Imogen discusses the return of live events and the importance of face-to-face interactions.

Author: Imogen Woods

In the past month, Team AD has seen the return of international business trips and live events, with the firsts including FESPA Global Print Expo 2021 in The Netherlands, the PPMA Show, and a hosted customer event for a major client in Belgium.

As for everyone, the past two years have been a shock to the system for me as I’ve adapted to endless Zoom quizzes and Teams calls with colleagues. All the while, I’ve looked forward to a time when I could hop on a plane again, so, you can imagine my excitement about attending FESPA Global Print Expo 2021.

With successive postponements due to COVID restrictions since Spring 2020, the anticipation has been building for this industry event for quite some time and, after the ups and downs of the past 18 months, there was inevitably some uncertainty for all participants around what to expect. Of course, there were a few changes compared with pre-COVID travel. I had to prepare more paperwork and have my vaccine passport and COVID results ready before travelling to Amsterdam and, when I arrived, there were COVID checks and regulations in place.

But there was such a strong sense of familiarity and comfort from being back at a live industry event and having the chance to catch up in real life with journalists and clients, some of whom I’ve connected with via email or on a video call but hadn’t had a chance to meet in person.

There’s also a natural ebb and flow to a physical meeting that can be hard to replicate in a virtual setting. We’ve all become acclimatised to functional information exchanges on email and action-orientated telephone calls, so it was refreshing to have genuine conversations about professional topics, mixed with less formal chat about our personal lives and how we’ve individually experienced the pandemic.

Admittedly, interactions still felt a little different this year. Handshakes are, understandably, less common and, as expected, face masks are more so. But the elbow bump sufficed and I found everyone was respectful of each others’ preferences around personal contact.

Above all, the forced break has reminded us all of the importance of nurturing relationships and I think that, as lockdowns lift and travel restrictions ease, live press conferences, customer events and international exhibitions will be as important as ever in re-connecting people, showcasing products and encouraging dynamic technology sectors like ours to move forward.

And it was clear that the speciality printing and visual communications sectors that we represent have certainly not stood still. An expanse of new technologies, consumables and media were on display. Trends such as automation, sustainability and business recovery were strongly reflected across the exhibitor stands. And, having relied on digital platforms to launch new products and connect with customers, brands relished the long-awaited opportunity to fully demonstrate the possibilities of their products, while visitors loved the chance to evaluate new innovations by seeing them, touching samples and having one-on-one conversations about their business needs.

Having witnessed a year of virtual product launches and exhibitions, it’s fair to believe that digital events will continue to have a role to play in keeping the industry up-to-date. However, being back at a live event has affirmed that nothing replaces the sights, sounds and smells of bustling exhibition halls and the energy that comes from seeing keen business minds meeting and exchanging ideas. And the enthusiastic response from attendees confirms that real-world events like FESPA remain an invaluable environment for specialist business communities to congregate, learn and advance.

Like anything in the “new normal”, we’re all still wondering quite what the events landscape will look like in the future, and considering a more ‘hybrid’ mix of platforms. But FESPA gave us a taste of their return and the chance to reflect on the true value of live exhibitions against a changed market backdrop. I’m certainly excited to see what 2022 holds for face-to-face interactions and I’m looking forward to building on relationships with colleagues, journalists and clients. Make sure to say ‘hi’ and give an elbow bump to me or a member of the AD team when you see us out and about!

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