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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL... SOMETIMES

Let's get back in the Delorean and return to 1982 for some background. Show business, like the magazine biz was booming in the printing industry. Regional shows, most sponsored by PIA affiliates were held in Charlotte NC, Miami Fl, Boston MA, Dallas TX as well as one in Tennessee. But the biggest regional show was Gutenberg in Long Beach CA. It was organized by Dave Jacobson and was the epitome of a family run business. Moms and dads would wheel strollers through the convention center. It was a festive affair with balloons  and cotton candy. There were, of course, the usual the printing supplies and equipment exhibitors, but among them were booths retailing consumer items. I had become friendly with Dave, his wife and three sons. And for a number of years I gave marketing seminars during the educational program Gutenberg offered to attendees. Prior to the formation of the Graphic Arts Show Company, NAPL managed Graph Expo, a national event held in Chicago. For some reason in 1982, NAPL scheduled an additional exhibit, Graph Expo West. It was an obvious effort to compete with Gutenberg. Apparently they did not check their calendar. The event was scheduled for January 23-25 in San Francisco. What's more the exhibit was planned for the weekend of Super Bowl  XVI and one of the teams in that particular championship game was city's beloved Giants.

Crowds swarmed through Gutenberg's aisles, but the opening day of Graph Expo West was notable for the ability to traverse the show floor without meeting another attendee.. One exhibitor observed, "You could throw a bowling ball down any aisle and not hit a single sole." Day two was worse. It was the day of the game, and most exhibitors invited customers to parties away from the show floor. My son, Michael, who many of you know, had graduated from Johns Hopkins and I brought him along in celebration of that auspicious occasion. We traveled up and down Route I on the California coast, with stops along the way. But the thing we remember vividly is the brunch GAM hosted for a dozen advertisers who were betting $1 on whether the next play would be a run or a pass. Football fans will remember San Francisco  defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21. Now that you have the history we can return to 1983. In addition to the NPES fall meeting, the association had a smaller one in the spring. During that meeting Regis Delmontagne presented his plans for Graph Expo in the fall, the first exhibit organized by GASC. He also mentioned that Graph Expo West would be scheduled for February, 1984 in L.A., two weeks before Gutenberg.

I couldn't believe that, after the 1982 disaster, they would even consider another one. Prone to asking pertinent questions without being recognized, I interrupted, noting that the decision made no sense. There were about ten vendor executives sitting in the room, half on the supply side and the other half  marketing machinery. I saw a number of heads nodding agreement, so I asked,"How many of your companies are in favor of another West Coast exhibit,?" Remember this was an NPES only meeting and GASC  would eventually have a nine person board, three each from PIA, NAPL and NPES. All of the  press manufacturers were opposed to the idea, It was extremely expensive to ship presses and build an exhibit. By the way, Gutenberg, was known primarily as a dealer and distributor show, and most exhibits were manned by local sales forces. The film and plate manufacturers, Kodak, Agfa, Anitec, DuPont and 3M were rather non-committal. I knew Regis was not happy about the question, but I felt it had to be asked. (The  follow-up and results of that exhibit will be covered in Monday' post.)

Speaking my mind was what I did. I told it like it was, and opposing the plan for another West Coast show   was the beginning of what became a strained relationship with Regis. His vision was that GASC create a monopolistic environment. He wanted to control all exhibits, including all of the regional ones, most of which he eventually acquired. In my Publisher's Perspective column following that meeting, I voiced my opinion, and called the L.A. event a result of  the Regis' Aegis. I also wrote that I had seen association board members make decisions they would never make in their own companies, because they did not want to rock the boat. I understood why Regis was upset that I called the plan an monumental mistake, but I had to take a stand. We were still cordial to each other. I kissed Elena hello and he kissed Caro hello, but  we would never be as close as we were at The North Sea during DRUPA. (In the next episode I meet Steve Jobs and meet the Lisa.)