‘Our Recent Alignment Progress Enabled Us to Hit the Ground Running’; A Q&A With PMMI Media’s Joe Angel

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Joe Angel is president of PMMI Media Group, a division of PMMI. He will be speaking with three other CEOs on an all-star Power Panel at our Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS) Dec. 2-4 titled Operating in the New Normal.

Amid running a company that serves manufacturing markets that are all deemed essential, he was kind enough to take the time to conduct this interview with us over email.

CONNECTIV: Everyone has had to pivot over the past year, whether it’s with events, workflow, digital products, company culture, etc. What are some of the most significant (and effective) ways that PMMI has responded to the crisis?

JOE ANGEL: Early in the pandemic especially, manufacturers were hungry for information to help them quickly respond to a range of challenges. We set up a task force to meet frequently to address the needs of our employees, our subscribers and our customers and to define communication plans. PMMI Media Group had been focusing on better alignment with our parent company, PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, whose member companies are our customers. It’s no exaggeration to say that our recent alignment progress enabled us to hit the ground running when response time was critical.

Our editors conducted multiple surveys to gain insight into what was happening in packaging and processing plants across the country. We were uniquely positioned to be able to share industry-specific intelligence with essential businesses. PMMI produced 18 podcasts, nearly a dozen Town Hall meetings and established a COVID-19 dedicated resource page visited by over 5,000 individuals in the manufacturing community, which included our coverage of relevant developments. Topics like resource reallocation to produce PPE, remote access, e-commerce challenges and how to bring workers back safely have been hugely popular. Together we were able to produce and distribute timely information for our readers and PMMI’s member companies, our customers.

For PMMI Media Group, our most significant response to the pandemic was to build a virtual event, which is PACK EXPO Connects, launching on November 9th. Due to COVID-19, PMMI’s physical trade show, PACK EXPO International, was cancelled. This event held at McCormick Place in November usually attracted about 50,000 attendees and 2,400 exhibitors. In just a few months, our team developed a virtual event and supporting media. PACK EXPO Connects will open with 700+ exhibitors, over 2,600 live demos and more than 60 educational sessions featuring well-known brands like Amazon, L’Oreal, Smithfield Foods, Annie’s Organics and more. It’s been a massive undertaking requiring full-time collaboration between PMMI Media Group in Chicago and PMMI in Herndon, Va. 


How has revenue mix changed over the past year? What has PMMI’s experience been with virtual events? Are there other products that have really stepped up this year? Why?

The new virtual show caused an acceleration of innovation for our media products. And, while I can’t speak specifically to revenue, we have generally experienced an increase in media sales over the same period last year. Our virtual event media packages and live demo products—print and digital—were developed by our incredible digital team, led by Dave Newcorn, senior VP, digital and data, in cooperation with PMMI’s trade show team. Many of the features available at our virtual event were developed exclusively for us by Map Your Show, the platform on which PACK EXPO Connects is built. We also modified some of our traditional media offerings to support suppliers navigating a new way of doing business. And we developed new products, like our Virtual Event Guide, which is polybagged with our October issue of Packaging World. While we will be evaluating the virtual experience post-event, we anticipate being in-person again in September for PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2021. What we have learned will position us for future hybrid models and potential new virtual events.


How has the way PMMI Media Group operates day-to-day changed?

As at most companies, the pandemic has created challenges and opportunities. For the Media Group, our day-to-day operations have been mostly unchanged. We had a strong IT department going into the crisis and many on our team were experienced in working remotely. Aside from delivering a few external monitors and desk chairs, the transition was pretty seamless. We encouraged virtual meetings to be held with cameras on, to bring a more personal feel to our interactions and I think that’s a change that will endure. Our outreach and engagement with our customers has been a real bright spot; our video-based products and PACK EXPO Connects helped us develop new business. 


Is the company fully remote? Has this experience prompted any lasting changes in the way PMMI will operate post-pandemic?

PMMI’s Herndon, Va., employees are working in the office with staggered schedules; safety protocols are in place and there are very few, if any, who typically commute by mass-transit. This is a huge difference from PMMI Media Group in Chicago, where almost all of our employees use mass transit. We still do not feel it is safe for our employees to be using trains and buses, so we will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future. 


What have been some effective ways to keep employees from getting burned out and keep morale up?

It’s a challenge, as you know. We frequently remind our employees that we want them to take care of themselves and their families, and we encourage folks to take advantage of time off. We have regular Zoom happy hours, which often feature a theme or contest and offer an easy way for employees to connect with co-workers. We’ve also sent occasional gift cards, masks, pizzas and other signs of appreciation to employees to keep morale up until we can be together again.


What is your outlook for 2021? When are you anticipating the return to the office (if that's relevant) and of in-person events?

We are cautiously optimistic about 2021 but are budgeting conservatively. With no vaccine or proven treatment for COVID-19, it is hard to say where we’ll be. PMMI Media Group has a tremendous portfolio, and PMMI is known for its very successful trade shows. Almost all the manufacturing markets we serve are deemed essential—the packaging and processing of products we use every day—food, beverages, cosmetics and household products, medical and pharmaceutical items. And many of our customers are busier than ever. The long-term impact of the pandemic is a bigger issue and the upcoming election could affect the business outlook, as well. That said, we consider ourselves fortunate to be aligned with packaging, processing and automation. And we are also fortunate to have dedicated, knowledgeable colleagues at our parent company, PMMI.


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…