By Noel Ward, Executive Editor July 12, 2004 -- Last week, Graphics of the Americas, the annual winter conference and exhibition produced by the Printing Association of Florida, announced that Xplor International will be providing a two-day variable data conference in conjunction with PAF's conference in February 2005. Having attended both shows for a number of years I was particularly interested in this partnership, and the match-up seems like an interesting one for both organizations. GOA has been expanding significantly in the past couple of years as the Latin American market embraces digital printing technologies. At the same time, Xplor is rapidly reinventing itself as the leader in technology education and is seeing substantial growth in the Latin American market. I contacted Chris Price, General Manager of GOA, and Skip Henk, president and CEO of Xplor International asked them to share their thoughts on this new alliance. ODJ: In many industries, the conference and tradeshow business has been tough over the last couple of years. For example, it recently was announced that the once "mother of all tradeshows" Comdex was canceled for 2004. How does the partnership between GOA and Xplor address the challenges facing this industry in terms of conference and tradeshow participation? CP: There are exceptions to every rule, and Graphics of the Americas has proven to be one of them. A combination of unique variables has allowed us to not only maintain the vitality of our event--but even grow certain facets of it. Miami in early February is, needless to say, a powerful advantage. Plus, we are truly an international show, with an average of 40% of our attendees coming from Latin America. We also serve the range of professionals in graphic arts and print communications, with almost a quarter of our 20,000+ attendees coming from the design and creative communities. What you end up with is a show that has, for 30 years, kept its focus on identifying and delivering the hottest opportunities and revenue-builders for the industry. We bring our attendees meaningful content in the context of every conceivable publishing workflow. No printer, client, or designer is an island; and they all need to understand the relevance of their work within their respective, and sometimes numerous, workflows. GOA has its producer, Printing Association of Florida, to thank for this continued focus on real-world applications and economies. There is no doubt that our success can be attributed to the intelligence and counsel of what is one of the strongest printing associations in North America. We have an extremely involved, dynamic Board led by Mike Streibig, and populated by some of the strongest graphic arts organizations in the western hemisphere. By staying close to our Board and Trade Show Council we can quickly modify plans to fit the needs of a changing industry. It would be wrong to say, however, that GOA and PAF, like the entire graphic arts industry, did not have issues to contend with over these past few years. No exhibitor or attendee was spared some kind of economic challenge. GOA, like other tradeshows, has subjected itself to the greatest scrutiny, on all fronts, to make sure it is still providing the most valuable and relevant content and exhibits to its audiences. Joining forces with Xplor helps ensure we are providing the kind of show and conference that is relevant for both vendors and attendees. SH: We all have to start looking at our events through our customers eyes. It's all about value and return on investment. Corporations from both an end user and vendor perspective have significantly altered their view and investment in tradeshows and conferences over the last 4-5 years. Companies have smaller marketing and travel budgets, so events are vying for fewer dollars. The venues that present the most value will succeed. This partnership adds significant value to all by expanding the scope and content of the show while capitalizing on the strengths of both GOA and Xplor. ODJ: GOA and Xplor are two very different types of events that serve somewhat different parts of the industry. What was some of the thinking that led to the decision to collaborate in this fashion? CP: The evidence that printers are exploring and even implementing expanded and ancillary services is clear. Last year's conference attendees were very interested in Frank Romano's future-oriented TrendVision tracks, and so we worked closely with them to offer the best combination of exhibits and education this coming year, accordingly. There will, of course, still be a place for traditional printers, and GOA will continue to serve them; just as Xplor serves the most advanced document and corporate communications disciplines. The portions of our audiences that overlap, however, will grow; and the differences between our events, though they may never go away, will shrink. SH: Developments in technology have created an "overlapping" opportunity for the two industries. When I was at Kodak Versamark I had always felt the combination of digital color and variable data represented a huge opportunity for the industry and our members in terms of new applications, more cost effective communication and increases in revenue. After meeting with Mike Streibig, President and CEO and Chris Price, Vice President and GM, it was apparent they too hold the same vision for their organizations and members. ODJ: While once viewed as disparate parallel parts of the industry, digital and non-digital technologies seem to be moving more towards a path of convergence. How does the relationship with Xplor track to this convergence? CP: The same principal that is driving much of the return to economic viability of the graphic arts industry is at the heart of tradeshow survival in this decade. Successful convergence not only exploits economies of scale; it does so by utilizing (organizational) Darwinism. The strongest will survive. The partnership with Xplor is an important manifestation of GOA's own convergence strategy. There is no organization better suited to bring the opportunity of variable data to our hungry and qualified audience. Bringing in the best just makes us better. SH: The terms convergence has been used for some time as developments in digital printing bring the two worlds closer together. Although alike in some aspects they are still very different. The relationship with GOA will bring to the forefront the "convergence of knowledge and technology". For companies to be successful they need to embrace and understand these differences. ODJ: What value does will this partnership bring to February's conference, to both attendees and exhibitors? What can we expect at the upcoming Miami show? CP: The beautiful thing is that this partnership is primarily about bringing value to attendees and exhibitors. The attendees will now have access to world-class education and direction on digital printing and variable data printing. This will be available through the conference program as well as on the exhibit floor. Exhibitors will further benefit from a larger audience looking for direction on expanding into these areas. Exhibiting companies such as HP, Xerox, Duplo, Adobe, Creo, Oce', Kerning Data and many more will, as a result, enjoy a higher level of interest in their digital printing presses and products. SH: Part of the curriculum will be "best practices" and answer many questions such as: When does digital print and variable data make sense? What do companies need to look out for in implementing a variable data strategy? What value can it bring to their companies? What questions should they be asking themselves and their vendors ? From a vendor perspective, it will expose users to new products and methodologies. Clarify what applications should be digital and which should not. Better educate their customers and prospects as they look to growing their businesses. ODJ: Variable data printing has grown faster in Europe and Asia than in North America. In Latin America digital printing--except for books and wide format--has been slow to take off for a variety of reasons. How does a variable data conference fit into the needs of the Latin American market? CP: Digital printing is gaining traction in North America today, and Latin America is following suit. Latin America watches North America experiment with new opportunities, and soon after becomes extremely active in learning and buying. The Latin American market traditionally relies on GOA for information on future opportunities; and therefore we are bringing not only the Xplor variable data program, but also expanded sign/banner and wide format, as well as mailing, exhibits. SH: From Xplor's perspective, Brazil is our fastest growing area. The "local" Xplor conference last year attracted approximately 2000 attendees. We have seen a surge of interest in transactional and variable print applications. The Latin American market has a great appetite for knowledge. The partnership between Graphics of the Americas and Xplor will go a long way in satisfying that need. CP: In closing, I want to say we are delighted to be working with Skip and his team. They are first rate professionals who will bring innovation, excitement and a true partnership to the table. We are looking forward to bringing the power of our combined strengths together for the good of the industry. SH: Noel, Xplor is extremely excited about the partnership with PAF/GOA and the possibilities it holds for the future. This relationship represents a major step in bringing our two worlds together and a unique opportunity for PAF/GOA and Xplor as well as the attendees, members and vendors as the convergence of technology moves forward.