Commentary & Analysis
FREE: Association Consolidation - We, the printers, in order to form a more perfect union
Now that the decision has been made to centralize GATF/
By Frank Romano
Published: December 16, 2003
Now that the decision has been made to centralize GATF/PIA in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, we should address the larger issue of association consolidation. The time has come, said the walrus, to speak about these things. Blame the walrus for this article.
There are three associations that cover the printing industry today: Printing Industries of America (PIA), which combined with the Graphic Arts Technical Association (GATF) several years ago; National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL), which began as the National Association for Photo Lithographers; and Print Image International (PII), which began as the National Association of Quick Printers.
All three associations do an admirable job and the ideas presented here in no way diminish their value to our industry. There are several reasons why we should discuss consolidation:
- There is already overlap between these associations in terms of membership, services, and content.
- The printing industry is already consolidating in terms of printing firms and suppliers. There will be fewer printing firms to support multiple associations.
- The cost of maintaining staffing and services for three associations is high. Consolidation would reduce redundancy and allow funds to be applied to more member services--and hopefully reduce dues.
- Membership dues cover only a fraction of association operating costs, and sponsorships and donations from suppliers are needed to reach breakeven. As the number of suppliers diminishes, this source of income will be doubtful.
PIA was formed as the United Typothetae of America before 1900 under the leadership of Theodore Low DeVinne of New York, the Donnelley brothers of Chicago, and other large printing companies. They banded together to deal with the ITU and other unions as well as to establish meaningful standards.
NAPL was formed by lithographic printers in the 1930s who were somewhat ostracized by their letterpress brethren. Walter Soderstrom authored the "Lithographers Manual" and helped form the Lithographic Technical Foundation (today’s GATF) to perform research and develop standard techniques for offset lithography. NAQP was formed by a small quick printer in the Carolinas in the 1970s who believed that the larger associations were not meeting the needs of the small printer.
Yet, when you ask NAPL and PIA to characterize their membership, they both say that their typical member is a small printer. PII is made up of so-called quick printers, but many are moving into larger sheetfed color presses. Most are non-franchise printers. PIP/Sir Speedy, Alphagraphics, and other franchises have their own groups, meetings, and services. Small printers were into digital color earlier than larger commercial printers, but now commercial printers are moving in that direction. Over the years, certain kinds of printers have banded together. The big web printers were active in the Web Offset section of PIA; the high-quality sheetfed printers gravitated towards NAPL; and the smaller printers went with PII.
GATF had been in financial difficulty for several years and actively sought a partner. Both NAPL and PIA are supported by their two-thirds ownership of the shows under the GASC (Graphic Arts Show Company) banner, which includes Graph Expo, PRINT, Vue/Point, and a few regional shows. The funds received by NAPL and GATF/PIA as their share of the GASC exhibitions helped to support both associations. NAQP once had a large exhibition, but recently PII has combined a much smaller show with PMA/DIMA.
Show income is getting harder to come by. Fewer suppliers and reduced marketing budgets may be more the norm than we realize. Most of the regional shows have been reduced to minor events. Raising exhibition rates only forces suppliers to find other channels. The other third of the GASC organization is NPES, which is an association of suppliers.
Over the years PIA was able to acquire significant real estate in the DC area. PIA's Rosslyn VA building was sold and the association moved to its own building in a desirable part of Alexandria VA. Under the new plan to physically consolidate PIA and GATF, PIA will sell its Alexandria building and move its staff to the GATF facility in Sewickley, PA (just outside Pittsburgh).
There is sufficient land for expansion of the facility. A small office for government affairs will remain in DC. NAPL was based in New York City, then Teaneck, NJ, and finally used its show income to acquire a building in Paramus, NJ. Recently, NAPL leased part its building to a supplier company. PII has a rented office in Chicago.
On the surface, consolidation makes sense. All U.S. printers would be covered by one major association with significant resources to provide expanded services to its members in a more cost-effective manner. All other reasons aside, this is a noble goal.
There are, of course, challenges to consolidating GATF/PIA, NAPL and PII. GATF/PIA is not a direct membership association. GATF had direct membership, but now depends on PIA for financial support. There are 31 local affiliates of GATF/PIA throughout the U.S. There were more at one time, but these groups have also seen consolidation. Some affiliates derive additional income because of extended insurance programs (Texas and Southern California, for example), or their own trade show (Florida, for example). The affiliates and the PIA national organization are similar to the U.S. State and Federal structure. Members must join the local affiliate and then belong to the national association automatically.
Both NAPL and PII have direct membership. In the last few years, NAPL materials have been available through at least one affiliate (Northern California). The affiliates cover specific geographic areas and vary in terms of whom they allow as members. Some allow membership by creative, government, inplant, and other non-commercial printers, and some do not. Some include educators, suppliers, and consultants, and some do not. Dues are at different levels, usually based on company revenue.
