Jim Esp, PMA’s New Executive Director Speaks to PIR on the...

Jim Esp, PMA’s New Executive Director Speaks to PIR on the Challenges Ahead


On the eve of the 2012 International CES, PIR had a chance to speak with PMA's new executive director, Jim Esp, about his vision of the future for PMA and its relationship with CEA.

First of all, PIR would like to congratulation you on your appointment as executive director of PMA. As you step into your new position, what do you see as some of your most pressing challenges?

Obviously PMA@CES is at the top of the list. We’ve got an incredible opportunity in the alliance with CES, and the benefit of the two shows combining forces will help all of our industry members. I know this is going to sound simplistic, but equally important is creating one giant communication conduit for the industry. It’s imperative that PMA not only communicates with all its members, but listens to their needs and continues to find ways to help them survive and grow in this ever-changing market.

What is the best news about PMA colocating at CES?

It’s all about “one-stop shopping.” PMA and CES complement each other in so many different areas. Being together in one location gives PMA members the ability to be exposed to new technologies and greater diversity, while CES members will gain the benefit of our expertise in imaging. Putting everything in one location reduces everyone’s costs, from the attendee traveling to Las Vegas to the supplier who in the past would have exhibited and staffed at two different shows.

With you at the helm, we have a feeling PMA is going to take on a new direction. Any initial ideas you’d like to share?

The biggest factor is simply spending more time with our industry members and developing the appropriate programs they need. PMA’s role has changed a lot over the years, and today there’s a huge need for educational support. This is about programs to help stimulate consumer-buying trends. Then, it’s about marketing (ie, social media) training for our retail members, followed by support for our suppliers in developing better imaging products. PMA will continue to provide the industry with research data vital to growing the photographic/imaging market, but I want us to focus on the old 80/20 rule. We need to be working on projects that help at least 80% of our members, not the minority.

Photo specialty retailers have been challenged over the last few years by the big-box stores on one side and Internet pricing on the other. Can you offer any suggestions as to how they can continue to stay relevant?

The industry is constantly changing and every day there’s another paradigm shift. I absolutely believe photo specialty retailers can survive and even grow, but they have to take advantage of the tools available. A good example is social media. A retailer making it a point to build followers and a network can absolutely be competitive with the big-box stores.

If a retailer today is going to be relevant, they have to be involved and literally on the front line and visible. We used to say you couldn’t be in business without a Yellow Pages ad. Well, today it’s a website, a presence on Twitter and Facebook and a level of brand awareness in every new reach-program that comes along, with things like Groupon and Living Social.

What are the current strengths of the Photo Marketing Association, and which of those would you like to improve upon?

First, we’re definitely global and have a solid international and domestic infrastructure. Our brand, while it may have slipped a little out of the spotlight, definitely has strong brand awareness. Third, we have incredible resources within our own databases and the data housed at PMA. We have years of incredible research on everything from consumer buying trends, the growth and decline of various products, etc. In fact, we have one of the largest research bases in the world related to imaging. And last, but really most important, your people are your most valuable resource, and we have an amazing staff. As hokey as it sounds, we’re now lean and mean and they’re ready to take on the challenges necessary to help the industry grow.

The one big area relates to communication. Every member is slightly different and it’s up to us to find the common denominators to help as many as possible.

How can manufacturers benefit from PMA’s new direction?

First we need to do a better job of communicating and listening to their needs. And making sure they understand the resources we have to help them. Then we need to get them involved in working with our staff, so we can help get them the answers to their most important questions. Working together we can give them better access to the entire imaging retail market. We want to be a stronger partner for their development of the market and growing the industry.

What will determine whether PMA@CES was a success?

Everyone always thinks it’s just good attendance, but it’s the quality of the experience as well. Just having a lot of people doesn’t by itself make for a great show, but what each attendee leaves with is so important. We’ve got some of the very best programming we’ve ever had with DIMA and the ongoing workshops throughout the PMA@CES experience. We’re obviously going to be looking at the numbers, but we’re also going to survey the attendees and take their feedback to keep building an even stronger show.

Will PMA@CES be back in 2013?

Yes, and we’re excited about the potential. Remember for 2013 we’ll have a full year to develop stronger programming, exhibitions and educational opportunities— to elevate the PMA experience even more!