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EVP, Marketing at Specialty Print Communications

Against the Grain

By Dustin LeFebvre

About Dustin

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC


Print’s Future Is in Good Hands

A few weeks ago in this space, I mentioned that I was headed back to my alma mater, Western Michigan University (WMU), to speak at its annual Litho Day event. Litho Day is a wonderful collaboration between education and industry, during which industry trends and technology are shared and, hopefully, students are inspired to join our important and evolving industry.

WMU’s Department of Paper Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Imaging, in concert with the Ann Arbor Litho Club (AALC), hosts the event each year. The Graphic Arts Memorial Foundation, together with AALC, has done an admirable job promoting and supporting future printing leaders by distributing more than $500,000 in scholarships.

This year, the theme of Litho Day was, “The Marriage of Offset and Digital.” I had been asked to speak on the mashup of the two technologies. As an indication of just how far digital has blurred the lines in the print production environment, it has co-opted a day formerly dedicated to lithography at WMU. The lithographers among us may view this with dismay, but then again, we all need to embrace the inevitability of change in our business...for we know what happens to industries that refuse to change.

Indeed, all the book printers in attendance either already have inkjet presses or are seriously considering acquiring one for short-run work. Of course, the usual debates about quality and breakeven cost points compared with offset ensued. In this case, marriage seemed more like cohabitation—partners with separate bedrooms, or at best, MAYBE a hookup!

Enough of the coquetry.

Coming from the direct marketing marketspace, I had been invited to speak about the kind of digital/offset marriage that SPC has pioneered. Last year, we were at the forefront of the commercialization of the capability to combine high-volume web offset printing with the variability of inline, four-color inkjet printing, which we like call 4CHI—short for 4-Color Hybrid Imaging.

While I entered the conference room focused on our company’s own technological advances, my thoughts soon turned to my audience. The moment I found myself surrounded by undergrads studying to get degrees in imaging, I wondered, “What’s on their minds?” Beyond simply “getting a job,” what are their hopes and concerns? What is their vision for the future?

In sharing conversations with a number of these terrific young people, I soon gathered that each of their imaginations hand been captured by this industry. I was delighted to see that young people are still falling in love with print. Some had family in printing. Others first caught a whiff of fountain solution in a high school class. Still others were recruited out of a WMU general education graduation requirement by Lois Lemon, WMU’s famed master faculty specialist in paper engineering, chemical engineering and imaging.

[Lois was the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Ben Franklin Award as 2012 Educator of the Year.]

So don’t feel sorry for this group’s plight, despite the trouble, turmoil and turbulence we seem to face daily as the industry blocks and tackles its way through the changes that are wracking the business landscape.

Much the contrary. Perhaps introduced to real-world economics at an early age by the recent recession, these wonderful students fully realize the industry they’re entering is in the midst of change. Yet, they’re making their career choices with enthusiasm and heart. Almost every young person I spoke with had a five-year plan, a track in mind, and a passion for a particular market niche.

They’ve done their homework, accumulated a series of internships prior to graduation, and prepared themselves for the real world.

At SPC, we’ve benefitted from tapping this pool of talent through our robust internship programs; we hope the benefits have been mutual.

The future of our industry is in good hands, as a constant stream of bright young people graduate from fine schools like WMU. And just as digital technologies are joining with offset to the betterment of both, I am confident that our industry as a whole will be bettered by the injection of fresh new faces, inquisitive new minds and revolutionary new ideas. These young people are demonstrating a torrid love affair with print, as have generations of young people before them.

It’s good to go back to your alma mater. Kind of makes one feel young again.

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