The show must go on – even when the shows are not able to go ahead

Manufacturers have to decide how to handle their product launch strategies amid the Covid-19 outbreak

Mimaki stuck to its schedule and held a virtual press conference instead
Mimaki stuck to its schedule and held a virtual press conference instead

For the print industry’s manufacturers and suppliers, one of the numerous business challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic has been working out how to introduce new products to their customers in these uncertain times.

2020 was set to be a Drupa year – the Düsseldorf show has now been postponed to April 2021 – and Fespa’s Global Print Expo, which had been scheduled to take place in Madrid in March, has been pushed back by seven months to October. Countless other industry events have also been postponed or cancelled.

With these vital sales and lead-making opportunities for new products removed, at least for now, businesses have had to put on their thinking hats to work out how best to mitigate the impact.

Sitting for up to a year on new and innovative technology that is ready to go now is understandably not desirable or feasible in many cases, and therefore many manufacturers have opted to push ahead with the timing of their launches as planned.

Heidelberg was one of a number of companies that switched its pre-Drupa press briefing from a physical to a virtual event, once it became apparent in early March that the coronavirus situation was worsening in Europe.

The manufacturer had already unveiled its next-generation Speedmaster, which it had planned as a highlight of its Drupa showing, and has continued with this launch regardless, with Elle Media Group taking delivery of the world’s first purchased XL 106 in the new specification in March.

That said, just days later Heidelberg took drastic action to restore profitability and canned its Primefire B1 inkjet press, previously hailed as part of its Drupa showcase.

Canon, meanwhile, unveiled its VarioPrint iX-series, an advanced sheetfed inkjet press featuring iQuariusiX technology, on 1 April – always the planned launch date according to the business.

“The plan was to present the printer during the pre-Drupa media week in the press conference at the end of April, and then show it live at Drupa,” Canon says, adding that availability in both EMEA and the Americas is planned for summer 2020.

HP has also pushed ahead with the roll-out of new products it had been due to show at Drupa and Fespa, unveiling new additions and enhancements for its Indigo and Latex R series portfolios.

“Understandably, everyone – from a personal and professional perspective – is concerned at the current situation. However, based on initial feedback, our customers remain interested in the new products we’re bringing to market, as well as our services and new solutions,” says HP general manager and global head of GSB large-format GTM Merce Barcons. “Our product launches will continue. We have customer needs to satisfy and a broader audience excited about what was coming this year at Drupa and Fespa.

“We love hosting the industry at our events, our facilities and our partner events, and we value that attendance and interaction immensely. For that reason, we’re working internally and with our partners to re-plan events once the time is right.”

Yogev Barak, head of strategy and business management at HP Indigo, adds: “As we saw from our Indigo announcements in March, in the modern world launching a new product can be done virtually.

“What we were able to quickly do in less than 48 hours was inform our customers, press and analysts, who were coming in person to our facility in Israel, that we were moving the new announcements to virtual briefings.

“We are doubling up on webinars, live broadcasts and one-on-one calls, and we keep looking for new and innovative ways to allow our customers to virtually experience our 2020 portfolio.”

Mimaki had been set to launch a new large-scale 3D printer – the 3DGD-1800 – at Fespa. The firm stuck with its timings, instead holding a “virtual press conference” on 24 March, which would have been the show’s opening day.

“It’s unfortunate that Fespa has been postponed until the end of the year, but we cannot just say ‘ok, let that stop business’,” says Mimaki EMEA general sales manager Ronald van den Broek, who adds the company is now communicating with customers and dealers in different ways.

“We are seeing an increase in the e-learning system that we offer to our partners, and in the webinars that we’re organising. Although people cannot work, they would like to stay connected to the industry, and the product launches we are doing were basically already announced to the market, so there was nothing to stop those. We still have a plan for more new products to come.”

SwissQprint UK managing director Erskine Stewart says the business uses trade shows “as key platforms to introduce new product features and technology” and that new innovations help to provide its customers with an edge, especially during critical times like these. “Therefore, we did not want to hold back from announcing our new product features and technology,” he adds.

“The Covid-19 situation presents a serious challenge for many businesses in our industry and this will impact investment decisions. However, companies are still seeking to invest in new technology where it can provide an edge over their competition or improve their long-term operational performance.

“Therefore, we are adapting how we engage with customers and demonstrate our technology.”

Not all manufacturers have released their products originally intended for a Drupa or Fespa launch yet, however.

Ricoh UK national sales director Simon Isaacs says that the company is “reviewing the optimum time for product launches in the light of the constantly evolving situation”.

“Drupa 2021 will be a very important opportunity to share some exciting developments with our clients in the commercial and industrial printing communities around Europe and beyond,” he adds. “There will be a strong focus on how we can support our clients to reinvigorate their operations.”

This sentiment is echoed by many others. While this year’s Drupa and Fespa shows would have undoubtedly centred around new products, technology, ideas and applications, these events are now likely to have a much bigger part to play in helping the industry back to its feet.

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