When the CEO Visits a Customer Event…

I’ve spoken at two recent graphic arts events where something unusual happened. Chief Executive Officers of billion-plus dollar companies were in attendance speaking to customers and prospects. This is not only unusual, it’s also very symbolic, and it underscores the importance of a kind of event that is happening more and more frequently: invitation-only customer/prospect events held at a company-owned or partner facility. Customers and prospects are flown in, wined & dined, shown the latest product updates, and given a strategy update by senior executives. And in case you were wondering, the marketing dollars spent at these events are very likely those that were saved by not participating at IPEX or other graphic arts trade shows.

  • Xerox’s Inkjet Summit – The first of the events I spoke at was a Xerox Inkjet Summit at the Impika headquarters in Aubagne, France (near Marseille). Xerox acquired Impika in February of 2013 and has been expanding the Impika facility, which it now calls the Impika Inkjet Innovation Center. Xerox invited dozens of customers and prospects to a two-day event that included a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the expansion and a presentation and question & answer session with Ursula Burns, Xerox’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Other senior Xerox executives in attendance included Jeff Jacobson, Chief Operating Officer, Xerox Technology; Andrew Copley, President, Global Graphic Communications Operations; and Paul Morgavi, Chief Operation Officer, Inkjet Division.
  • Kodak NexPress at ImageMark – The second one was a Kodak NexPress event in Charlotte, North Carolina that included a trip to ImageMark, an innovative solutions provider and Kodak customer in nearby Gastonia, NC. I visited ImageMark in the fall of 2013 when it was first announced that Kodak would be using the company as a customer demonstration center. (See the blog I wrote at the time.) This time around it was a two-day customer and prospect event that included presentations by top Kodak executives. Not only was new Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke there, but also Terry Taber, Kodak’s Chief Technology Officer. The scope of the event allowed attendees extensive access to these and other Kodak representatives. In addition, the time spent at ImageMark allowed everyone to see a range of Kodak technologies in operation.

I enjoy these types of events, and I think the other attendees do too. Why? They can get their questions answered, mingle with like-minded service providers, and enjoy the beneficence of large corporations. The corporations like these events because they get the undivided attention of people who spend money on technology.

All of this gets me thinking about the state of trade shows. I’ve been asked recently what I think Graph Expo will be like this year in light of the exhibitor exodus from IPEX, which was drastically downsized compared to previous years and will have to reinvent itself to survive. Despite the demise of IPEX and the general contraction of the graphic arts trade show market in the U.S. and Europe, I think Graph Expo will be okay. There is still an important place for a few key graphic arts trade shows and I think that the state of the economy is such that service providers will be likely to attend. It’s true that the larger vendors have options like the two events described above (as well as user group events), but graphic arts trade shows are particularly vital for smaller companies that benefit from a central gathering point where visitors can see a range of offerings. These shows are a big help for companies that don’t have extensive customer and prospect lists to draw on.

Frank Romano invited me recently to participate in a panel on the future of the graphic arts industry that will take place on the Sunday of Graph Expo. I hope to see you there. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this important topic, and I also know that I will benefit from an up close and personal view of products from a wide range of Graph Expo exhibitors, big and small.

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