By: Nu Yang
The industry trade show. Not long ago, it was the premier annual event, where newspaper executives and production teams gathered to network, view the latest in supplies, and learn about current industry trends. But with dwindling economic resources and more exhibitors and publishers making cutbacks, is the trade show still a viable resource?
If you ask those who organize conferences and trade shows, the answer is yes — there is still value to these events despite the uncertainty of the industry’s future. They’ve seen change before and know the industry will change again.
Former Pennsylvania Newspaper Association president Tim Williams remembers how, 15 to 20 years ago, there were more independent family-owned newspapers and publishers that could send more staff members to shows. The PNA hosts regional trade show America East every spring in Hershey, Pa.
“Expos used to have 15,000 people attending with 300 to 400 exhibitors set up in these Vegas-style convention halls, but a lot of these groups consolidated and merged,” Williams said. “The business world had to make cuts and, as a result, there were fewer exhibitors with fewer choices.”
Before becoming what is America East today, the PNA show used to focus primarily on printing and production. According to Williams, the format was changed in order to widen offerings to include a technical and digital aspect.
The PNA isn’t the only group to see its conferences transform. The Newspaper Association of America used to host three major conferences: one focused on production and operations, another on marketing and advertising, and one with corporate companies and publishers. Kevin McCourt, NAA vice president of member services and events, said as the industry changed, the NAA thought it was best to consolidate the three conferences into one annual conference called mediaXchange.
“Around 2007 to 2008, interest in production and operations began to decline, and the focus was shifted to revenue — how to protect and grow business, and digital and mobile technology,” McCourt said.
Not only did organizers see changes in the exhibit room, they also saw change among attendees.
“At our 2011 conference, we saw more from corporate, the business side, not a lot on the manufacturing side of the industry,” he said. “It shows our business members have changed, so we needed to design our program to what is being indicated today.”
Attendee patterns have also affected Graph Expo, the trade show for the graphic communications industries held each September in Chicago. Organized by the Graphic Arts Show Co., the expo was originally marketed to commercial printers, said vice president Chris Price. Today, it also markets to newspaper printers, book printers and publishers, digital print imagers, mailing and fulfillment shops, and photo imagers.
“A trend brought on by the challenging economy and workforce reductions are less attendees per company; however, a higher level of decision maker attends,” Price said.
Attendees at the National Newspaper Association’s annual convention and trade show include management, editors, and sales staff. “Community papers don’t have a lot of layers,” said NNA chief operating officer Tonda Rush. “When you go, you will talk to the paper’s owner.”
Although attendance numbers aren’t as high as they were a decade ago, organizers said they have seen numbers begin to rise again in recent years. In 2011, the NAA aw a 7 percent registration increase from the previous year, with newspaper executives comprising 52 percent of total participation. The number of companies exhibiting or sponsoring grew from 91 to 101 from 2010 to 2011.
The NAA has also made changes to its policies to limit the number of low-cost registrations for participating exhibitors and dropped the low-cost “exhibits only” registration altogether. “This benefits the overall conference in two ways: Exhibitors have a reasonable number of registrations to market themselves, and non-exhibiting suppliers now need to purchase a full conference registration if they want to network,” McCourt said. “Attendees are no longer overwhelmed by suppliers, and the suppliers who support the conference by exhibiting have an increased share of the newspaper executives’ attention. This will help us grow the number of participating exhibitors as their return on investment has increased in the past two years.”
Rush called the NNA’s convention a “geographically driven conference,” with turnout depending largely on where the show is held. This year’s event is in Albuquerque, N.M. “If it’s located where a high concentration of members can drive there, the numbers go up,” she said. This year the NNA changed the start day of the conference from Wednesday to Thursday to accommodate early production times at weeklies.
Convenience of travel is also an important factor for America East attendees. “Hershey is located near where two-thirds of the country’s population lives,” Williams said. “For many, it’s only a four- to five-hour drive, so they don’t lose time or travel.”
As the profiles of exhibitors and attendees change, organizers will continue to adapt.
“Keeping a balance is vital to the show,” said Tricia Wright, PNA’s vice president of association services. “We have to keep the program current and relevant to the industry, especially with production, digital, and revenue-making topics.”
To help offset the cost of spending, show organizers offer discounted early-bird registration prices and incentives to exhibitors. mediaXchange exhibitors can select from booth packages that include 10 x10 carpeted space, wireless Internet, furnishings such as a flat-screen monitor, NAA associate membership for the year, and conference registration, among other things. Returning America East exhibitors receive the previous year’s exhibit rental rate if they secure their booth space by a specific date. They also receive a small discount if they pay their exhibit space in full by certain deadline dates.
