Past, Presence, Future: How the Newspaper Trade Show Is Doing in Today's Economy

Article excerpt

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The industry trade show. Not long ago, it was the premier annual event, where newspaper executives

anti 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?

Changing Times

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."

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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."

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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. …