“To have both Benny Landa from Indigo and Alfons Buts from Xeikon on the same stage during our Awards-ceremony in Brussels… Wouldn’t that be great?”, Alain Vermeire wonders in 1999.
He is editor in chief of the Belgian trade magazine ‘Grafisch Nieuws’ and has just started preparations for the second edition of their ‘POD Awards’ event. It is set to take place at the end of February, in the run up to Drupa 2000 where ‘digital printing’ is going to be the hottest topic on show. Vermeire decides to give it a go.
The idea behind the POD Awards was really simple: ‘good examples create more demand’. And more demand is what the ‘printing on demand’ market is in need of during the late 1990’s, says Vermeire (who today is still running the Grafisch Nieuws magazine): “Digital printing was still a rather ‘new thing’. We saw some of the first early adopters fail to make a success out of it. And we noticed customers still needed a lot of convincing. So, we wanted to help the printing industry to develop new business with digital printing. The best way to do that is, of course, by showing them great applications – but at the time, there seemed to be only very few of those around. That’s why Grafisch Nieuws decided to actively start promoting the very best in POD.”
Coffee and sandwiches
The very first edition of the POD Awards in 1999 goes down rather well – although Vermeire still looks back at it with some mixed feelings: “I still remember standing in front of a locked glass door – with 200 people from the audience following right behind me – and staring into a dark and empty reception room, realizing that the catering hadn’t showed up. For years, people have reminded me about that moment, asking whether they should bring their own coffee and sandwiches to the event.”
Buts and Landa
“We really wanted to do something extra special the second time around to firmly establish our POD Awards in the industry. That’s why I thought it would be great to have the two leading competitors in digital print ‘battle it out’ on stage. So, I needed to convince both Alfons Buts from Xeikon and Benny Landa from Indigo to come to my event.”
Buts agrees right away, but it takes time to get Landa on board, tells Vermeire: “I asked Ray Goodacre from Bespoke (then doing PR for Indigo) to inform Landa about my plans. Months went by without any news, until I attended the pre-Drupa press-event that Indigo staged in Israel, early February. There, they announced their full line-up of new digital presses. And I received a message: ‘Benny Landa wants to talk to you’.”
That evening, Landa walks up to Vermeire and tells him he has heard about what he is up to. “I said: ‘Buts is coming to do a presentation. And I would really like you to be there too.’ He answered: ‘Why should I come?’ At which I replied: ‘Are you maybe afraid to come and face Buts?’ Landa paused a moment, made up his mind and said: “I will be there.”
Tension and turmoil
Only a few weeks later, on February 24, the POD Awards 2000 event is about to get started at the Consant Vanden Stock-stadium in Brussels. Some 400 people are expected to attend. That afternoon, Benny Landa and his team are the first to arrive at the reception room. Indigo-brochures are quickly distributed on the empty chairs. However, as soon as the Xeikon team enters the room, they demand the brochures to be removed – ‘otherwise, Buts will leave’. The situation gets tensed quickly as Indigo at first refuses – ‘or we pull out’. Vermeire needs all his diplomacy-skills to solve not just this issue. An even bigger problem is set to cause further turmoil: Landa is scheduled to speak first, followed by Buts. Now, Landa only wants to speak after Buts. Vermeire: “I told them: ‘We can’t do that.’ To which Indigo answered: ‘Then we won’t do it.’ So, I offered to go and ask Buts. ‘No way’, said Xeikon.”
Battle in Brussels
The audience that evening has no idea of how Vermeire feels when Benny Landa goes on stage – up first, as planned. He presents the full range of digital presses that Indigo has lined up for Drupa in a few months time. And he explains how his liquid toner is far superior to dry toner. Vermeire: “Beforehand, I had asked both Landa and Buts to keep things civilized. Now, here he is, taking shots at competitors and challenging Xeikon. I am starting to get really nervous now.” However, it is Buts who manages to quickly defuse the situation, as he enters the stage for his presentation and counters that ‘Mr Landa may tell us a lot of things. But I seem to recall that only recently, we have been printing security documents for the Israeli government on our Xeikon presses’. At that point, there is a long buzz among the audience, remembers Vermeire: “Buts had just equalled the score. All was going to be all right. I was so relieved.”
Night to remember
Still, not all is over for Vermeire yet, as yet one more VIP needs to attending to. One of the POD Awards has been won by a printing on demand-project for the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, and its well-known President, Herman De Croo, has decided to come to the event and proudly collect the Award himself. Vermeire: “So we ended up not only having the two most important pioneers in digital print on our stage, but also one of the most famous politicians in our country. It was a night I will never forget.”
The annual event continued to be successful for years to come, especially after it spread its scope in 2003 to the Netherlands (in cooperation with Graficus magazine) and celebrated another 10 successful editions as the Benelux POD Awards.