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About Clay

Clay's recruiting and strategic consulting efforts over the past 20 years have provided firms in the printing and communications industries the talent and perspective that has enabled them to navigate the constant change they’ve faced.

His current company, the bleedingEDGE, provides digital printing firms with 1:1 marketing solutions that enable their small- and medium-sized clients to compete with larger competitors using a cooperative strategy and production model. In addition to the normal 1:1 marketing techniques of personalization and customization, the bleedingEDGE incorporates timing strategies, generational analysis and sociological factors in producing results well above the norm.

 

2011 Is Looking Like a Good Year...or Is It?

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Over the last few weeks, I've read several reports on the state of the printing industry and the outlook for 2011. I’ve been surprised. Most of them project sales, especially in the direct marketing sector, to be up—not a lot, but still up. That’s a huge improvement over the last two or three years.

Most of the top corporations anticipate spending more on print this year. One of the reports even surmised that volumes would return to pre-recession levels because of pent-up demand.

There might even be some logic in this. The stock market is in good shape. Fortune 500 corporate profits are higher than they’ve ever been. The recession has made process improvement and efficiency tantamount.

We see a lot of that in the printing industry. The industry leaders, such as Quad and Consolidated, are acquiring firms and merging operations to keep a handle on costs, while looking at how to handle the predicted increase in demand. It looks like printing is successfully holding its own against the social media evil empire. Maybe we can return to the good old days of the past after all.

But let me take off my rose-colored glasses for a moment.

After I read those reports, I thought I’d talk to a few of my old printing clients. These firms ranged from about $2 to $15 million in annual sales—your basic range for the majority of commercial printing. Their client bases consist mainly of local and regional firms cut across a wide range of industries. They print collateral, as well as some direct marketing and even retail signage.

While we can sit back in our living rooms and read the latest NAPL report, we can’t help but see there’s an elephant blocking the view of our TV. And the elephant is the likes of the printers I called—printers like the majority of you that read my rants. But I don’t need to tell you that.

I didn’t hear about acquisitions. I did hear about plant closings, though.

I didn’t hear about hiring talent to gear up for the upturn. I heard about layoffs—layoffs of not just employees, but friends.

I heard a lot about losing business to Groupon, from the smaller firms. The “evil social media empire” hasn’t so much been kept at bay as one would think reading the trade publications. All this talk of customers preferring the printed piece seems to have been lost on the customers themselves.

The owners I talked to gave me the impression they’d just gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. And they can’t wait to get out of the ring.

This is our real print industry. It’s not the one that has public shareholders to report to. It’s not the one that’s always on the look out for the next company with an owner that’s hitting the late rounds.

The real industry is one where the owner’s son has a best friend whose father is out of work and worried about making his mortgage payment. The owners of the real print industry are worried about paying that college tuition for their kids they’d never thought they’d have to worry about. This the industry that doesn’t make the trade publications. They’re not necessary going out of business, but they can sure see it’s a possibility—voluntarily or not.

If you drive around your community, you’ll probably see a new coffee shop opening up. Or, you might see a new Walmart or Target store opening up. But, what you won’t see is a new printing company, although you might see a vacant building where one was a year or two ago.

Most of the news we read or watch discusses the economy in macro terms. GNP is up or down. Unemployment is at 8.8 or 8.9 percent. We might hear numbers for a given state, but for the most part, it’s all national; it’s all macro.

It’s looking at the forest from a mile up, and everything looks fine. The big trees stand tall. But what we don’t see is that there is no growth down below. None of the nourishing sun reaches the floor. None of this supposed up turn in the economy has reached Main Street. And, unfortunately, we live on Main Street.

But according to the reports, things are going to be fine again. Apparently, all we have to do is is be patient. Good times are just over the horizon.

Recently I read a couple posts here by Carl Gerhardt, with the most recent being Monday’s. In his articles, Carl took the position that not all printers are set up to take advantage of the new communication world represented by social media, other online alternatives and 1:1 marketing. If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the last few months, you know my opinion on the necessity of change in our industry.

At first I wanted to post a Comment, but I decided to step back and look at things from the perspective of someone in the trenches—especially a smaller firm like those in the Carl’s Allegra Network.

I can only imagine that for a small printing company, adopting these new-age products and services must seem a daunting undertaking, if not outright insurmountable. To most owners of these firms, Facebook and Twitter are useless Internet things their children and grandchildren waste time on when they should be doing...well, anything else. And their opinion of Groupon isn’t much better.

