Oliver CampbellYou’ve heard us extol the virtues of PTS, and perhaps you wanted to attend but couldn’t make it (or made it and still like hearing summaries).

Here are some high (and not so high) points* of my trip and the conference for your learning purposes.

*Timing may be on target, close to it, or completely made up for these purposes.

Monday, October 13th

10:40 am: My plane lands at MDW from DTW. Commence three days of non-stop action.

12:01 pm: Bunkered in our PTS office at the beautiful Drake hotel, slapping out emails and finishing Tuesday’s eNewsletter. Waiting for the Design Gallery packages you’ve submitted to arrive from our Deerfield office.

2:15 pm: Design Gallery samples are here! Thankfully, all survive transit and are ready to be voted on in the iPad survey. Onsite votes will be combined with the online voting readers have been conducting for the last month.

5:30 pm: Registration opens. Badges and goody bags are picked up; attendees grab a drink and mingle with each other and visit the tabletop booths.

8:37 pm: Some behind the scenes action happens in our onsite office: More tote bags are stuffed for attendees to enjoy tomorrow. My early-bird preferences are catching up with me, even though my internal clock is set for only an hour later.

11:22 pm: Bedtime. Excited for tomorrow’s sessions to begin!

Tuesday, October 14th

4:32 am: Low point: Darn internal clock. Apologies (if needed) to the room next door as I (hopefully) whisper my opening comments to myself over and over as the hours go on. We’re all friends at the show, but the first time onstage each year gives you a few butterflies.

7:30 am: People are enjoying breakfast in our displays room. I’ll take my third cup of coffee, please.

8:30 am: Here we go! Day 1 keynote by Oliver Campbell at Dell. All our speakers are so gracious and willing to teach attendees how to better their brands and packaging. My handbook is already filling up fast with jotted notes. Words of wisdom from Oliver? Use what you know to better your world/brand. He took his experience growing up on a farm and applied it to his work. Results are mushroom, bamboo and wheat straw packaging that help Dell attain brand goals toward zero waste.

9:13 am: Valerie Aurilio, Landor Associates, is onstage speaking on how to approach packaging from a branding perspective. Great packaging is born when the technical side and human story meet.

10:45 am: Campbell’s Lenny Sulewski and Works Design Group’s Berdj Mazmanian note the astounding growth of the club store channel: Costco is the #3 retailer on earth, and the club category is growing 6% annually. Want your packaging to stand out in store? Designing for club needs a different approach: color blocking, billboarding, leading with icons and shoppability from all sides. Helpful tips on how to get brands into this category are given.

11:33 am: What is Big Data and how does it affect brands? Dr. Leslie Harrington, The Color Association, is fantastic onstage, educating us on how it impacts color and branding/packaging decisions. Interested in exploring more? Check out EDITD and WGSN.

12:05 pm: Lunch! The Drake always serves excellent food.

1:00 pm: We’re back at it: Ed Michlowitz, Unilever, and Richard Palmer, Little Big Brands, present on production. Many laughs ensue, but the audience knows the gravity of the topic. After all, collaboration among the brand, agency and printer is what will get everyone to the end goal: having the best possible package on shelf.

1:36 pm: Want to increase overall sales revenue, increase first time tries, strengthen brand equity and encourage repeat buys? Of course you do, so Jennifer Dublino of ScentWorld Events shows us how to accomplish just that through engaging the five senses with packaging.

2:00 pm: Brain break! We stretch our legs, chat with our suppliers and manufacturers and vote, vote, vote for the People’s Choice winners.

2:45 pm: PepsiCo Canada’s Susan Irving and Shikatani Lacroix’s JP Lacroix remind us why packaging is so important: It is the one thing about a brand consumers can physically touch. The “Do Us a Flavor” case study on LAY’S campaign produced insane results in terms of customer engagement and profit at shelf.

3:15 pm: Meghan Labot of Spring Design Partners gives us a session on your most requested topic: Spirits! Emotion in brand packaging drives purchase, repurchase and advocacy. Advocacy drives more purchase, more repurchases and more advocacy. See how the chain continues? Invest in packaging as a strategic tool to sell your brand.

4:20 pm: Clemson University’s Dr. Andrew Hurley is concluding his talk on increasing shelf impact with eye tracking. Speed is a weapon: market leaders have a seven month lead advantage over the 22-month FMCG time to market average. Gain speed and measure consumer behavior by establishing a baseline of understanding, define your next decision and test iterations.

5:18 pm: Conversation is flowing in our last networking session of the day. I lack in the ability to replay encounters and keep the funny bits alive, so I’ll spare you the awkwardness of reading it, but attendees are clearly enjoying themselves: one encounter boils down to deep-dish pizza and how that relates to birth.

Wednesday, October 15th

2:20 am: All low points seem to involve sleeping, or lack thereof. I wake up and realize I forgot to check into my Southwest flight home. Resigned myself to last position boarding (and a checked carry on at the gate) but somehow still attain an A 27 positioning hours after check in begins. Low point becomes a high point!

8:30 am: People’s Choice winners announced: Visit 2014 People's Choice and Editor's Award Winners Announced to see who took home these heavy, sharp trophies. The iPad mini winner is present and accepts his award, bumming out those who also voted and hoped to take home the prize.

8:59 am: CEO and President of butter LONDON Leslie Freytag surprises all attendees with bottles of the brand’s polish. Several ladies have no qualms about immediately ducking down and moving toward the few empty seats to snag extra bottles of the luxe lacquer. Leslie reminds us what matters in brand building is aspiration: butter LONDON being about rock and roll, appealing to those who wish to be effortlessly cool. I learn that Muggins, one of the polishes I chose to wear to the show, translates to “a fool or an idiot.” Sounds about right.

9:30 am: If you want to know what trends will happen in packaging, look to the industries bumping up against yours, Suzy Badaracco, Culinary Tides, informs us. A wealth of influences is explored in this fascinating, fast-moving session.

10: 46 am: Craig Dubitsky, hello’s founder, can’t stress this enough (and we at BRANDPACKAGING wholeheartedly agree): There are no boring categories, just boring executions. Any product can be an object of desire with good design: Opportunities are everywhere.

11:47 am: In the last session before lunch, Terri Goldstein, The Goldstein Group, and Joseph C. Gioconda, Esq., The Gioconda Law Group PLLC, partner in a polished session to help brands stop other companies from copycatting them.

1:15 pm: How can packaging transform your product? Mintel’s Lynn Dornblaser applies the research the firm is famous for to this session.

1:44 pm: MJ Jolda, Go 2 Brand Builders, and Charlie Zunda, Zunda Group, look at tailoring your product (in this case, pet food, treats and toys) to the marketplace you are selling in.

2:34 pm: Many brands are doing great with graphics on their packaging. However, only 11% of consumers are completely satisfied with packaging, with the largest dissatisfaction in the functional aspects of packaging. Tucker McNeil, MWV, presents many other excellent points to consider that their annual study has uncovered, including facts and numbers concerning the ever-growing online retail space.

3:00 pm: I close out the show. Speakers, sponsors and attendees have made 2014’s PTS a great success. We’re already starting preparation for next year, October 12-14, 2015, again at The Drake in Chicago!