Strategy Session: Staying Relevant—What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Strategy Session: Staying Relevant—What’s Wrong with This Picture?


I’ve asked myself this question lately as I do my best to adapt to the changing world around me. It seems like the last 15 years or so have whizzed by at breakneck speed. Remember Y2K? “You’ve Got Mail?” The last episode of Seinfeld? Everything in the past 15 years seems to have happened just yesterday.

It’s no coincidence that the emergence of the Internet happened around the same time. That’s when the world just started to take off. Suddenly, words like dictionary, yellow pages and CDs were replaced by new monikers like “search engine,” “Google it” and “iTunes.” The U.S. Postal Service all of a sudden became “snail mail,” because two or three days just wasn’t fast enough. Birds used to be the only species that could tweet.

All along, I’ve tried really hard to keep up. We’ve all had to, because we’re in the technology business. Our friends have always looked to us for advice, because after all, we’re knee-deep in the “digital” world. It’s where our industry has taken us. And if we are to survive, it’s where we have to take ourselves.

All of this reminiscing is brought to you by The Big Photo Show. I was lucky enough to attend this year’s event in Los Angeles as a representative of PMDA’s Portraits of Love program, where we offered military families free portraits. All in all, I thought it was a very good effort by the Photo Marketing Association to present a much-needed consumer imaging show. The crowds were steady, the education programs were relevant, and the enthusiasm was apparent.

But if I’m to be truthful, our industry just looked outdated. We looked a bit old. A little tired. And a bit confused. We are on the verge of losing our business to the next generation, and part of that is because we still look like the last generation.

When you walked into the convention center, there was a sea of “pipe and drape” booths. The floor was concrete gray. Most exhibitors spent so little as to wonder why they were there. (Tamron and Sony were notable exceptions.) But to me, it seemed like an opportunity was lost to create what should be the new wave of a dynamic imaging industry.

Why can’t a show like this be in a cool loft space somewhere in LA, or Austin, or San Francisco? Where is the media space for bloggers to blog and tweeters to tweet to the world what is happening at The Big Photo Show? Where were the celebrity photographers signing posters? Why was there no music pounding through the halls of the show to spike up the energy? Where was the creativity from some of the most creative companies in the world to at least try to appeal to the next generation of customers? Where were Nikon, Canon and Samsung? Is Los Angeles not a big enough market to appeal to for them?

PMA spent plenty of media dollars trying to attract people to this show—and again, I applaud their efforts. But why can’t the industry get together and bring new blood to a consumer show like this? Imagine if the marketing engines of the major players worked together to promote a new gathering of the future of imaging?

Our industry should be the owners of “The Future of Imaging.” We’re letting it get away from us, because of the cynicism that exists within our industry. It’s harder than ever to get the industry to work together. When the PMA trade show went bye-bye a few years ago, our industry lost its self-identity. We’ve been rolled into the consumer electronics industry, and we have become somewhat of a bit player. Yet, one billion pictures were uploaded to Facebook in the time it took me to write this. What’s wrong with this picture?

What do we need? New leadership? Fresh thinking? A common conversation that goes beyond just what’s good for your own company. Manufacturers and retailers working together? An industry that is willing to invest in ourselves to build something that’s cool, fun and relevant?

We have the technology. We have the products. But what we’re missing is the potential of bringing the full force of our industry to create a new, relevant, exciting space for imaging that will benefit us all.

As executive director of the PMDA, I plan to put this on our agenda. I urge other associations to do the same. 

There should be a next The Big Photo Show. And it should be bigger, younger, more exciting and more relevant. Not just more pipes and drapes. It should be the blueprint for future consumer events. Exhibitors should take a lesson out of the old PMA playbook, when they spent their money to build their brands. And the industry should get behind it to see whether shows like this, where we work together as an industry, can help us own our rightful place of dominance in the imaging space.