No trade show has taken more lumps lately than Ipex, the quadrennial print and graphic media expo in the UK. A drumbeat of dropout announcements by high-profile exhibitors—most recently Kodak—has stirred doubts about the survivability of the event, leading some to question the point of staging the program again.

But Informa Exhibitions, the owner of Ipex, has declared that when it opens for a six-day run in London on March 24, 2014, it will be a new show with a sharper focus and greater value for exhibitors and attendees alike. This claim is backed by new research that links trends in the global graphic communications industry to a need for what Informa calls a “print-centric, multi-channel, thought leadership event”: precisely what it has in mind for Ipex 2014.

Informa announced the changes last Tuesday in a conference call with members of the trade media. Ipex 2014, the journalists were told, is to be the world’s first and biggest digital, print, and marketing communications event. By showcasing the integration of cross media and print in marketing and publishing campaigns,  says Informa, Ipex 2014 will be only international event that brings together the whole print and media supply chain.

The show will have to live up to that aggressive billing without the participation of Kodak, HP, Xerox, Agfa, Heidelberg, and Komori, and other exhibitors at Ipex 2010 that have said they will not return to Ipex in 2014. It also faces the future with a new venue, a shorter duration, and a shift in direction that leaves conventional print production—once a mainstay of the event—in a peripheral role if not out of the picture altogether.

“Fed Up” with Snubs to Print

Championing what print contributes to multi-channel media campaigns is central to the new conception of the show. “If Ipex is to be up to date, we have to move in that direction,” said Trevor Crawford, event director.

“Sometimes we’re afraid to use the word ‘print,’” Crawford said, adding that he was “fed up” with seeing print excluded from strategic conversations about multichannel marketing. He promised that Ipex exhibitors who have found themselves “insulated” from the world of new media will have ample opportunity to connect with it at Ipex 2014.

That will be accomplished in part by co-locating another Informa production, Cross Media, with Ipex 2014. Also planned is a World Print Summit, described by Crawford as a “huge keynote program” featuring daily presentations by global print and media entrepreneurs. Benny Landa, chairman of Landa Corp. and the developer of Nanographic printing technology, reportedly is to be one of the speakers.

All of this will be presented at the ExCeL London Exhibition and Convention Centre, Ipex’s new home after a run of many years in the city of Birmingham. Staging the event here, says Informa, puts it “right on the doorstep of London’s 400,000 strong creative industry, providing Ipex 2014 exhibitors with the opportunity to also speak to their customers’ customers.”

According to Crawford, exhibitors will find booth space at ExCeL less costly than rates at the former Birmingham location, and there will be additional savings for those wishing to book small units. He also said that Informa has lined up 15,000 “affordable” hotel rooms in London and vicinity to accommodate visitors.

Courting the Fruit-Basket Contingent

It’s hoped that about 1,000 of those who come will be VIPs recruited in a “hosted buyer program” that Informa announced several months ago. Helped by a network of 25 trade associations around the world to identify highly qualified buyers, the company is prepared to spend more than $1.5 million to cover travel and housing expenses for this elite group of attendees. During the event, special programs will bring the VIPs face to face with exhibitors.

In all, Informa expects to host 50,000 visitors across the six days (March 24-29, 2014) of the show—about the same number that came to Ipex 2010. The targeted split target is 80% from the print service provider (PSP) community and 20% from print specifiers, brand owners, marketers, and agencies. International visitors are expected to comprise 55% of the total.

The impetus behind everything being done to transform Ipex comes from a research project that told Informa that a change in the character of the show was inevitable—and was already taking place.

The research, from an independent study conducted in the fourth quarter of last year, consisted of 114 telephone interviews with Ipex and Cross Media exhibitors and attendees. This was supplemented by an online survey that drew about 1,600 responses. The result is a white paper that reaches a number of general conclusions about change in global graphic arts markets and states the implications of that change for industry trade shows.

Digital: A Done Deal

Its chief finding for Ipex is that the show has turned into a digital printing event and should start positioning itself as one. The research shows, for example, that 76% of Ipex attendees provide digital printing and expect it to have greater importance than any other process they offer. In contrast, only 7,500 of the 50,000 visitors to Ipex 2010 stated that their main area of business was offset printing.

The message, states the white paper, is that “the refocus to a digital landscape means that Ipex doesn’t have to focus on the historical needs and expectations of the offset litho exhibitor.” It’s expected that from now on, offset press makers will rely on drupa as their main event for global marketing.

The reduced emphasis on conventional production drove the decision to trim the duration of the show from eight days to six. The eight-day format, said Crawford, was “an offset legacy” that didn’t suit the “time-poor” profile of the type of visitor that Ipex is now trying to attract. The shorter time frame also is meant to lower on-site costs for exhibitors and make the event more accessible to small but innovative suppliers.

Crawford added, however, that “it would be absolutely wrong for us to police the profile” by doing anything that appeared to disdain participation from the conventional side. Expected to be on hand, for example, are makers of postpress equipment offering solutions for digital binding and finishing. Makers and users of all processes will find plenty of ways to broaden their outlooks at Ipex 2014, Crawford said.

Look Who’s Here

Informa doesn’t intend to let the conspicuous absences of Xerox, HP, and Kodak from the exhibitor list overshadow the prestige of the vendors that have renewed their commitment to the event.

Among those on the show floor in 2014 will be Canon, EFI, Fujifilm, Konica Minolta, MGI, Muller Martini, Presstek, Ricoh, Riso, and Screen. According to Crawford, a significant number of exhibitors will take more space at Ipex 2014 than they did at Ipex 2010. The white paper notes that half of the 20 top-10 stand holders for Ipex 2014 are first-time entrants.

And, a return of a couple the dropouts may not be out of the question. “We are having meaningful dialogs with all of them right now,” Crawford said, adding that there could be news of the “possible re-engagement or one or two of those manufacturers.”

In Crawford’s view, the dropouts owe it to themselves to take a second look at the kind of event that Ipex has become. “We’re a more attractive proposition today than the show they withdrew from,” he said.

According to Crawford, that’s what will keep Ipex from entering the “graveyard” of expos that failed change with their times and their markets.

“We’re a long way now from being a traditional trade show,” he said.