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Some Love, Some Hate PIA, NAPL Merger Idea —Michelson

October 2009

DEPENDING ON who you talk to, the recent consolidation discussion proposal extended by the Printing Industries of America (PIA) to the National Association of Printing Leadership (NAPL) was either an "olive branch" representing a goodwill gesture to explore the feasibility of merging, or a "red herring" meant to deflect attention away from the challenges that the PIA is facing both on the national level and among several of its localized affiliate chapters.

For those not up to speed on the controversy, shortly after PRINT 09 PIA President and CEO Michael Makin sent a memo to his association members indicating that NAPL rejected an offer to hold potential consolidation talks. Responding to the overture, NAPL President and CEO Joe Truncale said he and his board would consider "collaborative projects," but indicated NAPL wanted to maintain its independence and autonomy, with an emphasis placed on its consulting practice.

The whole idea of a merger between the two national associations that serve printers has drawn a flood of polarized commentary from both interested parties and industry watchers. Some argue that the competition of two associations slugging it out for printer membership dues and supplier sponsorship dollars is good for the industry, and pushes each organization to develop programs and benefits in step with a changing marketplace. Others counter that there is too much duplication of effort between PIA and NAPL, and that a combined association would be more efficient and cost-effective in what's rapidly become a consolidating industry, both on the printer and supplier sides.

My view: Although neither association is fully in step with satisfying the needs of its constituency, current market forces will ultimately force some form of coupling. Why? Well, first off, industry suppliers can no longer financially sponsor the multitude of industry conferences, seminars, economic reports, special publications and other programs. M&A activity and bankruptcies have resulted in fewer companies on the supply side today. And, those that remain are struggling themselves due to very soft demand for capital equipment and unfavorable credit markets. For example, they can no longer afford to sponsor both the annual PIA Presidents Conference and NAPL Top Management Conference, typically held just weeks apart and suffering from shrinking attendance. Nor can they fund the duplicity of each association's economics departments, publishing operations, and their other targeted conference and seminar programming.

Likewise, there has been much consolidation on the printer side with the likes of Consolidated Graphics, RR Donnelley and Cenveo, to name just a few, acquiring other companies. This has shrunk the pool of potential company memberships and attendees.

Third, the profits from the GRAPH EXPO exhibition and this year, PRINT, are shrinking, with no prognosis for any significant turnaround. Show revenues, which are split evenly between the PIA, NAPL and NPES, provide a major source of the overall operating budgets for those organizations. As a result, both PIA and NAPL have had to cut back their staffing levels. Unlike Wall Street, there is no government bailout in their future. So, in the end, the market may end up eventually determining their fates.

Finally, and perhaps most disconcerting of all, is that—in an industry yearning for ways printers can reinvent themselves to keep print part of the modern media mix and create new value-added services—the majority of printers don't belong to either association. The PIA claims that there are 36,000+ printing establishments; NAPL has nearly 3,000 members and PIA has roughly 10,000 members through its 27 affiliate chapters. That means almost two-thirds of printers don't value membership in either group. The value proposition that a vibrant association provides, including legislative lobbying, industry standards and research, expert consulting, group insurance, economic forecasting and more, is critical to our future. Piecing together the most viable components from PIA and NAPL, and developing what's still missing to attract more industry involvement, would show that 1+1 can = 3.

Mark T. Michelson



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