Savvy Buyers Being Let Go —Dana
ONE OF the casualties of print's decline in corporate America is the corporate print buyer. As companies reshape their marketing strategies to embrace newer media—at the expense of print—their need for employees who only specialize in sourcing print will shrink. Or disappear altogether.
It's easy to understand, but oh-so-painful to witness.
I'm thinking about the professionals throughout every industry, in organizations large and small, whose role it is to source and manage their employers' printing needs. They typically work in marketing, corporate communications, purchasing or creative services.
Their titles may or may not include the words "print" or "production."
They're self-trained print aficionados. They've carved a niche career out of years of focusing on print manufacturing trends and how to sniff out the perfect print providers.
Print's Shifting Role
When Frank Romano, professor emeritus at RIT, conducted a print buyer survey in 2008, there were roughly 23,000 full-time print buyers across the United States. Add to that another 60,000 who bought more than $5,000 of printed materials every year, and perhaps as many as one million more who bought less than $5,000 of print annually.
Personally, it's the 23,000 full-timers I'm worried about. Their jobs are most vulnerable. And what about their career prospects?
Regardless of when the economy improves, it's unlikely that print's ranking in corporate marketing campaigns will shoot back up to the top. Print now shares a seat at the table with other marketing media.
A big challenge for companies is how to get the mix of media just right. Should you implement a social media campaign? Jump into e-mail marketing? Launch a corporate blog? Host tweet-ups and other hip events? Fortify your Website? And where does print fit into all of this?
Print will take on a supporting role. And, as this shift takes place, professional print buyers are finding that their roles are shifting, too.
Who Loses? Print buyers. It's presumptuous to predict which print buyers are most likely to lose their jobs in this economy. It may be the senior-level, most experienced and best-paid buyers. It may be those who devote 100 percent of their time working on print.
I'm currently conducting an e-survey of my print-buying community to ask those who have lost their jobs to share information about the circumstances in which they were let go. Hopefully, themes will emerge that will enlighten all of us—particularly other print buyers who just might avoid the same fate.
The e-survey questions deal with experience level, salary level and percentage of time spent on print buying…plus this: In your absence, who's left to handle the printing? (By the way, if you know buyers who qualify, please direct them to this short survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/SLDCFTF.)
This is the year for print buyers to take a 360° look around. What new marketing and communications trends are developing in their own industry? Once they identify these, which ones appeal to them? New skill sets are needed if a buyer wants to use her or his experience working with printers at all.
Over the past few years, I've seen the roles of many senior-level print buyers evolve within their companies. These individuals saw the writing on the wall and wasted no time in cross-training themselves.
Print buyers who refuse to learn new skills will have the most trouble getting new jobs. I think back to the '80s, when desktop publishing began to replace typesetting.
I worked with a graphic designer who refused to make the adjustment. Bob not only lost his ad agency job, but he also lost his home because he couldn't find work in his field. It's a classic "pride-goeth-before-the-fall" story.
Likewise, when a print buyer loses her job, what happens to the preferred printers with whom she's been working for years? Maybe the company will maintain the partnership; maybe not.
Whenever there's a changing of the guard, you can practically hear the intake of breath as commercial printers worry whether or not the new buyer(s) will keep the status quo or decide to work with other printers.
To this point, printers should be aware of the risky business of print buying these days. If I were a printer, I'd find ways to make my customers' managers (even the executive team) familiar with the work I provide to the firm.
(It's curious. For the past 18 months, buyers have been worried about which printers will "remain standing," and which will be casualties of the recession and changing trends. Now, though, the shoe's on the other foot.)
When a print buyer loses her job, she often takes with her a set of specialized skills that no one else on staff has. Print buyers work alone much of the time, dealing with a manufacturing process that no one else in the firm understands. Presumably, some printing still needs to be done, and well-developed processes and procedures may be abandoned—simply because no one other than the print buyer had ever dealt with printers.
Corporate buyers are the keepers of the details, mountains of them, that shape and define each annual report, each marketing brochure, each new product launch. When no one's left to dot i's and cross t's, mistakes are made. Costs can skyrocket.
Regardless of who is left to handle the printing, there will be a steep learning curve. I don't envy the person in the company left holding that bag.
It will be interesting to watch what happens to the print needs of companies after they lay off their print buyers. There's presumably less print to source. In some cases, according to my e-survey, the work will be reassigned to other employees: remaining print buyers, graphic designers, marketing personnel or administrative staff members. They may or may not work with the same group of printers.
There are several outsourcing options available to companies that decide not to have print buying handled from within, including:
• Graphic designer/creative firms;
• Freelance print production specialists;
• Print brokers;
• Print management firms; and
• Single-source printing firms.
And some companies might go the online print sourcing route. I could see this happening, especially in smaller businesses that don't require high-end, complex printed materials.
Whichever solution a company takes in the wake of dismissing a savvy print buyer, there are bound to be missteps. Training will be needed for those left behind. Outsourced specialists will need to get up to speed quickly.
When the economy runs roughshod over those in the print buying field, the fallout can be far-flung. Let's be prepared. PI
About the Author
Margie Dana is the founder of Print Buyers International (www.printbuyersinternational.com), which offers educational and networking opportunities to those who work with the printing industry. She produces an annual print buyers conference (www.printbuyersconference.com) and has written her popular e-column, "Margie's Print Tips," since 1999. Dana speaks regularly at trade events worldwide and offers consulting services as a print buyer specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.