Sabine Geldermann: The trade fair format of the future will be a hybrid one

Sabine Geldermann, director, Drupa says, "I don’t expect purely digital formats to persist in the long term. The trade fair format of the future will be a hybrid one, linking digital offerings with a live event."

30 Nov 2020 | By PrintWeek Team

Sabine Geldermann, director, Drupa

What is the update on your shows?
At Drupa, we’re never standing still and a lot is going on right now. With high pressure we are currently working on extending our offers in order to fulfil the safety requirements and newly emerged needs of all our clients – exhibitors as well as visitors. To begin with, the online platform Drupa Preview will offer exhibitors and visitors an additional channel for touching base with the sector, discussing trending themes and presenting product portfolios. The portal consists of the content formats Conference, Exhibition as well as Networking and will bring the community together.

The Drupa Preview thus enables continuous exchange of information until the hybrid trade fair in April 2021, which will in a second step combine the on-site event with additional digital content. With the hybrid Drupa we also give those visitors who are unable to travel the possibility to take part in the industry get-together. At the same time, we meet exhibitors’ needs to reach the international community personally.

Besides, we are currently in the middle of hall planning, which is very extensive. We expect to be able to activate the hall planning between the end of October and the beginning of November.

One thing that you wish you could’ve done to keep the industry up and running...
In retrospect, it would of course have been helpful if our digital offerings had been fully on the stand that we need today for a hybrid trade show. Fortunately, however, Drupa was already very well positioned for this, so we only have to add to and expand existing modules. Our exhibitor database, our online order system for customers, our digital matchmaking and everything that is combined in the Drupa app are tools that are now playing into our hands.

Nevertheless, the pandemic is also having an impact on us as an accelerator of further digitisation processes – and we can see that there is always something that can be enhanced.

A typical SOP to be followed at exhibition centres...
Messe Düsseldorf has developed a hygiene and infection protection concept that has already proven itself successful during the Caravan Salon in September. The concept offers all the prerequisites for safe and successful trade fairs in Corona times. It ensures observance of the required health precautions, hygiene measures and distancing rules and encompasses both measures for headcount and space management as well as hygiene, technical and organisational measures provided by the federal state government for holding congresses and trade fairs. The current Corona Protection Ordinance of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia serves as a basis.

Under the current circumstances, all forthcoming events at the Düsseldorf location will be subject to a limitation on persons present to ensure minimum distancing can be observed. Tickets will therefore be limited and only available online; visitors will have to register upon purchasing them. This permits the monitoring of headcount as people enter the venue and grants the best way to control visitor flows.

Of course, the hygiene and infection protection standards are constantly adapted to future developments and changing legal requirements and we will provide timely information on any changes. The safety of our exhibitors, visitors, partners and employees always staysour top priority. As usual, they can expect a high level of hygiene, safety and good medical care at the Düsseldorf exhibition centre.

Describe what future exhibitions will look like...
The pandemic will most certainly also leave its lasting mark on the trade fair industry. The trade fair format of the future will therefore be a hybrid one, linking digital offerings with a live event. I don’t expect purely digital formats to persist in the long term. Fairs such as Drupa represent an indispensable platform for industry participants, providing orientation, impetus and, above all, satisfying the demand for face-to-face meetings and experiences to a high degree. It is all about human needs, haptic experiences and running machines that fascinate participants and which definitely cannot be fulfilled at this point by digital media. What distinguishes leading world trade fairs is the concentrated energy that arises from the selective gathering; the personal and emotional exchange; the joint presence of decision-makers, multipliers and idea providers; lively discussions; presentations that set the pace; chance encounters; opportunities to acquire new customers; and recruiting options.

In the future, it will be important to combine the advantages of both formats – digital and live – to create a strong and successful trade fair.

Online meetings and virtual expos: are we looking at the future of exhibitions?
The pandemic has underlined the need for digitalisation in many parts of our personal and work life. This effects meetings as well as shows or presentations. The corona crisis is acting as a catalyst, driving companies to intensify their development. Many companies are thus enriching their communication with online formats – including Drupa. We will offer an extended online service for our exhibitors and visitors until April 2021 and turn Drupa 2021 itself into a hybrid trade fair. This is important these days to counteract existing travel restrictions and to give the entire community the opportunity to be part of the event and stay in touch.

We’re convinced that digital formats will never be able to replace live shows such as trade fairs entirely. But we also know that a combined – a hybrid – format will be the right way in the future to reach the biggest possible community.

Will digital platforms capitalise on virtual meetings?
I think that meetings will continue to take place online to a certain extent even after the crisis. Especially for shorter meetings and in smaller groups, it has proven to be practical to get together easily via online tools.

There are also exciting digital presentation formats for larger groups. Many of our customers have bridged the Drupa shift with impressing presentations – and still do. We will also be offering larger online live sessions at our Drupa Preview. These are a good complement to on-site formats to bridge time windows or reach customers who are less easily able to attend in person.

However, I still believe that we will miss personal contact in the long run and that both meetings and presentations are much more fruitful when they take place in person and in a joint location. The experience of the last few months has shown that spontaneous interactions caused by monitors, microphones or technical disturbances are always a bit more inhibited.

I therefore think that after the crisis – at least in part – we will return to the old normality and that, as is so often the case, only the best of all parts will remain.

Has digital intervention trumped in-person meetings?
Meetings in the Drupa team have also become hybrid. Some employees work in the home office and take part in meetings via video call. Others prefer to work on site and enjoy personal interaction. Using these options flexibly and in combination gives us the greatest possible flexibility and the ability to implement the company’s internal security measures.

Also, meetings with customers and partners are currently held largely by telephone or digitally. This works quite well – but we already miss meeting our contacts personally and looking each other in the eye. We look forward to it at Drupa in April 2021 at the latest.

Hypothetical question: How will the exhibitions look like if there’s no vaccine for Covid-19 at all?
Messe Düsseldorf’s safety concept has been specially developed for the current phase of the corona pandemic, in which we cannot yet rely on a vaccine. That it will modify the character of a trade fair is unquestionable. But it helps the industry to resume business under the given circumstances and to get in touch with customers again.

Messe Düsseldorf’s first show has already taken place again using these safety measures - and was a complete success. We can also hope for this success at Drupa 2021 in April.

One message to your friends in the exhibition industry...
We are in this together. Let us also overcome the crisis together. The industry now needs a strong community that sticks together. And Drupa is the place where we can finally get together again, exchange ideas and generate momentum – from now on online and live.

Will our next meeting be virtual or face-to-face?
I really hope we will see each other at Drupa 2021 – and until then we’ll be happy to keep in touch via email, telephone, the Drupa website, Drupa Preview, our social media channels or any other means you prefer…n