Virtues of print hailed at comms event

Leading lights from the creative digital industries in the north of England and beyond converged at the Rose Bowl in Leeds last month to hear about the latest trends, developments and technological advances impacting their sectors.

The Visual Media Conference 2019 attracted 335 attendees, a near 12% increase on last year, and while the assembled crowd consisted of ad agencies, digital agencies, brands and trade bodies, it was print that was perhaps most tightly woven throughout the event’s packed agenda.

Many of the speakers highlighted the major role that print still plays as part of an increasingly multi-channel media landscape, discussing how it can be fully integrated with digital technologies.

This was demonstrated in the day’s first session, from ProCo chief executive Jon Bailey and HP Indigo UK marketing manager Andy Pike.

The pair encouraged every audience member to scan a QR code on a printed pack with their smartphone in order to be taken online to take part in a live quiz that was packed full of stats to back up print’s ongoing relevance in a digital age.

“Technology has completely changed the landscape of communication. Print was the number one medium of communication, but it’s no longer seen as that. But print isn’t dead, it’s evolving,” said Pike.

A big part

Robert McClements, president of CDI, the special interest group of the BPIF that curated the event, said that while the organisers “don’t deliberately set out to focus on print”, they make sure that it is “given its proper respect and serious place in the range of channels which are available”. 

“I curate the event by looking at what is the best and most effective way of marketing communications, but print has a big part to play in it and we make sure that that is recognised,” he said.

McClements described the continually evolving event as “the best VMC yet”.

“Last year we were very much focused on virtual reality and holograms but this year we were demonstrating how virtual reality is being used commercially,” he said.

“We’re keeping ahead of the technology by introducing it one year as a look into the future, and then look-ing at how it’s being used the following year.

“Exhibitors were also really excited about the way that we’d involved universities and apprentices in the event because they recognise that they’ve got to talk to the next generation coming through.”

Ahead of the imminent opening of Channel 4’s new national headquarters in Leeds, attendees heard from the broadcaster’s agency principal Ewan Douglas about the benefits this will bring to the region.

But while the city’s merits and achievements were talked up both during this session and throughout the day, McClements stressed that the event has become increasingly international in scope since its launch in 2014.

“What we have created is an international event that happens to be located in the North of England, that’s operating on different levels.”

Central to this widening of scope was The Euro Panel, which saw speakers including Nestlé senior packaging specialist Michael Carroll and Drupa director Sabine Geldermann giving an insight into the future of the creative digital industries in Europe and sharing their observations on the different cultural approaches to innovation and sustainability.

Many of the event’s other sessions also focused on the ever-present debate around sustainability.

Eco warning

Gillian Garside-Wight, packaging technology director at Sun Branding Solutions, spoke about the pollution crisis and the ways in which conflicts such as consumer trends versus environmental awareness can be overcome for brands and retailers, while Joanna Stephenson, marketing partner at Parkside Flexibles, looked at developments in compostable packaging, though also stressed plastic’s benefits for packaging.

“Plastic is ubiquitous in nature because it has been a superb product for packaging. It’s robust, lightweight, strong, has barriers to gases and moisture and it survives the supply chain,” said Stephenson, arguing that plastic ocean pollution is a result of poor infrastructure and poor consumer behaviour in littering.

“But the reality is we have to reduce the amount of plastic we’re using. We need to reuse packaging wherever possible and lightweight as much packaging as possible, and if we can’t recycle the packaging we’re developing then, we would argue at Parkside, that we need to offer compostable alternatives as well.

“Because there are certain materials out there today that are simply not going to work within the recycling structure, however perfect it is.”

Outside the conference room, the bustling exhibitors’ area saw a raft of local and national businesses from the creative industries promoting their wares as well as live demonstrations of augmented reality and virtual reality technology.

Among the exhibitors was Yorkshire-based Northwolds Print Works, which was also live-tweeting the day’s proceedings. Managing director Gurdev Singh said his company has been increasing its social media presence of late.

“We’ve been working with an agency to try to raise awareness of ourselves. We’ve given the agency a target of three sectors that we’d like to work in – one of which is the creative industries in the North, Leeds and York in particular – and they said Instagram and Twitter should be good for that. 

“We’ve spoken to lots of young designers and freelancers at this event. 25% of our clients are small three to five-man graphics agencies who have two or three clients that need high-end brochures.”

The Visual Media Conference continues to go from strength to strength and McClements has already started planning for next year’s event, though the need to be constantly reactive to changing media trends keeps him on his toes.

He quipped: “If anybody can predict the future and would like to make some suggestions for next year, I would certainly listen to them.” 


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