Local associations are important. They deal at the state or regional level and provide services tailored to their local constituency. They provide local programming unique to the region-- with local print competitions, networking events, educational programs, social and recreational activities, and more. Direct membership unites members through print materials--newsletters, publications, etc. You need both the national and the grassroots approaches.
For whatever reason—sometimes personal, sometimes political— some users do not wish to belong to an affiliate. Thus, if a local organization does not allow inplant members, they may join GATF/PIA directly. The affiliates pay about 13% of their dues income back to PIA. At one time, the amount was based on a complex formula. PIA dues have long been contentious at the local level and some affiliate members do not always think of themselves as PIA members.
Affiliate dues support the PIA organization which provides lobbying (NAPL has contributed to this effort as well) and other member services. Lobbying is very important and PIA has borne this expense for years while non-member industry firms derived benefit without contributing. Because printers have sought increasingly specific support and services, there have been two additional movements:
- Peer groups. Printers of certain revenue sizes band together for purchasing, marketing, or other reasons. There are at least five major peer groups in the U.S.
- Special interest groups. Digital printing, e-business, and other areas of technology or commerce have spawned sub-groups under PIA, for example.
Thus, we have a highly fragmented industry. Some printers join one or more associations, or none. Some join directly and some join through local groups. I estimate that less than 30 percent of U.S. printers (by firm) are represented by at least one of the associations being discussed. By revenue, it may be 50 percent or more--which means that membership is really skewed to the larger firms since fewer than 1,000 printing firms represent 65% of the revenue of the printing industry. Many printing companies may have lost faith in associations. The time has come to bring those disenchanted members of our community back into the fold.
I do not think it is helpful to list what each association is good or bad at. That may be a function of past history. Here’s what we need:
- Superior market research and economic forecasting.
- Superb technical and business publications: newsletters, books, and other media.
- Reliable technical and business consulting services.
- Meaningful discounts on equipment, supplies, services, etc.
- Professional testing and evaluation services.
- Access to historical and other libraries and databases for research.
- High-level training, seminars, and conferences.
- Content-rich website and e-mail news services.
- Professional lobbying and government interaction.
The overlap among the associations in these areas is significant. They all do more or less the same things. We see the same speakers and consultants being used by them; we see similar content. It is like the old vaudeville circuits as seminar presenters move from local association meeting to local association meeting.
Some association consolidation has already occurred. The R&E Council merged into NAPL last year, and the Binders association merged back into PIA. In an important move, GATF/PIA and NAPL are combining their management (executive) development programs. Last year, I addressed a combined annual meeting for two affiliates. Little by little, we are moving toward consolidation. It may not be a case of "if" but a case of "when."
Let us build a hypothetical association that would provide all the services listed above and even create a straw-man as to how it might operate.
Graphic Imaging International (GII) for lack of a better name:
- A national association of printing professionals.
- Non-commercial printers hold membership in industry-specific sections.
- Members may join directly or through a local association.
- If they join directly, GII pays the local; if they join the local, it pays GII.
- Programming for technical and training events could be centralized. GII would provide speakers and programs to locals.
- Locals would run management and social events.
- Publications in all forms would be centralized, except for local information. Locals would market to their members, but materials would be sold directly and through other channels.
- There would be one board of directors with representation from the affiliates plus some number of at-large members.
- There would be strong departments for government affairs, economics and research, publications, education, consulting, and information services.
- There would be a mechanism for peer group management that represents the interests of those peer groups.
- There would be professional management of special interest groups to develop new areas of expertise in new technologies.
There will be a need to create a transitional board of directors with representation from all constituencies. It is said that some of association membership and involvement is ego. If that gets volunteers to serve their industry, so be it. The only thing that matters today is the printing industry. We have no time or patience for partisan politics. Let’s leave that to the folks in Washington, DC. We need to get things done.
An example of such partisan ship was the old Production Men’s Club in New York City. They did not allow women members. The women created the Women In Production group. Today, there is no Production Men’s Club, but there is a Women In Production. We must organize to be inclusive and to encompass the industry so we can speak for the industry and serve the industry as a whole. The key operating principle should be inclusion rather than exclusion.
There is a movement afoot to create another organization to promote print. This is absolutely necessary and it is related to everything I have said above. Proper print promotion needs the involvement of suppliers, printers, and many others. It may very well be a part of a consolidated approach. But we may not need another association with more overhead when the answer is staring us in the face.
Today, and into tomorrow, there will be challenges facing the printing industry. We cannot meet those challenges with the fragmented approach we now have, even though some parts may be working. We must consolidate so that we can provide printing firms with the knowledge and tools they need to prosper. We do not say that the existing associations are doing anything wrong; we do say that we can all do a better job for the printing industry.
Please let us know what you think. In the coming days, WTT will publish comments from industry participants about this topic.