When Brainworks general manager Dick Kitzmiller started in the newspaper business in the mid-1980s, he attended conferences that drew close to 12,000 attendees. “There were huge press machines and printers set up in huge conference halls,” he said. “(Printers) would publish a daily paper on-site after spending weeks installing the equipment. Software was in its infancy, so we went along to reach out to executives and expose them to new technology.”
Founded in 1988, Brainworks develops advertising, circulation, and sales computer software for newspapers. According to Kitzmiller, the company attends up to five large trade shows, including mediaXchange, America East, and NNA’s conference, and about a dozen smaller, regional shows per year.
“Papers used to come to us at trade shows,” Kitzmiller said, “but as the economy and technology changed, papers didn’t send a lot of staff out anymore. The value of the trade show had changed.”
As the 1980s rolled on, Kitzmiller saw papers that were still using press machines from the 1940s and 1950s. “Papers were evolving,” he said. “They wanted to replace old equipment with new technology, but that slowed down in the mid-1990s when the revolution petered out.”
Perhaps the exhibitors that have seen the most change are those involved with production. For more than 40 years, Ferag has designed, developed, and manufactured conveyor and processing systems in the printing industry. New Jersey’s WRH Marketing, Inc. handles the Swiss company’s sales in the United States.
“There aren’t a lot of expos left for ‘iron exhibitors,’” said Barry Evans, vice president of sales for WRH. “Graph Expo is the only one that offers a format for us to bring in equipment and has a venue large enough to hold us.”
Evans said they attend four or five shows per year, including international trade shows in Europe. At Graph Expo, they partner with fellow Ferag distributer Goss International and set up a conveyor model, display graphics, and video. Shows with smaller booth space will hold either static equipment or an informational stand.
To send and display equipment, Evans said it costs between $10,000 and $15,000. “It’s worth it if the people are there,” he said. “We’re seeing attendance numbers creeping back up, so we are quite prepared if people come back.”
Exhibitors have also chosen to be more selective about which shows they attend.
“Instead of doing less shows, we have stricter criteria when picking them,” said Sil Scaglione, managing editor of CineSport, a company that provides papers with sport video content. “It needs to fit our target audience, and we need to have good visibility and opportunities to communicate.” mediaXchange is among the four shows CineSport attends each year.
“We are actually doing more shows,” Kitzmiller said. “When the NAA was at its peak, combined with America East, we would only need to go to two or three shows, because it covered a large percentage of people. Now that these shows draw 200 to 300 (attendees) instead of thousands, we have to go to a dozen more shows to reach that many.”
As audience numbers decline and booth spaces shrink, exhibitors are searching to find value in why they attend shows.
Software Consulting Services president Richard Cichelli said he’s happy if he can give 20 demonstrations during the course of a show. “But most of them already know about the product, or they’re already customers,” he said.
Cichelli’s company develops advertising software for newspapers from the Los Angeles Times to free shopper guides. He typically attends America East, mediaXchange, and one regional conference a year.
“The trade show doesn’t serve its essential function, which is to drive sales,” he said. “It’s due to the evolution of technology — now, we can use the Internet for demos.”
But exhibitors do realize their relationships with the newspaper industry are closely entwined.
“If the nature of the business is doing well, we do well,” Cichelli said. “But if they do poorly, we still do well, because papers will look to put more into automation and consolidating.”
Kitzmiller added, “As vendors, we should still attend the shows. We should support those who buy our products, because our relationship is one and the same.”
Last year’s America East conference was the first for staff members at the Lebanon Daily News. The paper covers Lebanon County in central Pennsylvania with a daily circulation of 17,500.
“We looked at the lineup and the seminars offered,” said publisher Scott Downs. “Even though we had no budget set aside to go, we made it happen because we saw enough value to attend.”
In addition to Downs, one member from his advertising department, and another from his editorial team came to Hershey with him.
“What stood out for us was the panel on social media,” Downs said. “Afterward, we set up aggressive growth goals for ourselves, and I’m pleased with our practices. Our ‘likes’ on Facebook have grown, and we have learned how to post effective updates.”
Publisher Dave Neill led his team from the Naples Daily News to last year’s mediaXchange conference. The Florida paper has a daily circulation of 58,000.
About a dozen members from his circulation, editorial, and advertising departments attended the conference with him. “What we looked for was which show had more emphasis on selling papers and looked at how to build revenue online and from our readership,” he said.
Although fewer people from the paper attended compared to previous years, Neill said a conference such as mediaXchange is one of the greatest values to his managers.
