As I head into Philly for the 2009 On Demand Conference and Expo, I wonder what will await us. The economy is sick, though some experts predict that we have hit bottom or are close.  Some anchor exhibitors have pulled out of the show or downsized significantly.  And attendance promises to be down somewhat over last year.

But for those who brave the travel bans and chilly Philly temps, there will be nuggets to be found, as there always are when our industry gathers to celebrate one of these events.

I always look forward to catching up with old friends, and this year, I am extremely flattered and honored to be receiving the Woman of Distinction award during the EDSF reception, and to be part of the selfless efforts of the many long-time supporters of EDSF and its contributions to our industry, especially the scholarships that are even more important now than ever before as educational costs continue to rise, as do the number of unemployed.

Clearly, the digital migration is well underway in our industry. This conference and expo was born in the time of the digital emergence and continues to be a venue for focusing on the products, solutions and services than can help print service providers of all types equip themselves to weather the structural change the industry is undergoing.

If you are heading to Philly, keep a sharp look-out for new features, functions and capabilities in the software segment.  Of particular interest at this show, I expect to see intriguing offerings from both new and existing suppliers of web-based customer-facing solutions that will take web-to-print to a new level.  While print MIS is not normally a key focus at this show, there will be some suppliers of these solutions there. If you don’t already have a print MIS solution, take time to take a look at what is on display.  This is probably the most important investment you need to make for your business to ensure the ability to survive and thrive as the industry evolves into a very different persona than just a few years ago. And once again, Presstek is the only press manufacturer that will be at the show, showcasing its 52 DI digital offset press (maybe even with the UV option!), an intriguing addition to a hybrid production platform.  Our own Dr. Joe Webb will be star of stage and screen in several venues, including the Presstek and Xerox booths, so don’t miss his sage advice and economic savvy.

At the conference, you will hear a great deal about the transition from print service provider to marketing services provider.  Listen up.  This is a very important topic for the future of our industry.  One very alarming trend we have seen in the last 90 to 120 days is the large number of traditional print buyers whose jobs are being eliminated.  Their roles are likely to be assumed by someone in the marketing department—someone who does not have a deep knowledge of the intricacies of print, and in fact, is more likely to be biased toward alternative media.  Increasingly, these new buyers will be looking for full-service partners who can address their needs for print, certainly, but who can also advise about the best media mix for their direct marketing efforts to gain optimal results.  Many print service providers are struggling to understand this evolution, but so are marketers—this provides a huge opportunity for us to the extent we are willing to approach the future with both open minds and an open architecture.

In its 2009 Marketing Outlook, the CMO Council surveyed 650 marketing professionals worldwide and found that 61% say setting clear goals and tracking deliverables are key strategies for marketing efficiency.  Respondents also plan to improve alignment and integration with sales and channel groups, improve analytics to support resource allocation decisions, optimize operational visibility and control to better account for spend, and—you knew this was coming—increase focus on digital media and interactive talent.  These are your buyers, and they have very specific goals and objectives.

As buying power continues to shift to the marketing function, selling power must be adjusted as well to address their often very different needs.  There will be lots of opportunity at On Demand to find ways to help your business move in this direction.

Once again, WhatTheyThink will also be doing video interviews, for your viewing pleasure over the next weeks and months.  We have made a special effort to engage your peers in these interviews, to understand what they are doing to move their businesses into a future state.  We hope you will enjoy viewing them.  If you are at the show and want to share your views, come see us!  We are in Room MR2653, back lefthand corner of the exhibit floor.  We would love to hear from you, as would our readers (or should I say viewers?).

Whatever the outcome of On Demand 2009, WhatTheyThink will be there to provide you with all of the details.  We hope we have some surprises to share; we expect to have lots of news to share; and we hope we see you there!