With Fespa Digital now just a couple of weeks away, Lesley Simpson thought it timely to catch up with Fespa CEO Neil Felton and still relatively new divisional director Roz McGuinness.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you’ll know that Fespa is an umbrella federation of 37 national associations for the screen, digital and textile printing communities. And that since it was founded in 1962 it has grown to be one of the biggest exhibitions and conferences organisers for the sectors it serves. A Fespa Digital 2014 preview appears in the May issue of Image Reports so we didn’t dwell too much on that upcoming event, but on the organisation’s plans and how its development will impact upon the digital wide-format market.
Roz, as the person now in charge of Fespa Digital 2014, what have been the biggest challenges in getting to grips with a project like this and have you had time to make your mark yet?
(McGuinness) It’s early days! I joined Fespa at the beginning of the year and my remit covers the European event portfolio and Fespa China. The biggest learning curve for anyone joining a B2B exhibition team is to get a good understanding of the community you’re serving. Thankfully a prior role at Pira gave me some understanding of print and I’ve been out meeting some of the major Digital Fespa exhibitors and getting lots of ideas about how we can continue to deliver strong events. And the Fespa Global Summit was really interesting because it gave me the chance to also speak with printers. Luckily for me I joined Fespa at a point where Fespa Digital it is doing really well and could expand the floorspace. I’ve really been able to concentrate on making sure we deliver a strong show from the visitor perspective – not just a show of technology but that we are delivering content that is right for printers’ needs.
I want to ask about Fespa’s ‘Not for Profit’ position. Reinvestment into the industry is a core value so how will we see this play out at Fespa 2014?
(McGuinness) We want to show that we understand printers’ business needs as well technological needs. At the show we have hubs that will focus on digital, signage and fabric and they will be educational as well as practical. There will be interactive sessions and we’ll have global thought leaders providing content. We’ll also have the World Wrap Master, which will bring together the best wrappers from around the world. And there will be design sessions for people looking to move into that area. We’re also making sure we have sessions in German and content specific for German companies as we’ll be in Germany!
I’d like to know what in particular you are doing from an industry reinvestment standpoint in relation to Fespa UK Association?
(Felton) Profit for purpose projects are funded centrally from Fespa. Fespa UK Association is an autonomous organization, which of course we support. Its Think Tank, of which there have been several and which we part fund, are very good at bringing together print buyers and talking about the major issues. And there are three other projects that are awaiting approval by the project committee.
What about non-UK specific funded projects that are still intended to benefit printers here??
(Felton) As you know we have many projects that are globally strong. There are of course the features we run at our shows, and we’re talking about things like the lobbying we’ve done in the EU, the Economy Survey and World Wide Survey – all of which can relate back to the UK market.
This industry lacks some valuable data (eg. how much vinyl is printed annually). Do you see that as a possible role for Fespa?
(Felton) There has to be a place for us to do that – we’re the thought leaders globally with regard to our community and as such it’s essential that we provide that information. The first thing I can announce, and which we’ll be launching at Fespa Digital in Munich, is the Global Census, which will be a one year campaign that involves us getting data from around the world about what the trends are in regards to print. We’ve done surveys before but what is key is that we get as large a base as possible of information which we can turn both into global trends and into regional trends, and more granularly, be able to look at from a national perspective.
We will start at Fespa Digital and gain information at all of our shows and also online to create the largest global census in the wide-format print market that there’s ever been. The results will come through in a variety of stages. In four or five months we’ll see preliminary material and shortly after Fespa Brazil in March 2015 we should have a much fuller report.
As you know Image Reports has launched a Think Bigger initiative to help educate creatives about the possibilities of large-format digital print and thus grow demand. I understand Fespa is working on a project to help get the message out there?
(Felton) Yes. We need to look at how printers can succeed and that means looking at the supply chain – at the buyers of print and how we engage with them. We started at Fespa 2013 with the Creative Corner and provided a focus and content for brands, agencies and creative to say ‘this is what wide-format print can do’, and now we’re taking it one step further. We’re going to take that information to the events where these people are – Cannes Lion etc. – via a moveable showcase. We’ve bought an American school bus and will be wrapping it and fitting it out in wide-format printed products to illustrate what the sector can do. The project is called Print Inspiration Rallye and you’ll see the first iteration at Fespa Digital 2014 but we will continue to work on it and improve it as we go forward.”
As Fespa develops shows in other parts of the world, and perhaps vendors turn their attention to what they might consider more lucrative growth markets (geographically), how will that impact upon Fespa’s European focus?
(Felton) Well Fespa has a growing global portfolio of events, and what we are doing is introducing Fespa as a brand into these regions. As we introduce the events people begin to understand what Fespa events stand for, what the Fespa community stands for, and those shows are driving people to our flagship shows in Europe. At Fespa London over 60% of our audience were from outside the UK. But Europe is our major focus. The reason for employing Roz was to make sure we kept a strong focus on the European show. I think there are things we can learn from some of the developing countries. For example legislation against on outdoor signage in Sao Paulo means in-store signage in Brazil is very good and I know a lot of our community is very keen to pick up on knowledge from around the world.
Fespa is predominantly an exhibition organiser, and as such needs to build strong relationships with exhibitors. Considering inkjet technology developers are looking to markets outside ‘graphic arts’ to grow their own business (eg. industrial print, 3D print etc.) does it follow that Fespa will gradually refocus with them?
(Felton) I think it has to and it already is. At the Global Summit we were talking about a wide variety of print, but I think that for a community to be successful it needs to have definable markets with common interests, and that is a real challenge. Whether it’s 3D, industrial – there are a whole host of different markets we need to be engaging with that have their own communities. Take 3D printing: a doctor may be ‘printing’ a pelvic bone and a fashion house ‘printing’ a shoe - there may be a commonality of inkjet technology but they can work very differently in their individual market fields and we need to address that from a wide-format perspective. Moving forward it’s very important to build those bridges and we’ve started doing that by engaging with those associations and markets that are very much a vertical.
We are not moving Fespa away from its core in any way whatsoever, but the market is going to change. At the core of what we do is always going to be the wide-format screen, print and textile as discussed, but there is going to be evolution and we need to make sure we stay ahead of that which is why we are looking at tangential markets like promotional products, non-printed signage, digital signage etc.
Fespa makes its money from exhibitions, but it is ever expanding its remit. What kind of organisation do you think it will be in 10 years’ time?
(Felton) Will Fespa’s community be same in ten years’ time as it is now? No, quite frankly. The market is changing and it’s Fespa’s job to stay ahead of that. Print is not an island and it needs to engage with a wide variety of different sectors.
Core to everything we do has got to be the community we represent now – the wide-format print community. But we have to take responsibility for broadening and lengthening that community. By lengthening, I mean we need to look at the supply chain and engage with the print buyers and build the demand for print - Fespa needs to do that centrally. In terms of broadening the scope, our members are looking at all sorts of new applications and opportunities and we need to provide them with the information they want.
An edited version of this interview can be seen as a video.