“It allows them to build networks, and find someone to consult and collaborate with,” he said. “They always come back having learned something.”
For Kentucky publisher Chip Hutcheson, he sees results every time he returns from a conference. Hutcheson is publisher of the Princeton Times Leader, a weekly paper published every Wednesday and Saturday with a 5,700 circulation.
He has attended NNA’s annual conference almost every year. “From the past 10 years, I say I’ve made it to eight,” he said. Although he attends the national conference solo, he attends his state’s annual press association convention with members from his editorial, advertising, and circulation teams to “network, for technology seminars and to generate revenue ideas.”
“I always make money after going,” Hutcheson said. “I find ideas that end up paying for the trip every time. Four years ago, I found a commercial printing vendor through networking that helped me increase our profit margin.”
During his 35 years as a publisher, Hutcheson has seen many changes in the trade show format, most noticeably the declining number of vendors. “Now we see more niche-type companies and more online product services. The playing field has diminished,” he said. “Vendors are analyzing more, because they want to have assured success. If they go and don’t find any business, they’ll give up and not try again next year.”
Hutcheson encouraged publishers to keep attending conferences. “Everyone is facing the same kind of problems and challenges, even though we’re located in different parts of the country, we go to exchange ideas and be productive. It will pay off in the long run, and you will come out ahead.”
Nancy Lane, president of Suburban Newspapers of America, said she would like to see more groups and state press associations come together to sponsor conferences. “We’ve been partners with America East for almost eight years,” she said. “The California and Arizona associations are partnering up for our SNA fall conference in Phoenix.”
Scaglione said he sees an opportunity to livestream events on the Internet for people who cannot attend the trade show in person. He saw the format used at an advertising conference. “It will help with cost savings to access the show online for a fee with livestreaming and on-demand conference access.”
Price said changes are on their way for 2012 as Graph Expo adds a photo-imaging pavilion and expands the newsprint and marketing pavilion. The expo will also expand integrated marketing tools to reach beyond the live show days.
Rush, who’s coordinating the NNA’s 125th convention this month, may have put it best. “It’s going to take a lot of change in the economy to make us give up conferences.”
Rise of the Webinars
Fifteen years ago, the word “webinar” wasn’t even part of our everyday vocabulary. Merriam-Webster reports the word was first used in 1998, defined as a “live online education presentation during which participating viewers can submit questions and comments.” Simply put, it’s a seminar conducted on the Web. With so many companies cutting costs, webinars are growing increasingly popular as a way to share information, but how do they compare to the traditional outlet of conferences?
“Webinars are fantastic as an economic way of learning.” — Dave Neill, publisher, Naples Daily News
“Webinars are used more as a training or support tool.” — Richard Cichelli, president, Software Consulting Services
“We see them as different engagement tools which we can integrate with face-to-face as well as other marketing tools/initiatives.” — Chris Price, vice president, Graphic Arts Show Co.
“It’s great if you have specific goals you want to learn.” — Chip Hutcheson, publisher, Times Leader
“Webinars are often an extension of ace-to-face meetings, so they are complementary to the conference.” — Kevin McCourt, vice president, Newspaper Association of America
“The biggest pro is receiving a variety of new ideas in a cost-effective manner, but the biggest con is that you’re missing the face-to-face interaction, which adds value and meaning.” — Scott Downs, publisher, Lebanon Daily News
“They’re not effective when you want to present to a group, because you miss out on feedback. I may be old-fashioned, but there is nothing out there that can replace a trade show.” — Barry Evans, vice president, WRH Marketing
America East, source: America East
Attendee Registrations by Area of Responsibility (approximate % in 2011)
General Mgr/Publisher 12%
Human Resources 1%
Registration by Circulation (approximate % in 2011)
Over 100,000 25%
Up to 10,000 4%
Attendees and Company Types:
Commercial Printers 5.5%
Non-Exhibiting Newspaper Suppliers 5.5%
mediaXchange, source: Newspaper Association of America
Comparing 2009 to 2010
2009 People Attendance
Newspaper Executives 582
Advertising Decision Makers 123
Other Registrants 305
Spouse, guest, student 222
2009 Organizations Attendance
Newspaper Media Companies 330
Exhibitor/Sponsor Companies 215
2010 People Attendance
Newspaper Executives 555
Advertising Decision Makers 91
Other Registrants 178
Spouse, guest, student 50
2009 Organizations Attendance
Newspaper Media Companies 264
Exhibitor/Sponsor Companies 129
Net Square Feet of Exhibit Space