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Finding Answers Any Way You Can --Cagle

February 2003

It only took one inquisitive soul to ask the question that would be on the minds of any printer presented with the diversification edict. How are we supposed to pay for it? Especially when banks aren't exactly a printer's best friend these days.

Good question.

Not the answer anyone wants to hear.

Apparently, fate and ingenuity play a pivotal role in bringing the how-to in line with the why-to. Paparozzi, et. al, were correct in the analysis that "printers" need to think of themselves as communications providers, whereby an entire suite of services augment the base product. For while the printed product will never go away, the ways and means of producing and distributing are being led by those "printers" who are willing and able to offer the entire complement of services. You don't have to like it and you don't have to agree with it, but it is true.

There's something to be said about having a forward-thinking plan in place. Some time ago, during the height of the current recession, I interviewed the head of a large commercial printer. I asked him about his company's economic outlook over the next 12 to 18 months and how his company was going to approach the near-term future. His answer floored me.

"My answer to that is I don't have a clue, and how would you expect me to? How would you expect anyone to be able, in these times, to make a forecast relative to the economy for the next 12 to 18 months? (Voice rising) Can I possibly know whether there are going to be more terrorist actions? Can I possibly know what the Senate, the House and the president are going to do? I mean, you're asking me a question that has no answer."

Me: "I asked how is your company going to approach the next 12 to 18 months?"

CEO: "Very cautiously. We are very concerned. Beyond that, I don't know what you imagine I'm going to tell you...the truth of the matter is, we have no clue as to how the economy is going to react."

My blood boiled like rabbit Ragu popping against the stovetop backsplash as the CEO continuously berated me. After thoughts of running his response verbatim went away, I wondered why the head of such a large, public printer would go out of his way to say he has no clue. Perhaps he wasn't lying; maybe he didn't know what to do.

The company's ranking in our December Printing Impressions 400 revealed it lost more than 20 percent of its sales volume over the previous year. He was being honest.

Bottom line: If you don't have the answers, you find them. A rabbit's foot isn't going to do you a damn bit of good (I already ate it). You may not have to answer to the friendly industry publication, but if you don't have a plan in place, there's going to be more than a little tapdancing on someone's desk.

By Erik Cagle

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