From the Editor: Too Many Conferences

There are at least six different in-plant conferences each year. With lackluster attendance this year, they need to consolidate...or die.

I JUST got back from Print 09 in Chicago. The highlight for me was a breakfast round table discussion that I moderated, which drew more than 50 in-plant managers. The next day, the In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association hosted a similar meeting, with about the same number of attendees. In all, Print 09 was a pretty good deal for in-plants: free food, fellowship and insight, plus a chance to gawk at the latest technological advances. And just think, this was only the first of four in-plant gatherings this fall.

Therein lies the problem.

For years there has been a glut of annual in-plant conferences. Not counting trade show round tables, there are no less than six separate conferences each year: ACUP, IPMA, NGPA, Big Ten, SUPDMC and TACUP*. Each has its history and its loyal fan base. And despite some overlap, each group has more or less competed against the others.

This finally came to a head this month when three of these groups set their conference dates within weeks of one another. Each has struggled to pull in attendees, but travel restrictions have thwarted them. Usually there’s even a fourth fall conference, the Big Ten, but it seems to have vanished without a sound this year.

Having so many in-plant conferences was great back when the money was flowing and managers could go to several events a year. But these days, one can’t help but wonder if the time has come to choose between consolidation or death.

Mergers have worked in the past. Just last year, SUPDMC and TACUP joined forces for a successful conference. At the same time, though, IPMA’s proposal to absorb and manage NGPA was voted down by loyal members last year at one of the association’s most packed conferences in years; this year, with travel bans in force, only a couple dozen have registered for NGPA’s New Orleans conference.

Caught up in all of this are the vendors, eager to support in-plants, but unsure of the value of investing in so many small gatherings. And then there’s the plight of the organizers, in-plant managers with full-time jobs who have volunteered to orchestrate these events, gather speakers, plan activities—all for a handful of attendees.

It may be time for these groups to swallow their pride and team up. It worked for TACUP and SUPDMC last year. Why couldn’t NGPA and SUPDMC, for example, plan their events in the same location, enhancing both attendance and vendor support and reducing the work required of each host? Another thought: IPMA and ACUP are the strongest of the conferences, yet they are traditionally held within a month of one another. At the same time, university managers often complain that ACUP conflicts with their school graduation dates. So why shouldn’t ACUP move to the fall and be held in conjunction with NGPA, which has a number of university members? Big Ten, SUPDMC and TACUP loyalists could join in the fun, rather than competing.

I’m aware that loyal members of all these groups are cursing me right now, scandalized at the thought of their conferences going away. But just look around: Big Ten has vanished; SUPDMC and NGPA each have small turnouts; ACUP was cancelled due to travel restrictions. Sure, there’s a recession going on, and attendance might spring back some day. But for many reasons, I wonder if the industry should let it.

Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.

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  • http://RickWise Rick Wise

    I applaud Bob’s editorial regarding conference consolidation. I agree with him that the time has come for both tough decisions and cooperation in our in-plant industry.<br />
    We can no longer ignore the "elephant(s) in the room". <br />
    1) There are not enough participants and vendors to go around. <br />
    2) A smaller conference has less to offer attendees than a larger conference. In terms of both speaker and program quality as well as simply having a greater number of attendees to provide enhanced opportunities to exchange ideas and experiences.<br />
    Rick Wise<br />
    Printing Services-University of MO<br />
    <br />
    <br />
    <br />

  • http://StevenDimond Steven Dimond

    This is one of those discussions that is overdue for debate and has vocal supporters and detractors on all sides. The only thing certain is something needs to be done. Having seen higher ed focused as part of an overall event (Print on Demand and Print 09 for example) shows that there can be co-existence. There needs to be a way to develop solutions that serve everyone’s best interests. Consolidation is a better option than elimination. <br />
    Steve Dimond<br />
    MIT Copy Technology Centers<br />
    <br />

