Ted Fox on PMA 2010

Ted Fox on PMA 2010

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Woodbury, NY—We recently pulled PMA’s executive director, Ted Fox, away from his hectic preconvention schedule to talk to us about the PMA 2010 International Convention and Trade Show, as well as the imaging industry in general. Here are the highlights.

JL: Since 2009 was such a challenging business year, what have you been doing to help members deal with those challenges?

TF: We have been trying to do a number of things. The first and foremost, the biggest challenge that our members have, especially the independents, is they are now wearing so many different hats in their business: they are the marketing guru, they are the CFO, CEO and promotional expert. So part of what we have been doing for our members is to lighten that burden by providing them turnkey solutions for consumer-oriented marketing and promotional materials.

Right before the holiday season we did an integrated campaign that focused on the custom photo gift sector. It wasn’t just a photo greeting card campaign, but it really focused on the whole myriad of products that were sold in the last six weeks of the year, including calendars and collages. It was a very integrated campaign and it provided marketing material that we commissioned an ad agency to do for our members. So with just minimal tweaking on their part, our members could take the material and run with it. The program included counter cards, window displays, A-frame promotions, and other POP materials.

How would you describe the financial and business health of PMA’s members today?

We are not unique in that regard. Retailing in general has had a tough 18-month stretch beginning just after the summer of 2008, but I think our members are resilient and they have done what they needed to do to make themselves lean and mean. As a result, I think they are the ultimate survivors, but to say it has been an easy haul would be disingenuous.

What would you include in “lean and mean”?

I think probably in the hardware end of things they’ve been more focused in terms of the SKUs. In terms of the services, however, I think that especially in the retail channel, they presented to the consumer marketplace a much broader spectrum of photo opportunities that you can do with digital photography.

How are the brick-and-mortar businesses faring against the Internet competitors we are seeing these days?

It’s been a mixed bag; I think hard-good sales in general have been challenged by very tight margins, whether that is online Internet sales or in the store. From a photo product output standpoint, there are a number of products available today that our members can help explain to the consumer marketplace. The biggest challenge as I see it is just making consumers aware of what is available and at a price that is extremely attractive. Someone will look at a collage or a calendar or photo book and love it and say, “Oh my gosh, where did you get that and how much did it cost?” When you tell them how much it cost, they are often shocked because it is very much affordable.

What new things are we going to see at the PMA 2010 convention?

We have a couple of very concentrated, focused daylong events. One is called a Brand Boot Camp, which hones in on the individual retailers and how they can brand their stores in the marketplace, so it is almost a soup-to-nuts look at that. 

Because a lot of our members have had to expand their niche marketing, we had a focus on the capture end of the market, the photography end. So we will have a boot camp for “professional capture services,” including portrait studios, event photography, sports photography and everything related to those segments. 

What are the special areas on the show floor that will be of interest to our readers?

One of the most successful things we did last year, and we are going to continue this year, is what we call “Retailer Hot Picks.” We pick some of our best retailers internationally to really shop the trade show floor and after a day or day-and-a-half, let us know what they found to be the most unique and exciting products on the show floor. Then, in an hour or hour-and-a-half session, moderated by Bill McCurry, we identify those products and let our members educate themselves on how they might be a nice fit for their own operations.

This year, the day before the show opens, we are holding a consumer event. We are fortunate to be in one of the most heavily populated consumer markets in the world, and we want to take advantage of that by educating the Southern California market on the products and services that are available to them and also the reasonable prices we offer. 

Next year’s show is in Las Vegas, and we’ll evaluate the consumer event and make a decision on having another one there. It’s hard to say up front. 

What are your hearing lab members doing to replace their 4×6 print business?

There is a decided shift to dry processing, whether that is inkjet or thermal or toner based, but there are still some members who use wet processing as a point of differentiation.

In any case, the biggest development labs are offering their customers is really the opportunity to print on both sides photographically. We were an industry that focused on one-sided printing for a century or more, and now because of the new capabilities, we have products and services that industry members can offer their customers that allow them to take advantage of the unique characteristics of digital photography.

I think there will continue to be a market for 4×6 printing. By and large it will be an older market; it’s more of a comfort zone proposition for that type of consumer. But in addition to the traditional print, new products are available to the consumer, like canvas wrap prints. It is amazing what you can do with almost art-like canvas printing from digital files. It’s beautiful. Our members have told us they were working all the way up until Christmas Eve to fulfill these services for their customers.

From the standpoint of tools, are there new tools coming for PMA members?

We have something coming up; actually, we are introducing it this month. It is really a marketing campaign focused on “Mom,” but in particular a favorite subject matter for her: babies. The overarching campaign will focus on infant photography, but in a lot of the traditional picture-taking events. It will continue to build on those turnkey marketing and promotional ready-to-use campaigns, but our next series will be focused first on family and the baby in particular within that realm. New fathers also get excited. Dads are shutterbugs. 

The other thing we want to focus on going forward, and I want to give credit to our incoming president Brian Wood, is a marketing campaign focusing on the “Wow” factor. 

From the consumer standpoint, many of us do not realize all the things you can do with digital photography today. A product that I have in my own house that Brian did for me is an 8×92-inch panoramic print. Wow! With the capabilities of digital and a well-trained operator of digital software, you can get some unbelievable panoramic prints. They tend to be odd sized. Trying to find that through the traditional channels can be problematic, but going to the specialty channel you are able to do something like an 8×92-inch panoramic print. I mounted mine on foam board; for me that was a good and simple solution. You could just as easily do it in a custom framing environment.

What items do you think will be the driving force in the future, something that you envision will make a difference to PMA members?

The biggest difference that our members can make in the marketplace is to continue to serve as the driving force for innovation and to educate consumers on all the things they have available to them today at very attractive price points.

There has been a lot of buzz about 3D; I think 3D will have a place in the market. It can be very successful with the right application. I also think the biggest thing is just to be able to provide consumers with the best opportunity to archive their precious memories, and I would say we have never had a fuller pallet of products and services available to us to create that excitement at the consumer level for their milestone memories.

I don’t think this is a technology issue; I think it continues to be a marketing issue—getting the word out and letting consumers know about all the fun and exciting things they can do with their family’s memories. And that’s what PMA 2010 is all about—learning about all those new products and services and learning how to get the word out to consumers.

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