On June 24, 2013, a typically hot, humid morning in New York City, an impressive and varied assemblage of imaging industry executives, major retailers, manufacturing specialists, marketing mavens, analysts, academics, editors, consultants and inspirational speakers gathered at the posh Apella event space at the Alexandria Center for Life Science on East 29th Street, overlooking the East River, to attend the first DI Symposium.
The all-day event was conceived and organized by Jerry Grossman, editor in chief, and Alan Levine, publisher, of Digital Imaging Reporter (DIR), in coordination with two presenting sponsors—CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) and PMDA (PhotoImaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association). It was also supported by an illustrious array of eleven industry sponsors, including leading camera and optical companies.
The theme, “Exploring the Future of the Digital Imaging Industry,” was intentionally wide-ranging and profound, and, as it turned out, so were the presenters and the audience. All were knowledgeable, passionately engaged, thoughtful, and at times brilliant, as they explored myriad elements of this vast subject from every angle in search of deeper understanding and practical proactive strategies.
The speakers addressed numerous pointed and challenging questions from the audience, all of which were discussed with good-natured candor. The ambience was cordial, and it was clear that everybody was there to learn something new and potentially transformational. It was also evident that everybody appreciated the incredible synergy, the high quality of the presentations, the innovative ideas and the forthright dialog. Most hoped it would become an annual event—an amazing unanimity considering the widely divergent backgrounds and priorities of the audience.
The symposium was broken into two segments: a morning session titled “Voices That Shape Our Industry,” and an afternoon program under the banner “Voices of Innovation.” It commenced with a hearty breakfast, after which Alan Levine gave a concise and cogent opening statement characterizing the event as “a day of thought-provoking conversation . . . that will present unique perspectives, challenge our normal way of thinking and make us think outside the proverbial box.” He noted, “The world is changing at a pace we’ve never seen in our lifetime and demands innovative thinking.” Levine then laid out some key issues, including the smartphone challenge, enhancing photo-sharing capabilities, and targeting an ever-more-diversified consumer audience.
The first presenter was Josh Rubin, who launched CoolHunting.com, an award-winning online publication, and Largetail, a studio that creates content for brands and distributes it through niche publications. Rubin explained the various flavors of “cool” and highlighted which have proven effective in establishing brand identities. He followed up by defining the three essential elements that are needed to create powerful marketing programs: trust, repetition and surprise. He concluded by explaining the importance of niche editorial reviews, giving some outstanding examples of innovative and successful online retailers, and highlighting the value of social media. After the applause, a lively discussion followed.
Next up was Wayne St. Amand, vice president of Marketing at Crimson Hexagon and a marketing expert in growing and enhancing technology-based businesses. He held forth on the value of tapping into and evaluating data gleaned from social media sites and analyzing this public information to formulate outreach and marketing strategies.
St. Amand was followed by the dynamic retailing duo of Heather Jordan Cartwright, who heads up Amazon Consumer Electronics, Digital Imaging, and the irrepressible Matthew Sweetwood, president of Unique Photo, a large photo specialty store in Fairfield, New Jersey. Technically competitors, they sparred in a jovial manner while discussing both the positive and challenging aspects of their respective retailing models. Sweetwood also provided an impassioned analysis of the need for increased profit margins to maintain a healthy photo specialty sector.
The last speaker before lunch was Michael Petricone, senior vice president of Government Affairs for the CEA and a veteran Washington lobbyist. Petricone delivered an amazing speech on how government regulation really works and why it’s essential that our industry be fully engaged to ensure positive outcomes on policy issues that impact communications.
Then, during the working lunch, Luke Williams delivered one of the most brilliant and farsighted presentations of the day. A noted author, professor of marketing and executive director of the Berkley Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at NYU, he presented, with numerous amusing anecdotes, a lecture on the value of “disruptive thinking” and the benefits of turning conventional wisdom on its head to reveal unconventional truths and create more effective marketing strategies. His speech was received with loud and sustained applause.
After lunch, Laurence J. Thorpe, a senior fellow with the Imaging Technologies & Communications Group of Canon USA; Steve Heiner, a veteran member of Nikon’s senior management team; and Rhonda Vigeant, co-owner of Pro8mm, a company dedicated to the professional use of Super 8 film for production and archiving, presented a wide-ranging discussion on “Innovations in HD Video.” Shortly thereafter, Heather Jordan Cartwright of Amazon, Hans Hartman of Suite 48 Analytics, a market research firm for the mobile imaging industry, and Verizon’s Shamik Basu gave their perspectives and held a lively Q&A on “The Digital Database: How Can We Help Customers Manage Their Images?”
After a short break, Enrique Muyshondt, president of desktopFab, a company that manufactures 3D printers, gave a fascinating presentation on the upside potential and limitations of manufacturing every thing from product components to houses by printing them out in 3D.
The presentations concluded with a scintillating performance by Jacob Ward, editor in chief of Popular Science, who articulated a startling and illuminating vision of a future beyond imaging. In this brave new world, image data can be used in new and unexpected ways, including geolocation, creating more efficient business algorithms, true object recognition, forensics and finding content based on pixel configurations rather than tags or metadata.
The idea-filled day culminated appropriately with a much-appreciated Water View Reception and Digital Imaging Mixer that took full advantage of the superb venue location and its remarkable views.
Perhaps the best way to assess the true significance and success of the first DI Symposium is to ask the participants and those who created it. Here, in their own words, are their candid impressions and reactions.
Jerry Grossman, Editor in Chief, DIR: “We chose speakers you wouldn’t normally see at an imaging industry conference, because we wanted to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to our industry rather than regurgitate research numbers. I was really impressed with the crowd. They were attentive and enthusiastic, a true testament to the quality of the presentations.
“A critical aspect in the success of the DI Symposium was the networking. Our industry needs to come together more often, to share ideas and renew friendships for a day of free and open exchange. I think everyone really enjoyed the camaraderie, especially at the closing cocktail party. We’re seriously thinking of making this an annual event.”
Joellyn Gray, Director of Marketing, Fujifilm: “The DI Symposium elevated the conversations in the digital imaging industry, airing thought-provoking issues, including changing consumer behavior, retailer challenges, impending legislation and the opportunities in image capture, management and output. Here, for the first time, giant players from outside the traditional photo space—like Amazon and Verizon—shared the stage and gave voice to both issues and opportunities. This event was an important reminder that the world has moved to images as a primary form of communication and currency, with great opportunities for business growth.”
Steve Tiffen, President and CEO, The Tiffen Company: “The recent DI Symposium established a forum for industry executives to meet and learn about changing trends in our evolving digital imaging space. This is long overdue. The partnership with PMDA and CEA, along with the sponsorships, afforded those who attended an impressive, stimulating and though-provoking day, along with a social networking experience. I look forward to future events like this and will make sure that more associates from our company will be in attendance.”
Matthew Sweetwood, President, Unique Photo, Inc.: “It was an honor and a privilege to be a featured guest at the 2013 DI Symposium. I found the all-day event to be extremely useful in its diverse and broad-reaching content. It was the first photo industry event where such a high level of creative business ideas were provided. This symposium is a must-attend for anyone in the photo business, and I look forward to participating again next year.”