  • http://RayChambers Ray Chambers

    Wait a minute. Let’s look a little deeper. <br />
    <br />
    I can’t speak for IPMA or NGPA except to say that their memberships are broader than just higher ed, but. . .<br />
    <br />
    ACUP is a community. It’s sort of like the Facebook of higher ed in-plant printerdom. ACUP is held in the spring and attracts a large – as large as IPMA in recent years – national audience. Big-10 and SUPDMC are in the fall and coincide with a slow down after the madness associated witht the beginning of the Academic year. The host schools usually reach out to smaller schools in the area – schools that might not be able to fund attendance at a national conference – and give them the opportunity to attend. And let’s not forget that TACUP was formed, in part, because a lot of schools in that Great State don’t fund out-of-state travel, so they pretty much have to stay in state.<br />
    <br />
    These groups have no structure. They don’t have offices or executive directors, or newsletters, or boards of directors. Each event is hosted by a volunteer, and each host is performing a labor of love. We do it to give back to the community. <br />
    <br />
    People go to conferences for different reasons. Many of us go to meet folks, share ideas, and maintain relationships – relationships we call on throughout the year. i could bore you for hours with stories about experiences directly related to this group. About how they’ve helped me and others. Think about a problem and I’ll guarantee there’s someone in the community that has a lot of experience and is happy to help you fix it<br />
    <br />
    I have hosted ACUP, as has Rick, and Big 10, and was on the board of IPMA for several years. In my experience, a lot of the support for the higher ed conferences comes from local vendors: Mom and Pop’s litho supply or the local paper guys. They know they aren’t going to sell anything to a bunch of out-of-town printers, but they pitch in to support the U

  • http://TomTozier Tom Tozier

    Although I can see both sides of this issue and with all due respect to Ray Chambers, I agree with Bob and my esteemed colleagues who have responded here. Being a past ACUP host I have experienced firsthand the complexities, stress and hard work that goes into setting up a conference. Do not get me wrong it is also a very rewarding experience and I enjoyed every minute of it.<br />
    <br />
    The harsh reality though is that a successful conference would be almost impossible to hold without the support and sponsorship of our vendors. What defines a successful conference in my experience it is the quality of the educational sessions, the ability to network with friends and colleagues and the chance to tour the hosts operations. These are all activities that require a minimum cost to the host. However, providing meals, transportation, facility costs, programs, gifts and more exceed the amount of funds collected in registration fees. These costs require sponsor ship money and in this economy those dollars are shrinking, even prior to the economic downturn vendors were tightening their budgets in the area of sponsorships. These days there just is not enough to go around for everyone. Sponsors are faced with the decision to give less or to limit their participation by not sponsoring an event at all.<br />
    <br />
    If we risk losing the budget to hold a successful conference then it will not be a choice to consolidate, it will be the inability to hold a majority of these conferences. I would much rather see a consolidation then no conference at all. Mr. Chambers has a good point regarding ACUP and its specific constituency, but SUPDMC, Big 10, Big 12 and others have the same specific focus. Perhaps it is time bring these groups together and hold one higher education focused conference.<br />
    <br />
    I do not think we could successfully combine Higher Ed with corporate and private in-plants and I cannot see the benefit of IPMA consolidating with

