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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.

 

What Ever Happened to the Annual Report?

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Back about 15 years ago, I had a neighbor who was big into the market. His mental health revolved around the health of his stock portfolio. This annoyed me, especially since his portfolio always hovered around a half a million dollars. But one spill-over benefit of this preoccupation was his annual reports. He had them neatly arranged on his living room table—Apple, ATT, IBM, etc.

I loved picking up these “works of art” and admiring them...not the numbers, but the printing. I loved knowing that I was looking at the top print jobs in the world. The eight-color production, the varnish (flat and gloss), the spot UV—all combined to make the equivalent of a $75 coffee table book. The annual report was the “This is what our company is all about in all its grandeur” corporate promo piece.

While I didn’t have a stock portfolio, I had a new special-order, 1995 red Mustang convertible. And everyone who stepped into my apartment knew it. My glossy Mustang car book was proudly displayed on my coffee table.

What happened?

What happen to the annual report on the coffee table, or the car book for that matter? They’ve been replaced by the Internet and the Flash-ridden corporate Website. After all, you can get the same information on the Web, right?

But the problem is, you can’t put the Web on the coffee table. You can’t covertly show off to your friends—or that girl you just had over on a first date.

The printing industry has always been—and still is—all about doing the best job at servicing your customer. Whatever they want to print, you and your firm strive to provide the best service and the best quality at a competitive price. But what if your customer doesn’t know what they SHOULD print?

In the rush to save costs and adopt “the latest and greatest new thing,” the annual report became a casualty—an unnecessary waste of paper and ink. But with it went an image of corporate credibility. That high-quality self-promotion piece gave you the impression that the company represented inside was real—a company you would be proud of patronizing or even investing in.

In their myopic thinking, these major corporations didn’t see the benefit in having this physical presence in the living room of their fans—a presence that isn’t temporary like a Web page refresh. It’s something print provides; something a Website doesn’t.

All the rage in the industry these days is integrated media. A printing company needs to offer Web services, social media, QR codes or anything else that pops into the communications vernacular. If we don’t get on this wave, there won’t be another.

And I’m as guilty anyone else in pushing this agenda.

While you may not be any good at QR codes or social media, one thing you are good at is printing. It’s also something you want to do; it’s your area of expertise. So maybe that’s what you should do.

Now here’s my point...

Printing serves a lot of purposes. But so do the new media. If you’re going to try to fight “tooth and nail” for the same business, the same applications, you may win...or you may not. But there’s certain things print can do that social media and the Internet can’t—like giving your customers a coffee table presence.

I’m not saying every printer should go out and retool its business plan to resurrect the annual report or car book. But what you have to do is find those items in your repertoire that new media can’t compete against. And you probably have to go out and do some educating. You have to tell buyers what they SHOULD print. You have to present new ideas to your customers; ideas that they may have lost sight of in the pursuit of the new and trendy.

Here’s an idea. Be different by being “old school.” But you have to show clients why they should take a step back rather than two forward.

It’s all about the applications and uses for print; uses they haven’t thought about, or forgot about. You no longer sell print! You sell annual reports, or car books, or custom baseball cards for their kids, or even cool business cards with outlandish finishing.

Being a printer, you have an advantage because your customers and would-be customers can feel your products. They can feel the difference between the flat varnish and UV coating and sense how they can use it to emphasize the things important to them.

I was fortunate to cut my teeth producing world-class commercial art and printing directories in the Twin Cities and Los Angeles. We used techniques that were off the charts, provided by world-class vendors. I was in the mists of the coolest stuff our industry had to offer...and I loved it. And I wasn’t the only one. Ten years plus after some of my directories were published, I still see them still floating around. And they looked as cool as ever. I bet you can’t say that about a Website.

Get out there and sell some cool stuff; don’t sell printing. Printing isn’t cool anymore. But as for the stuff that you print, well, that can be really cool.

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:
Bob Butkins - Posted on April 20, 2011
Clay, I worked for a company in PA that did over 100 high-end Annual Reports a year. In CA, I worked for a company that produced web and sheetfed car books. It was not unusual to print $150,000 projects with color correction and retouching budgets of $25,000 -- to create the premium image piece of the year for that company. (And you better not have a hickey on the President's face!) I am sorry to say that neither will be "coming back", especially AR's. You are forgetting about the legal reasons why AR's went by the wayside. If you were a publicly traded firm, you had to mail out an Annual 30 days before the Shareholders Annual Meeting to comply with SEC regulations. The SEC changed those regulations and corporations stopped printing the AR. Now they post electronic downloads from the corporate web site. So in addition to all the cost and New Media pressures on Annual Reports, the legalities also killed the Annual Report printers.
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Archived Comments:
Bob Butkins - Posted on April 20, 2011
Clay, I worked for a company in PA that did over 100 high-end Annual Reports a year. In CA, I worked for a company that produced web and sheetfed car books. It was not unusual to print $150,000 projects with color correction and retouching budgets of $25,000 -- to create the premium image piece of the year for that company. (And you better not have a hickey on the President's face!) I am sorry to say that neither will be "coming back", especially AR's. You are forgetting about the legal reasons why AR's went by the wayside. If you were a publicly traded firm, you had to mail out an Annual 30 days before the Shareholders Annual Meeting to comply with SEC regulations. The SEC changed those regulations and corporations stopped printing the AR. Now they post electronic downloads from the corporate web site. So in addition to all the cost and New Media pressures on Annual Reports, the legalities also killed the Annual Report printers.