can accommodate a show of our size in terms of exhibit floor space and hotel rooms. Orlando is one of them. It’s also not easy to find an open date, since many of these events are booked well in advance. One could compare it to a big puzzle, with all parts needing to be in the right shape and order at the same time. Fortunately, Orlando had dates and space allowing ISA Sign Expo to move to August 23–25, 2020.

WTT: How has the global printing community responded to your announcement?

SG: The reaction of our international customers and partners to the postponement was consistently positive and met with great understanding and acceptance. Three months before the regularly scheduled start of drupa, we were thus able to give many exhibitors the opportunity to reschedule their upcoming logistical and cost-intensive measures, such as the shipment of machines. We were also very pleased with the numerous emotional feedbacks on our social networks and platforms. One thing is certain: the industry wants to have a drupa again, one that retains its image, its radiance and its global standing—this would not have been feasible under the current conditions. That’s why we will now take every possible measure to meet the expectations of our global customers in April 2021. Let’s embrace the future in 2021 together.

LA: We’ve had a lot of positive response and support from attendees and exhibitors. This is uncharted territory and I think they recognize that we’re doing the best we can in a very uncertain time.

WTT: What changes to the event will the postponement mean?

SG: The postponement represents a new, unprecedented scenario for all concerned and requires a certain degree of flexibility. As in the past, we will continue to take every possible measure to carry over the successful status of drupa to the new dates in 2021. It is our ambition and desire to organize another unique and successful drupa for our global customers in 2021.

LA: Unfortunately, we were unable to continue our plans for co-location with the Imprinted Sportswear Show as they were unable to move to the new dates. I would expect that August will look a little different than our typical show, but will still be the place where the industry will gather and begin to recover from the pandemic and the economic upheaval.

WTT: Will the event program remain in place?

SG: Our supporting program at the five special forums has already impressed with a fascinating range of formats, renowned speakers and exciting topics. Our top priority is to offer our visitors highly relevant, inspiring and lasting valuable content. The lecture program is rounded off by Guided Tours and was already available for bookings via our portal. Our aim is now, of course, to adapt and transfer the program as far as possible to the April dates. Significant issues concerning the ongoing digital transformation, topics related to circular economy and sustainability or new business models, which will be presented as keynotes, panel discussions and best cases, will continue to inspire and successfully advise companies—and this will be more relevant than ever after the impact of the coronavirus.

LA: The framework will remain primarily the same. We will have fewer education sessions, but the popular Game Changer sessions will continue. The main staple of the event—the outstanding trade show floor—will continue to be the showcase for the industry. And the valuable networking—both on and off the show floor—will provide considerable value to all participants. ISA Sign Expo will remain the only event that brings together the full breadth of the sign, graphics and visual communications industries. ISA Sign Expo will be the place where exhibitors and attendees begin the business recovery process that will inevitably come.  And it will still be the first place to see the many new products and innovations that are ready to drive businesses forward. 

WTT: How do you believe print businesses can weather the storm caused by the pandemic?

SG: There is no doubt that there will be declines and lasting economic setbacks. The government’s measures and aid are on the way. However, it is important that the industry does not suffer a complete standstill in production as a result of the current measures. Our industry must continue to invest in the future in order to seize market opportunities, because print, with its many different and extensive applications and forms of use, will continue to be indispensable in many markets in
the future.

LA: This is an unprecedented interruption in business operations on a global scale. This is a fast-moving target and sometimes my advice would change three times over the course of a day as news develops. That’s one reason that ISA has developed a Business Continuity Resource Center ( to help keep the industry informed and updated. We’re working on a state-by-state—and sometimes community-by-community—basis to help companies continue to work as they can. We’re also connecting to broader organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to make sure our industry has a seat at the table of some of these national discussions.

WTT: Exhibitors traditionally schedule new products and other announcements around major event and would prefer to not wait to present the new products to their customers. Do you see yourself confronted with the idea of alternative, virtual presentation formats?

SG: Our exhibitors will certainly present some of their innovations this year, and some already have, using different formats such as customer events or digital platforms. However, in our opinion, they do not offer a complete replacement for a trade fair with worldwide appeal. Drupa is and will remain the top platform for the printing industry to present innovations, come together and, above all, network. Especially in the current situation, where numerous countries are subject to travel restrictions, the need for personal encounters and an extraordinary customer experience after such an experience will certainly be even more pronounced in the future. We are people, not avatars.

WTT: Any other issues to communicate to the industry?

SG: As a result of drupa’s postponement, the most important trade show in our international portfolio, All in Print China in Shanghai in October, will become the largest and most important print trade show in 2020, giving our international exhibitors another highly relevant trade show in Asia this year. Furthermore, PPP Manila in October will provide an additional platform in an emerging Southeast Asian market. And indoprint in Jakarta, planned for September 2020, will also take place on schedule—according to current information. Of course, we are also closely monitoring the situation together with our subsidiaries Messe Düsseldorf China and Messe Düsseldorf Asia as well as participating partners and will act in good time if necessary. For this purpose we keep in touch with our customers via our various platforms and our foreign representatives, and my team in Düsseldorf are available for all questions.

LA: We are a vibrant and creative industry and already we’ve seen inspiring ways that sign, graphics and visual communications companies are helping in their communities by creating and donating much-needed equipment for medical workers. We’ve seen the way that companies have jumped in to help small businesses in their area by providing—in many cases cost-free—signs to help them advertise that they remain open. We’ve seen companies sharing their expertise and learning with their competitors. It’s a time of difficult decisions, but one in which our industry proves just how brightly we shine and the value that we bring to our communities and our customers.