Keeping Print Relevant -- A Call to Arms
IN 2002, I spoke at an industry gathering lamenting the dwindling profit margins in the printing industry as a result of the post 9/11 economy, the post-Y2K phenomena and the then-new concepts of e-commerce, reverse auctions and corporate RFIs. I was cautiously optimistic about an economic recovery, but concerned that we, as an industry, would not be able to harness the momentum behind a recovery and convert it into growth and profits. Well, the recovery did come and, unfortunately, in most ways we did not seize the opportunity. While many of the processes for transacting business in the new digital era fell by the wayside, the digital era has created many new products. Whereas six years ago, we saw those processes as significant impediments to our growth, today the new products are threatening our future. And, just as I argued then that we needed to change our ways, once again, we need to reinvent ourselves in order to stay relevant.
Today’s challenge, or more realistically threat, is not to preserve profit margins in the face of competition from other competitors within the printing industry, but to keep print relevant in the face of the challenges that exist from a plethora of alternative mediums, all competing for a piece of the ever-shrinking marketing and communications budget.
The printing company down the road, across the country or even the one in China is no longer our biggest competition. The competition is now other media options.
The practices of trying to react to the old competitive threats by lowering prices, increasing output or cutting overhead, will not work in the new paradigm. We have to find new ways to meet these new and very formidable challenges. And the reality of the situation is, that based on past experience, our industry does not have the best track record for meeting such challenges on our own.
But now there is an industry organization with one goal: making the case for our medium. That organization is The Print Council (www.theprintcouncil.org). Yes, there are already industry associations and trade organizations. But we have never had, prior to The Print Council’s existence, a strong and committed alliance of industry resources focused on educating both our own industry and the media community of the importance of print and, most importantly, the role that print can and should play in the overall media mix.
Andrew Tribute recently echoed this by offering several very topical thoughts about the viability of print. Most significantly, he noted that the printing industry needs to evolve from a “print or nothing else” mentality to print as part of the total package.
The mission for our industry’s future is clear:
• We must retrain ourselves—including company owners, senior managers and sales executives—to be experts, not just in the printing business, but in the media business.
• We need to learn how to work together with our advertising agency and corporate clients to be part of the development of marketing and communications strategies, and not just a part of the execution of these ideas.
• We need to become valuable and trusted consultants to all of our clients in all areas of media communications.
• And, we need to be smart enough to demonstrate to our clients when print is the most appropriate media vehicle, and confident enough to be able to say when it isn’t.
These are lofty objectives and ones that most companies in the printing industry will need help accomplishing. The Print Council can provide this assistance. Tools have been developed to help sales representatives communicate with clients. Research has been conducted that reinforces the fact that print remains a powerful and efficient manner in which to communicate to target audiences (i.e., Print in the Mix at www.printinthemix.rit.edu).
Resources are available to aid business owners in redefining how to interact with customers. By utilizing the power of The Print Council, we will all be better prepared to reach the media influencers, whether they are agency buyers, account executives, Fortune 100 brand and promotion managers, or small- and mid-sized company marketing executives and business owners. And we will be worth listening to!
But, to date, there have been just a handful of printing companies that have embraced The Print Council. Out of the current 69 Print Council members, only 17 are printing companies. That’s 17 out of more than 30,000 printing companies in the United States. There are more industry suppliers and media companies that have seen fit to take up the cause of promoting print!
Even one of the largest (if not the largest) purchasers of print in the advertising agency industry—Leo Burnett—has chosen to support The Print Council’s efforts. In fact, James Mikol, executive vice president and director of print management, is serving as a member of The Print Council’s executive committee.
This is a call to arms. Our industry desperately needs broad-based, grassroots support. It is high time for every single printing company that truly wants to remain relevant in the 21st century to not just embrace the message, but become proactive in “talking the talk and walking the walk.”
We’ve already been guilty in the past of giving away what little profit margin we’ve had in the name of defending our business from competition. Let’s not repeat this mistake by giving up on print as one of the most powerful, effective and efficient means of communication. It’s now or never. PI
About the Author
Roy Grossman most recently served as president and CEO of Sandy Alexander in Clifton, NJ. From 1977 to 1991, he was vice chairman at Laurel Printing. In 1991, Grossman joined Sandy Alexander as a managing director.