Even if these owners saw merit in these new technologies, how to incorporate them in their workflow and revenue stream is another story completely. The time and effort just isn’t worth it. After all, things are going to get better aren’t they?

Let me ask you something. What did you do when you were teaching your daughter to ride a bike? What did you do after she fell down, scraped her knees and said she didn’t want to try anymore? I guarantee you didn't let her quit. You pushed her, and you helped her until she was successful. It was hard, but she worked her way through it.

What did you do when your son wanted to run for student council, but was afraid to get up in front of a group to give his campaign speech? I’m willing to bet you encouraged him, gave him the support he needed and told him he’d knock ’em dead.

Why is changing your printing company any different. Yea, it’s going to be hard—damn hard! Once the emotional momentum wears off, you’re going to want to go back to doing business the same way you have in the past. But you can’t. And you can’t turn back time. None of us are Michael J. Fox and have a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor.

Maybe your firm doesn’t have the talent to make this jump. Find it! You don’t have to load up your payroll either. I’m sure there are plenty of small Web or database firms more than happy to partner with you. Just because you’ve always been the lone wolf doesn’t mean you have to stay that way.

The first post I wrote for Printing Impressions was titled “the Alliance.” It would do you good to go back and read it if you haven’t, or re-read if you have.

Our industry has reached a critical juncture. And I believe we have not seen the end of the carnage either. Printing will still be a viable business. It just won’t be a business like it was...no matter what you read.

Check out more of my rants at my blog "On the Road to Your Perfect World."Opens in a new window or follow me on Twitter at @clayforsbergOpens in a new window.
 

