FESPA’s CEO, Neil Felton discusses the impact COVID-19 has had on FESPA’s community, how it has coped, the importance of adapting and embracing the change and moving forwards.
As 2020 draws to a close, it’s very safe to say that it’s been a year like no other. Personally, as an exhibition professional, I never imagined having to postpone multiple events over the course of a year, or the challenges of planning for the future with so little certainty. Everyone in the events world has faced unprecedented challenges, and we’re an industry that prides itself on dealing with the unforeseen.
More importantly, many of the speciality printers FESPA represents worldwide have felt the harsh impact of the pandemic on their order intake and business continuity. It’s been encouraging to hear so many stories – directly and via our national Associations – of businesses who have responded with agile strategies. Diversifying into new product areas, for example, or promoting new services tailored to the challenges facing retail and hospitality clients.
But it’s true to say that, for many, the journey of business recovery is only just beginning.
When times are tough, we all need to know that we can access support and expertise. We want to connect with like-minded people, to exchange ideas and share experiences – good and bad. As ever, our Associations have worked hard on the ground to steer our members through 2020. They’ve offered practical help and guidance, pointed print businesses towards government support, dispensed HR advice and highlighted routes to funding.
And I’ve been amazed to hear reports from them of commercial rivalries falling into the background, of printers pulling together to help one another, share insights and resources, and even supplying staff to bridge gaps in capacity.
Our local communities, our WhatsApp groups with friends and neighbours, have become so much more significant for us this year. Similarly, our business relationships and support groups have grown in importance, wherever we’ve been able to connect. We’re seeing our competitors and customers in a new light. Perhaps because, for the first time, we’ve all travelled through the same tunnel together?
The feedback we’ve had from printers and suppliers in response to our event postponements has reminded me that our FESPA exhibitions around the world are not like other shows. FESPA is, first and foremost, a community support organisation and our events are hubs, where everyone that unites around speciality print can congregate. Not just to see and buy products, but to be energised, to learn and be inspired by experts and peers. Sadly, until the second half of 2021, those opportunities to meet face-to-face remain closed to us, but I believe that we’ll value them all the more when they’re restored.
Meanwhile, at FESPA we’ve channelled our efforts into expanding the advice and educational content available via our online platforms. If you’re looking for information about latest products, our new online showroom brings together news and technical information from our exhibitors.
If automation, process control and sustainability are your priorities, our new FESPA Coffee Break webinars are a great source of expert advice. They cover the critical topics that we believe will be important elements of most recovery strategies. Watch this space, because we’re continuing to develop this series in the coming months, along with other initiatives that will come to life in 2021.
As we have been for more than 50 years, FESPA is here to support you with education, knowledge and best practice advice, and to keep you connected. We’ve brought this community through five decades of meteoric change in print, riding out economic crises and technological revolutions and helping you to build successful, sustainable businesses.
And we’ll do it again post-COVID. The pandemic has been rocket-fuel for change, for rapid digital transformation and hurried innovation across all industries. With the right guidance, there’s a golden opportunity for the speciality print world to forge ahead and embrace that change. To grasp the potential to improve processes, eliminate waste, create new products and devise new, collaborative ways of doing business that attract new generations and customer groups to print.
If we pull together, I’m confident we’ll come back brighter. See you in 2021!
by Neil Felton