A Look at the PMA InnovationNow Summit

Insightful Speakers & Networking Opportunities Abound


McLean, VA—The PMA InnovationNow Photo Business and Technology Summit premiered September 27–28 in San Francisco, California. It presented a mind-bending array of speakers, demonstrations and networking opportunities.

Designed as an executive-level briefing, the event attracted top-level executives, retailers and service providers from around the world. In fact, some came from as far away as Brazil and Australia. Twenty percent of the attendees were from Europe.

Highlights of PMA InnovationNow

The conference kicked off with Scott Brownstein, of Brownstein & McCabe Associates, setting the stage with an overview of the challenges facing the photo output business. Part of the frank discussion was a reality check that. Unlike the analog era dominated by Kodak as well as Fujifilm, the photo business is not being driven by traditional photo industry players. Instead it is spurred by high-tech ones like Apple, Amazon Photo and Google.

Brownstein noted that the tech companies have solved many technical challenges. He cited curation and cloud access, which photo companies have not. But now the photo industry can capitalize on this growth by riding its wave and providing ancillary products.

The Impact of Millennials

Keynote speaker and customer-service author Micah Solomon spoke next. He inspired the audience with a wake-up call on how consumers have changed the landscape. “Customers have woken up, where they stopped letting marketers tell them what to buy,” he said. The “Mad Men” style of marketing has become passé. Consumers do their own research and have become “in-charge” of the buying prices. “Consumers know they are in charge,” he asserted.

Solomon also described the impact of millennials on the marketplace, noting this coveted demographic is driving technology adoption across other market segments, like baby boomers and gen Xers. For example, mom and dad got on Facebook to find out what their kids were doing and have now followed them to Instagram and Snapchat. Solomon added that the online world has changed the customers’ expectations in the so-called “real” world.

“Today’s customers expect ‘digital parity,’” he said. “Every business in the real world needs to be as good in the real world as the best of online: easy-to-use, as fast and have as wide a selection.”

During day two of the summit, attendees learned about the enormous opportunity for the photo output business. But tactics to reach this opportunity vary widely.

Walgreens Drives Online Traffic

Joe Rago, director of Mobile Innovation at Walgreens, explained how Walgreens leveraged a core advantage—brick-and-mortar stores—to drive and facilitate mobile and web traffic. This included creating a third-party photo API that has led to 160 integration in three years. Walgreens also reacted to competitors by doubling down on in-store photo products, while competitors were reducing the emphasis on the category. This even includes traditional snapshots. “Never underestimate the power of the 4×6 print (and square prints) to drive traffic to the store,” said Rago.

As Brownstein said a day earlier, the “photo explosion” in recent years has been driven by technology. Two surprise speakers also reinforced that viewpoint. Bradley Horowitz, vice president, Photos and Streams, Google, said the recently launched “Google Photos is the culmination of a lifetime of innovation” in his career. He noted Google is just beginning (“at the base of the pyramid”) its involvement in the photo industry.

Outlining Amazon’s Cloud Strategy

David Pearson, director of Business Development, Amazon Cloud Drive, provided a full presentation on Amazon’s cloud strategy. He observed the “unconnected” populations are shrinking. He said in 2016, up to 36% of content will be stored in the cloud. Consumers are adopting the cloud quickly, and Amazon is poised to be the platform for photo storage, sharing and product creation. Amazon is looking for partners to be the back-end providers to photo product providers, not only for storage but also for other functions, like image recognition, organization and categorization.

Disney Transforms Photo Services

Rob Maudlin, director of Disney Photo Imaging, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts also spoke. He presented a strategic overview of how the company transformed its photo services. They went from merely printing pictures to providing special “Disney Moments.” While this may be contrary to a print-business model, Maudlin said it actually results in greater customer satisfaction.

The afternoon sessions featured extensive panel discussions with industry stakeholders. These included single-store retailers and labs, online service providers, mass merchandisers and also pro photographers. The panel discussed ways to open the photo output market beyond today’s limited infrastructure.

For PMA members, the InnovationNow session recordings will soon be available at the just-launched Knowledge Hub in the new PMA website, pmai.org.