  • http://MauryKane Maury Kane

    It is the business of editors to write modest proposals that make all the sense in the world to some readers. Bob Neubauer’s latest foray into the consolidation of conferences ranks with those of sports writers who promoted the creation of the BCS ranking system to decide who is the national college football champion. Sounds like a good idea but all college fans disagree as to its real value. <br />
    <br />
    Is it any of anyone’s concern if conferences are held regionally (except for those represented)? I’ve attended at least one SUPDMC and a couple of Big Tens, as well as hosted an ACUP, and I wonder why there aren’t more conferences, not less. As pointed out, TACUP has a prohibition that they are working around concerning out of state travel, but why aren’t there Big East, Big Twelve and PAC-10 conferences as well. Every state could have occasional meetings that would provide the kind of interaction needed for better networking and knowledge of the local vendors who provide local products and services.<br />
    <br />
    Tom and Rick talk of the need for sponsorship and vendor support to hold a successful conference. Please tell me, where is it written that ACUP must be a big deal to be successful? Obviously, not those who attended the Alaskan conference hosted by Warren Fraser or the Lehigh University one of Nancy Marino which were relatively small and vendor free. But, they were held away from major cities and in less expensive hotels. Remember, ACUP started with a few individuals trying to relate to the problems they mutually encountered in being a support to their universities. We have allowed vendors to be too influential in our planning, in our meeting rooms and on our external events. <br />
    <br />
    The price for attending ACUP is low compared to the IPMA conferences and there are no annual dues. Hotel rates at Marriotts and Holiday Inns are too expensive. Aren’t there lesser accommodations nearby host campuses? I was astounded by the meal prices I had to cover in Philadelphia — and the food could have been better! <br />
    <br />
    ACUP is probably a hard concept to figure — we don’t organize, charge ongoing fees, hold director meetings or write by-laws. It is a 60’s be-in with a goal — mutual support. I suggest it is a model for other regional conferences but on an international scale. <br />
    <br />
    Maury Kane<br />
    Director, Duplicating Services<br />
    Temple University

  • http://JenniferBowers Jennifer Bowers

    I’ll jump in from my perspective, having hosted both a regional (SUPDMC 03) and a national (ACUP 08) conference. I think we need both and don’t believe elimination of any, but cooperation and planning of some mutual events together. The regional conferences serve the purpose of allowing shorter travel times for in-plants to drive to an event and not spend as much travel dollars. I have attended many SUPDMC’s and Big Ten’s as well as ACUP’s and they all are beneficial and valuable. But with that said, perhaps the regional’s would consider a joint Eastern or Western conference on occasion. Or ACUP share an event with NACUMS again, as Bob Lane did in Arizona. I agree with Steve Diamond–consolidation is better than elimination. With economic times this difficult, we all hope to get together to share common problems and solutions.<br />
    Jennifer Bowers<br />
    Printing & Mailing Services<br />
    Florida State University<br />

  • http://JerrySampson Jerry Sampson

    I applaud your article on combining conferences. xpedx has tried to be loyal to as many of the conferences as possible, but in the recent past the review of budgets has forced us to determine which events make the most sense to attend. If the leaders of the conference heed your advice, I think everyone will benefit. The vendors will be there with more than token attendance, the members will receive more diverse information, and fees and costs will be more manageable.
    <br />
    <br />However, there is a much greater benefit. The ability to mingle with other segments of the in-plant industry may be the biggest asset. At one time, one could say that there wasn’t much overlap in segments but now with the changes all of us are experiencing in printing we all need to see how we are managing those changes.
    <br />
    <br />Thanks,
    <br />
    <br />Jerry Sampson
    <br />National Business Development Manager – Business Imaging, In-Plant Segment
    <br />Asheville, NC

  • http://GregCholmondeley Greg Cholmondeley

    I read the passionate comments here and it is clear that regional and other highly focused associations are desired, needed and highly valued. It is also obvious, given lackluster conference attendance, that the vast majority of their memberships find the value in their list servers, newsletters and other services, not in their conferences.<br />
    <br />
    To me, the answer is pretty obvious. Keep the organizations to satisfy the unique needs of specific groups, but consolidate the annual meetings. Having been to IPMA, TACUP, SUPDMC, NGPA and ACUP I know that many of the conference topics are similar. I also know that some are very specific to target audiences. This is no big deal. It is common for conferences to have common sessions along with separate tracks for education, government, healthcare, insurance or whatever subgroups are desired. Regional events can be handled with local chapter meetings and webinars.<br />
    <br />
    Combining conferences in no way diminishes the value or personality of different associations. It does share cost, management and content burdens across a larger population while drawing a larger audience for greater networking and learning potential. I would love to see an in-plant community with as many associations as needed but with no more than two national conferences consisting of common and association-specific sessions, separated by geography (east/west or north/south) and dates (spring/autumn).<br />
    <br />
    Greg Cholmondeley<br />
    In-plant Marketing Manager<br />
    Ricoh Americas Corporation<br />
    Production Printing Business Group

  • http://greenprinter green printer

    The free party train is ending.