The Dscoop9 conference is coming up fast, scheduled for March 6-8, 2014, in Orlando, with the theme “Break the Mold.” I was curious about why this conference would be so different from previous Dscoop events, and also wanted to get some insight into what to expect, since WhatTheyThink will be at the conference capturing some great interviews on video for our readers, as well as hopefully taking advantage of some of the educational opportunities and—of course—the networking opportunities the conference offers.

WTT:  Glad to be speaking with both of you—Mike Fogarty, Global Executive Director of Dscoop and Gary Garner, Dscoop9 Chairman, member of the Dscoop Board of Directors and Chairman & CEO of GLS Companies.  Let’s start with you, Mike.  You took on quite a challenge when you accepted the role of Executive Director for Dscoop.  You have been saying this would be the biggest and best Dscoop conference ever, and you have quite the benchmark to overachieve to reach that goal.

MF:  The first indication we are well on our way is that we are ahead of both registration and sponsor numbers as compared to last year.

WTT:  At some past conferences, space constraints have resulted in some exhibitors being turned away, and even attendees.  Do you see that happening at Dscoop9?

MF:  We don’t expect that to be the case.  In fact, we have established a new classification of exhibitor, Ruby, a one-time opportunity for smaller companies that have not joined us before a Dscoop conference to participate in the event at an affordable level.

WTT:  What are some of the things that will be different for attendees?

MF:  We’ve solicited a great deal of feedback from members and used that feedback as a guide for designing this conference. We are focusing on the quality of the content versus quantity. It’s great to have 120 this or 100 that sessions, but we took a different look at the conference schedule. We are focusing directly on key business challenges as opposed to general topics.  We are not organized by discipline; in other words, whether you are a labels and packaging company or a commercial printer or sign shop, content is structured to be relevant to your role rather than the market segment you are in.  There are four tracks: Business Management, Operations, Sales & Marketing, and Technical.  There are just under 100 sessions within these four tracks, and many of the sessions will be repeated to make it easier for attendees to get the content they need. Our partner sessions are also categorized into these four themes.

GG:  It is very difficult to continue to reinvent an event as successful as the Dscoop conference has been the last several years.  We have been doing a lot of fine tuning, as Mike suggested. This is the first year ever that we have moved away from segment to role within the organization and to try to have the content better organized. Historically, when you went through the on-site guide, you had to search through the whole thing to pick stuff out. It was hard to get a good overview.  This year the schedule is more cross-referenced based on role, and there are fewer sessions as well as more time between sessions to make it easier for members to get, as Mike said, the content that is most important to them.

MF:  We are also experimenting with the duration and format of sessions, and will monitor feedback to help guide us in continuing to enhance the program in coming years.

WTT:  I understand you have an exciting new tool in the works to make this even easier.

MF:  Yes, we expect to have our conference mobile app available in the Apple App Store and Google Play by February 15th.  Members have been asking for more connectivity. And we have responded to that request, in spades.  The app allows users to easily access all conference information, and it will have networking features.  Members can download the session materials in advance of the session, and this allows attendees to know what to expect and what is coming, and to make a choice based on that. In the past, you might read the title, you might or might not know the speaker, and you probably made your decisions based on that limited information.  We have taken it a step further by making all the materials available in advance.  And these will also be interactive sessions, not monologues.  We are extremely excited about this. We modeled our mobile app on a conference app from a different industry.

GG:  With the app, attendees will also be able to provide session feedback in real time, and we hope that helps us collect better and more extensive feedback from members as the event unfolds.

WTT:  You also made some changes to enhance the networking experience for attendees.  Tell us about that.

MF:  Like most groups where you have loyal members who have been coming for years, it can be difficult for newer attendees to “break in.” We have taken aggressive steps to counteract that.  So not only are we allowing more “unopposed” time for networking, but we are doing both freeform and facilitated networking sessions to, again, make sure that attendees get what they need most out of the event.  For example, at the party on Friday night, we would normally have started right out with the band, which makes it hard to have a conversation with anyone.  This year, there will be kind of an Epcot theme with foods from all different parts of the world, and the band won’t start till later so that people have a chance to grab a bite to eat, mingle, and talk amongst themselves in a little more tranquil environment.

WTT:  One thing I always look forward to is Alon Bar-Shany’s session and I understand you have made some changes there.

MF:  Yes, he will actually do the last session as a wrap-up.  As always, he will also share insight from HP and the company’s vision moving forward.  We felt that this would be the perfect conclusion to the conference.  He would normally have been earlier in the program.

WTT:  I also understand that the first morning of the conference is comprised of Dscoop University sessions.  We will be talking with John Tenwenkel about that separately, but this is really the debut of Dscoop University, isn’t it?

GG:  Yes, it is, and we are very excited about that as well.  We will leave it to John to unveil all of that great news.

WTT:  One thing that has always amazed me about the Dscoop conference is the fact that it is run by volunteers. These are busy executives who also have a business to run.  Is that still the case?

GG:  Absolutely. It has been wild, crazy, hectic and awesome. We have fabulous volunteers who give selflessly of their time and expertise every year to make this event successful, and more than that, to make the Dscoop organization as a whole successful.  As we always like to point out, Dscoop is a movie, not a snapshot. The conference is an important part of it, but there are educational and other activities going on all the time, throughout the year, and now, throughout the world, all supported by volunteers.

WTT:  I appreciate both of you taking time to speak with us. Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?

MF:  I would just like to say that our theme, “Breaking the Mold,” applies both to the Dscoop conference and the conference, but we hope that it will also encourage our members to do the same in their businesses.