From the Editor: Too Many Conferences
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.