What will happen with media and print industry conferences and fairs in the future? Will organizers bring in-person back after the knee-capping to the industry delivered by coronavirus? Will companies budget to send their people to the events? We can only hope.

A good guess is that post-pandemic, the events will re-emerge as permanent hybrids of in-person/digital.

Many of us have fond memories of conferences, where we met others in the industry, made connections and maybe struck a deal or laid the groundwork. For some, the conferences represent a fun journey and a chance to scrap around a new city.

Since the advent of COVID-19, we’ve seen major conferences such as the America East News Media Summit, the Key Executives MegaConference and drupa be canceled, postponed or up in the air.

Innumerable other events took hits, such as the Facebook/ONA/ Knight Foundation conference on local news (postponed), Midwest Journalism Conference (canceled until 2021), and the big NAB Show from the National Association of Broadcasters (canceled until 2021).

Many, including the NAB Show and drupa, are offering all digital events, which serve as valuable outreach, but are no substitute for in-person gatherings.

All in Print China, co-organized by Messe Dusseldorf (Shanghai) Co., did go forward in October in Shanghai and drew more than 69,000.

We asked a few key people for their view on the events’ future.

Sabine Geldermann, director drupa and global head print technologies at Messe Dusseldorf, organizer of drupa:

“The pandemic will most certainly leave its lasting mark on the trade fair industry. The trade fair format of the future will therefore be a hybrid one, linking digital offerings with a live event.

ybrid one, linking digital offerings with a live event. I don't expect purely digital formats to persist in the long term. Fairs like drupa represent an indispensable platform for industry participants, providing orientation, impetus and, above all, satisfying the demand for face-to-face meetings and experiences to a high degree. It is all about human needs, haptic experiences and running machines that fascinate participants and which definitely cannot be fulfilled at this point by digital media.

What distinguishes leading world trade fairs such as drupa is the concentrated energy that arises from the selective gathering of many people; the personal and emotional exchange; the joint presence of decision-makers, multipliers and idea providers; lively discussions; presentations that set the pace; chance encounters; opportunities to acquire new customers; recruiting options ...

In the future, it will be important to combine the advantages of both formats — digital and live — to create a strong and successful trade fair. This is why we offer an extended online service for our exhibitors and visitors on preview.drupa.com and are turning drupa 2021 itself into a hybrid trade fair.”

Zeddie Neidig, manager, meetings and events, Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, organizer of the America East News Media Summit: (from a Nov. 4 email).

“We might have a few more answers for you within the next couple of weeks. We have moved our typical March/April date to September of 2021 and we have re-located the event to the Pittsburgh area for 2021. I know we are hoping that we will be able to plan some type of in-person event, since we moved to Q3.”

NAB: (from its website)

“First, we are exploring a number of ways to bring the industry together online, both in the short and long term. We know from many years of serving the community with face-to-face events, that connectivity is vital to the health and success of the industry. That’s why we are excited to announce NAB Show Express, targeted to launch in April 2020. This digital experience will provide a conduit for our exhibitors to share product information, announcements and demos, as well as deliver educational content from the original selection of programming slated for the live show in Las Vegas, and create opportunities for the community to interact virtually — all of which adds up to something that brings the NAB Show community together in a new way.”

Nancy Lane, CEO, Local Media Association:

LMA held four annual conferences and is a host, along with America’s Newspapers, Local Media Association and the News Media Alliance, of the Mega-Conference, which remained up in the air for 2021 as of mid-November.

“We probably won't do Mega as a as a virtual event. The beauty of Mega is the networking and the trade show,” says Lane.

Lane is feeling the pain of the temporary loss of the events. “We were constantly on the road at conferences and it was our lifeblood,” she says. “So it hurts.”

Indeed.