Sat, Jun

IR talks to… Mark Thompson, co-founder, PrintDesigns

As a company specialising in all kinds of portable displays, including banner stands, exhibition stands and fabric displays, PrintDesigns knows a thing or two about how important offline marketing remains to companies and to consumers - despite the digital revolution. But co-founder Mark Thompson also expects more integration between the two as he outlines here.

Earlier this year PR company issued a press release saying that the demand for ad. campaigns with a prominent digital element is on the rise. As a PSP can you put that in context for us Mark?

We have seen a slow increase for several years in terms of the number of our clients who wish to integrate digital content into their exhibition stands. I think we’re approaching a time where, for many customers, a conventional printed display just doesn’t cut it.

The availability of affordable flat-screens, tablet devices and touch-screens has given customers a medium with which to present digital content. Our clients are looking to integrate these items within the printed displays that we manufacture as cost-effectively and simply as possible.

From an exhibitor’s point of view there are many gains that can be made by incorporating digital content into a display. Drawing attention to a company website or social media pages can help encourage traffic after the event and running interactive content is a great way to increase customer engagement.

Digital, touchscreen devices can also be used to capture important visitor information on the spot so that potential sales leads and enquiries can be followed-up quickly an efficiently when an event has finished.

So do you think that integrating digital screen technologies with large-format print is a natural progression and will become more mainstream – or remain very niche?

There’s a massive demand amongst our customers to display digital content and I can only see this increasing in the future.

The greatest obstacle preventing self-build exhibitors from integrating displays into exhibition stands relates to the portability - or rather lack of it - of the screens themselves.

The game-changer could come with the advent of new technology such as the prototype OLED display unveiled by LG at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last year. A full-colour, digital screen that can be rolled-up like a piece of paper! Our digital signage partner has already seen a vast increase in the demand for digital content and can only see this grow year on year.

When that technology becomes affordable we would have to ask the question, why wouldn’t anyone wish to incorporate digital content to their display!

You supply textile printed displays nowadays, itself a rising trend, especially in the exhibition and retail spaces. Is there scope there for integrated digital screen technology too?

We invested heavily in the equipment to produce our own dye-sublimation, fabric graphics around four years ago. The learning curve getting to grips with producing fabric prints was a steep one but it’s paid off for us. Now many of our portable back walls utilise one-piece, stretch fabric graphics.

We have several brackets that can be used to attach VESA compatible devices to our fabric displays but the lightweight construction of the frames is something of an Achilles heel. Physics comes into play because it’s difficult to hang a relatively heavy screen on a super-lightweight frame without the structure becoming unstable.

There’s no doubt that fabric based displays are the way forward because the graphics offer so many advantages when compared to traditional rollup or rigid panels but I think we’re going to have to wait for technology to catch up before integrating screens to the lightest of our fabric display kits becomes viable.

So to what extent do you think print companies need to take the lead in ‘marketing’ the possibilities of integrated print/digital screen projects?

Many of our clients are actively looking to incorporate AV displays into traditional printed graphic set-ups so certainly it’s not a hard sell!

Several of our modular display kits can be accessorised to accept digital screens at minimal cost by either adding a simple VESA compatible bracket or for larger, heavier displays by stablising the structure with the addition of a supporting table that can also double as a convenient resting place for a keyboard or mouse.

As well as traditional screens customers love the idea of integrating touch-sensitive devices which when configured can provide a more interactive experience for the customer.

Have you had to make many changes within PrintDesigns to be able to deliver this type of job?

Surprisingly few. Simple flat-screens are normally driven directly from the customer’s own laptop or computer via a HDMI lead, so running a non-interactive display is something that can be done very easily.

Some of our more advanced displays feature android based operating systems so content can be uploaded via USB and played without the need for any connected external devices. Our android based displays can also be configured to run scheduled playlists enabling content to be varied quickly and easily depending on the customer requirements.

To offer peace of mind for our clients who choose to hire a display we can pre-flight any supplied digital files and test them so our customers can be relaxed in the knowledge that the content they create is going to run exactly as planned at the all-important event.

PSPs I have spoken with in the past about this kind of project have tended to say they’ve kept out of this type of work because of the headaches associated with sourcing and maintaining the actual digital screens and content. What are your thoughts on that?

Set-up and installation of a digital display can be daunting but it’s generally very straightforward. We can provide detailed instructions so customers can prepare their digital content to exactly the right standards prior to receiving delivery of the device. That means that frequently customers can have their display un-packed and running a presentation within an hour or so of delivery!

I’d advise any display companies thinking about offering digital displays as an add on to take a look at the products on offer from suppliers like Allsee Technologies - one of the partners we work with. The technical support and advice we have received has been second to none.

Are there any other areas of integration you see developing in regards to large-format print displays to make them more ‘experiential’?

There are so many possibilities to enhance the visitor experience at an event. Interactive displays are already ‘off-the-shelf’ and we have interest from some clients looking to use augmented reality software in conjunction video cameras to project some really novel content.

I suppose the bottom line has got to be, do you make any more money out of these projects than is straightforward printed displays?

The mainstay of our business revolves around traditional print and that’s not going to change anytime soon but the requirement for so many customers to include digital content into their overall exhibition setup is in some cases pre-requisite. Giving our customers the opportunity to do this from a ‘one stop shop’ certainly gives us a competitive advantage over less progressive print suppliers.

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