Print Management Is Friend, not Foe

Eric D. Belcher is president and CEO of InnerWorkings Inc., headquartered in Chicago. The company is a pioneer in the print management industry, generating record revenue of nearly $634 million in 2011. With a global footprint extending across the Americas to Europe and beyond, InnerWorkings has become the preeminent international print management provider in an environment where multinational corporations are increasingly seeking one global print procurement partner.

The global printing industry has a number of structural inefficiencies, including:

  • the high percentage of jobs being produced somewhere other than the plant with the optimal manufacturing platform,
  • wide fluctuations in plant capacity utilization, and
  • significant price discrimination.

As these and other macro issues correct over time, the structure of our industry will change. The relatively recent emergence of print management is one of the most important new developments in the flow of today’s print supply chain, and projections call for huge growth in this channel over the coming years.

Print management firms can act as a direct sales channel that funnels a steady pipeline of high-quality work optimized for your manufacturing platform. With more than 39,000 independent printers operating in the United States alone, printing executives incur significant sales and marketing expenses in order to access demand and keep their equipment running.

Printers who struggle to operate at full capacity would likely find it advantageous to consider partnering with a print management firm. The continuous access to well-matched print jobs eliminates costly customer acquisition costs, allowing you to re-invest those dollars into manufacturing efficiencies and/or your bottom line.

If you are considering partnering with a print management firm, here are some suggestions:

• Rather than being a jack of all trades and a master of none, identify your manufacturing sweet spot and look to capitalize on that capability with your print management partner.

• If a meaningful percentage of your profits are dependent on premium pricing with select direct accounts due to long-term sales relationships or the absence of competitive tension, we would encourage you to re-evaluate your business model. We believe the most successful printers in the future will be those generating profits from competitive pricing behind an efficient manufacturing and service offering. Transparency around pricing will only increase in our industry (and everybody else’s) going forward.

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  • Vince

    Intermediation is essential in every category of commerce. Call it brokerage, agency, outsource, etc. it remains the same: A merchant matches up a supplier and an end-user. This is not a recent development in ours, or other industries. The American colonists were print brokers because of the ban on importation of presses. Jewelers and money-changers go back to Biblical times.

    Print is only 12-15% intermediated, while insurance, automobiles, real estate, etc. approach 100%. To manage 3P relationships which are exponentially 2.25-times more complex than 2P ones, we have PBBA. In its 28th year, we keep things running right.

  • Angelia Schultz

    It seems to me that "aligning" and "balancing" and "reducing" sales competition across the print industry is going to accomplish three things: (1) print management firms will get richer while (2) individual printers’ wealth will move more centrally toward an equitable baseline and (3) competition between printers will be reduced as it will become obsolete.

    I’d prefer a free-market with healthy competition and fewer middle-men. Printers ought to eliminate the brokers and management firms, and instead, build the infrastructure and direct client relationships that make the middle-men unnecessary and that develop the reputation in the industry that individual printers desire.

    If you’re a smaller printer and you want to be an RR Donnelly, you don’t need a broker or a print management firm to do so. You need to work harder and get smarter, from your employee recruiting processes to your strategic goals and objectives. RRD earned its status. Small printers have to do the same. No balancing. No aligning. Just healthy competition.

    — an Analyst at a smaller but growing printer.

  • Anonymous

    Would seem to be an excellent model for the Federal Government (and GPO) and State Governments to follow as well. Would reduce the substantial tax payer expense currently being invested in administrative overhead and personnel currently involved in print and graphic services procurement.

  • Anon

    Anonymous: Agreed. Possible model for Federal Government – let’s reduce the expense to tax payers by reducing unnecessary overhead.

    Angelia: Agreed. Go direct to customers – let’s reduce the middleman in the print industry and keep the field competitive.