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COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
Michelle Bracali - Posted on April 05, 2011
Thanks, Clay, for bringing up with the publisher the idea of a master mind group within PI. I love your comment about the annual reports and the seemingly lost art of the presentation/coffee table piece. Ironically enough, I spoke recently with an individual who works for Wired Magazine. She said the magazine is still very much committed to print but down the road could foresee the print edition becoming more of a premium piece or "show piece" - exactly what you're talking about. Here's the rub - my company produces one color, information based/technical catalogs. They're catalogs used for B2B. We are very niche driven - we specialize in this type of printing for a few, select industries. So far, so good - right? Well, the volume for this type of printing is rapidly decreasing due to online catalog look up systems. How in the heck do we fight that? I guess the answer is - we can't. We have expanded into heatset printing and are exploring new markets for that press - with a modest degree of success. However, competition is so fierce (as with most printing nowadays), that we find it very hard to compete with other printers who have produced 4/c printing for years and have squeezed out all known efficiencies. Profit margins (if there are any in a particular job) are razor thin. Sometimes, with the margins needed to competitively win a job, it's not worth it to print a project - it will cost more to produce than what the billing is worth. Now, it probably sounds like I'm whining at this point, (and maybe I am - a little...lol) but the good news is we're still doing okay with our core work - the one color catalogs. Albeit, the volume is rapidly declining. At this point, we're also entertaining ideas of manufacturing other, non-print products, to compensate for the (longer) down times we're facing. I am curious to know if other printers have or are starting to do the same. That is, continuing to print but also beginning to manufacture other things to supplement billing and growth?
Kelly - Posted on March 31, 2011
Clay and Michelle I love the forum idea, too - let's hope PI will embrace that. Or, how can we encourage this kind of dialogue sharing in other venues? LinkedIn, webinars? All great points and thanks for speaking your truth! Kelly
Clay Forsberg - Posted on March 31, 2011
Great comment Michelle - and not just because you agreed with me. Your idea of a thought clearinghouse via Printing Impressions could be very productive. I'll bring it up with the publisher. And it's not just about new types of products (i.e. internet or QR codes), but maybe even repackaging old products. For example, whatever happened to the annual report niche. An annual report perfectly exemplifies what's great about printing. It's a perfect corporate self promotion piece - one that has staying power as coffee table piece. But it has to be packaged that way, and presented that way. This post is not meant to paint a "doom and gloom" scenario. It's all challenge to the industry to reinvent itself again as a premier purveyor of communication. The print industry has the resources and tools to do this. It's just figuring out which ones to use for what purpose. Again, it's all about accepting change as an opportunity ... not as the grim reaper.
Michelle Bracali - Posted on March 31, 2011
Well said, Clay. Thanks for having the guts to write an honest piece. You're absolutely right. We know we need to come up with new product offerings and solutions. As an industry, it seems like most of us don't have any real answers....yet. Oh sure, things like QR codes are great but, let's face it, they're easy to reproduce and readily available for anyone to go online and create themselves. To my best knowledge, so far the industry has been unable to develop enough concrete ideas that will truly help printers combat declining revenues. (And, If I'm wrong about that, please set me straight...I'd love to hear about it.) I think we need to be more honest with ourselves and perhaps do more idea sharing with other (non) competitor printers. Personally, I'd love to see Printing Impressions create a forum for mastermind groups to accomplish just that. Or, anything that will help to create more of an authentic dialogue about the state of our industry and thus begin to work on improving it. Anyone?
Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
Michelle Bracali - Posted on April 05, 2011
Thanks, Clay, for bringing up with the publisher the idea of a master mind group within PI. I love your comment about the annual reports and the seemingly lost art of the presentation/coffee table piece. Ironically enough, I spoke recently with an individual who works for Wired Magazine. She said the magazine is still very much committed to print but down the road could foresee the print edition becoming more of a premium piece or "show piece" - exactly what you're talking about. Here's the rub - my company produces one color, information based/technical catalogs. They're catalogs used for B2B. We are very niche driven - we specialize in this type of printing for a few, select industries. So far, so good - right? Well, the volume for this type of printing is rapidly decreasing due to online catalog look up systems. How in the heck do we fight that? I guess the answer is - we can't. We have expanded into heatset printing and are exploring new markets for that press - with a modest degree of success. However, competition is so fierce (as with most printing nowadays), that we find it very hard to compete with other printers who have produced 4/c printing for years and have squeezed out all known efficiencies. Profit margins (if there are any in a particular job) are razor thin. Sometimes, with the margins needed to competitively win a job, it's not worth it to print a project - it will cost more to produce than what the billing is worth. Now, it probably sounds like I'm whining at this point, (and maybe I am - a little...lol) but the good news is we're still doing okay with our core work - the one color catalogs. Albeit, the volume is rapidly declining. At this point, we're also entertaining ideas of manufacturing other, non-print products, to compensate for the (longer) down times we're facing. I am curious to know if other printers have or are starting to do the same. That is, continuing to print but also beginning to manufacture other things to supplement billing and growth?
Kelly - Posted on March 31, 2011
Clay and Michelle I love the forum idea, too - let's hope PI will embrace that. Or, how can we encourage this kind of dialogue sharing in other venues? LinkedIn, webinars? All great points and thanks for speaking your truth! Kelly
Clay Forsberg - Posted on March 31, 2011
Great comment Michelle - and not just because you agreed with me. Your idea of a thought clearinghouse via Printing Impressions could be very productive. I'll bring it up with the publisher. And it's not just about new types of products (i.e. internet or QR codes), but maybe even repackaging old products. For example, whatever happened to the annual report niche. An annual report perfectly exemplifies what's great about printing. It's a perfect corporate self promotion piece - one that has staying power as coffee table piece. But it has to be packaged that way, and presented that way. This post is not meant to paint a "doom and gloom" scenario. It's all challenge to the industry to reinvent itself again as a premier purveyor of communication. The print industry has the resources and tools to do this. It's just figuring out which ones to use for what purpose. Again, it's all about accepting change as an opportunity ... not as the grim reaper.
Michelle Bracali - Posted on March 31, 2011
Well said, Clay. Thanks for having the guts to write an honest piece. You're absolutely right. We know we need to come up with new product offerings and solutions. As an industry, it seems like most of us don't have any real answers....yet. Oh sure, things like QR codes are great but, let's face it, they're easy to reproduce and readily available for anyone to go online and create themselves. To my best knowledge, so far the industry has been unable to develop enough concrete ideas that will truly help printers combat declining revenues. (And, If I'm wrong about that, please set me straight...I'd love to hear about it.) I think we need to be more honest with ourselves and perhaps do more idea sharing with other (non) competitor printers. Personally, I'd love to see Printing Impressions create a forum for mastermind groups to accomplish just that. Or, anything that will help to create more of an authentic dialogue about the state of our industry and thus begin to work on improving it. Anyone?