Organisers of Sign and Digital UK (SDUK) are promising “an all new show in a new hall” when it takes place on 28 - 30 April, 2020. A new team has been put in place to deliver what they promise will be “a fresh show with a new website, new layout, new features and new stand options”. But is so much change code for “panic, we’re in trouble”? I met up with new event director Jenny Matthew to get her strategic take on developments.
By Lesley Simpson
To be blunt Jenny, questions are being asked over the event’s ongoing viability. You have replaced long-term event director Rudi Blackett in the role, there’s a new marketing team, and everything has seemingly been thrown up in the air with the aim of delivering a show that will have an “appeal beyond its core audience”. What does the big shake-up signify?
The show is evolving. First let me say we’re not panicking. The show has a 30-year heritage. I previously worked on it between 2002 and 2007, and it’s changed phenomenally since then. There have been some natural staff changes at [SDUK organiser] Faversham House. Rudi has been the show director for nearly 18 years and the thought was ‘let’s just get some new thinking’.
I was working on another portfolio for Faversham, and because I knew the show, I was asked to visit the 2018 and 2019 shows just to talk to some of the exhibitors and get a feel for how the event had changed since I had worked on it. One thing led to another and timings were right for me and for Faversham so the decision was made that I’d come in and work alongside Rudi, who has decades of experience in this industry and is now account director with a core focus on strategic sales. When we last worked together the show he was group sales manager and I was group marketing manager so we have a good relationship and work really well together.
We have also had other staff changes - somebody has retired, there have been some internal promotions and two team members have moved across to another show portfolio, and we have a brand new marketing team as you say, which is really exciting because of course that brings fresh ideas and a fresh approach.
So everyone has been replaced on the marketing team?
Well Jane was with us for seven years and she’s moved on to new challenges. So yes, we have Zoe who’s head of brand portfolio, we’ve got Helena who is our marketing exec, and we’re looking o fill another senior marketing role. So everything hasn’t been thrown up in the air - we’re just looking at every single aspect of the show, and we’ve been doing that with a new team, with fresh eyes.
We do an awful lot of research each year too. I’ve personally been out visiting some of our visitor audience and what we’re delivering is what the industry is telling us they want. So it might look like there’s a lot of change - and there is - but we’re keeping the core appeal of the show the same, we’re just expanding it.
How much are you swayed by existing - and potential - exhibitors wanting to reach new client bases when it comes to reshaping the show?
We always listen to our customers, who are our visitors and our exhibitors. We take on board their focus, where their businesses are going and who they want to reach.
Sign UK is a much loved show, and it’s stood the test of time, and that’s because Faversham has always consulted the industry.
So are the exhibitors pushing for an expanded visitor base to the show?
Not aggressively, but we are working with them on finding out who they strategically want to get to.
We have huge investment happening in our data, and encourage exhibitors to say ‘we particularly want to get this type of person’ or ‘this level of person’ and then build that into our show development strategy.
A good example in relation to the 2020 show, is that a lot of exhibitors are providing products and services around textile printing - wallcovering, décor etc - a huge area that is growing for many reasons. So this years we’re introducing ‘TextileTech’, which is a dedicated area within SDUK.
The exhibitors want to sell to existing customers and typical Sign UK visitor, such as wide-format printers - who want to expand their business and open new revenue streams, and perhaps get into embroidery for example.
How important is it to the show’s continuation that it attracts a new visitor audience - such as those you’ve earmarked from textile production through to end users in creative, retail, lifestyle, education and local government?
It’s not a make or break situation that we attract new visitors, but we do have to evolve the show, and yes, exhibitors want to reach new potential buyers too. That is why we’re investing so heavily in the features around the show - such as the applications galleries. We do need to shout about what’s at the show to attract those new people.
Sign and Digital has always been a buying show, and always will be. So it’s important to keep the visitor audience fresh. Our stats show that 43% of visitors in 2019 were new visitors - so they hadn’t attended the show in 2018, 2017 or 2016. And 86% of those visitors are involved in buying decisions, incredibly important when it comes to delivering the right people for exhibitors.
So do you see SDUK becoming a more generalised print show? We’ve seen what happened to Ipex!
Yeah, that’s not a great model to emulate! But we have no plans to pigeonhole Sign and Digital. I think the beauty of the show is that is has such a breadth of products and services and gets such a breadth of visitors coming through the door. But we’re not going to become just another print show. It is called Sign and Digital, and those people are still our core visitors, but like all shows we need to attract newcomers with features and attractions that are perhaps a bit more focussed on their types of business.
I would say our ‘core’ visitors are getting a more structured event in 2020. One of the things that came through from our visitor research this year, was that print companies wanted so to see certain things. Those things were at the show, it was just that they hadn’t found them. So what we’re trying to do with the next event is be a bit more organised and better signpost things.
For instance, apart from Textile Tech, we’ll have a textile trail, whereby we badge those companies that have something of interest to those visitors who have a specific interest in textile printing. A lot of our exhibitors have a preferred position and don’t want to move so we can’t put them all together, but we can make it more obvious for visitors as to who’s doing what.
Also, we’ll have some technical tours in 2020 - one of which will be wide-format, which will help those wanting to get into wide-format, or expand what they’re doing with the technology.
SDUK is a stalwart on many of my readers’ calendars, but what would you say to those who fear that the new-look event may make it less of a ‘must attend’ national large-format print orientated affair in 2020 - especially given it’s just a month after Fespa Global.
We always have this show cycle and we always do fine. Also, our last lot of stats showed that 52% of visitors to our event hadn’t been to a competitive show in the last two years.
Mentioning Fespa, 2020 sees Drupa too - and manufacturers are telling me they are doing fewer shows anyway - so how is that impacting SDUK?
Again, we’ve been through this show cycle before and a the moment all indications are that all the main manufacturers will have a presence at Sign and Digital UK 2020 - whether that’s exhibiting on their own or through resellers. They’ll find a way to do they show - they always have done. We are aware that the cost of everything is going up and we have some bespoke marketing packages this year to help support their presence at the show. And we stress that exhibiting isn’t just about the three show days - the promotion begins the minute hey sign up and continues post show.
What needs to happen at SDUK 2020 for us to see another show in 2021?
We need to maintain the quality of visitors we’ve been getting year in, year out - which we will do. And we need to make sure that we are listening to the industry and delivering what they want.