We invited former PICA and IDEA CEO Paul Curtis to volunteer some thoughts on photo industry associations and industry shows – something he knows more about than a smattering about, having held the role of executive director with PICA (now IDEA) and delivered a capital city exhibition annually for about 20 years…
Mr Curtis (pictured right) says he’s still scratching his head on the direction IDEA has taken lately:
‘If you look at my former organisation’s two websites it seems that the only association activity is for a show that finished six months ago! And that’s not a good look for a progressive industry.
Failed CE seduction
‘In hindsight, it is easy to see that the moves to embrace the consumer electronics industry were a waste of energy and resources. That PICA should have pursued such a course was a sensible enough decision based on the facts that were available at the time. There is no shame in trying something and it not working. The shame is not to try something! But not recognising a mistake doesn’t stops you from learning from the mistake.
‘There were two main reasons it didn’t work. Firstly, the CE industry suddenly found itself in just as much trouble as the photo industry!
‘Secondly, the overseas head offices of the CE industry began centralising executive decision-making overseas. So the key CE managing directors working with PICA directors to establish the new body, found themselves with diminishing autonomy. In fact, none of those involved on the CE side of the amalgamation move are still with their companies!
‘What is needed now is for the association (now IDEA) to focus on the photo business and avoid distractions. Those that are interested will join. Those that aren’t will only strengthen the body by not being there.
Industry unity delivers results
‘I firmly believe the only way to achieve maximum success is for all sides of the industry to work together; retailers, distributors and professionals. This was the key to the success we had with the former shows. But there are many competing differences between and within the various sectors.
‘Managing an industry show is a balancing act that requires a high degree of flexibility and innovative thinking. The nightmare is retailers keep an eagle eye on competitors for any perceived advantage; small exhibitors have different needs from the larger ones; professional, trade and consumer suppliers having special requirements; and all-in general fights over exhibition space.
‘Into the midst of this muddle, throw in the inevitable politics. It’s a perfect breeding ground for rumours, innuendo, false understanding, character assassinations and even downright malicious lies. As the scapegoat mug in the middle for 20 years I should know! I got kicked by all sides. But at least we had a show every year.
‘If you can make it work, the rewards are considerable. In addition to the valuable stimulus a show gives the industry, the annual profits achieved peaked above the million-dollar mark. To me it didn’t matter whether the show was perceived to be run by PMA or PICA. It was the same people involved either way, and the key point was that the profits were shared by the retail, distributor and professional associations for further promotion in Australia.
What’s in a name?
‘Some in the trade felt blindsided by the show brand moving back and forth between the PMA and IDEA. But it was really quite simple. When the manufacture’s overseas head offices began questioning what this little show in Australia was about, it seemed wise to seek the backing of a major international show brand – the PMA – to underscore its significance.
‘A few years later and the same overseas head offices were looking askance at PMA Las Vegas and tarring Australia with the same brush. So to keep the show going in Australia, it was necessary for the exhibitors to feel in control of their own destiny. But it was no big deal in the larger scheme of things. PMA Australia shared in the profits, and without the main exhibitors there would have been no show and no profits for anyone.
Why only every second year?
‘Unfortunately, I cannot have much faith in holding the show every second year. I certainly would not like the task of pitching to a product marketing manager that for the outlay of a lot of money he could participate in a brilliant scheme – only run every two years! If it was that good, why not do it at least once every year?
‘It’s good to see PMA Australia has not given up and moving in a strong direction. It has created a new website and has the knowledge and expertise for such events. Everyone really interested in the business of photography should join them.
‘And PMA International’s move into the South Hall of CES has the potential to make a world of difference. Let’s hope that the major diversified brands will move to support this. If not, then under PMA International’s new management it is more than strong enough to have a dedicated show of its own again. There are many in the industry that don’t like being swamped by the CES and would rather a smaller show in a more suitable venue at a better time. After all, by now we surely have proved that photography can stand on its own two feet.’