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Industry Insight

Resolved for the New Year: No "Shooting the Wounded"

I can’t remember where I first read it,

By Patrick Henry
Published: December 31, 2007

I can’t remember where I first read it, but I’ve never been able to forget it: “Editorial writers are the people who come down from the hills after the battle is over to shoot the wounded.” It’s also an admonition to columnists, consultants, analysts, bloggers, and anyone else in a position to influence others by the content and the shading—intended or inadvertent—of what they write. To avoid deserving the charge, we need to approach our task with balance, tact, and, yes, a measure of humility. Here, on the final day of the old year, are some self-imposed rules for reporting and editorializing in the year that starts tomorrow.

Spend less time opining about trade associations. Sure sign of a slow news day: succumbing to the urge, yet again, to ask whether the industry has too many trade associations, what their roles are, why their services always seem to overlap, etc. But who, exactly, is asking us to ask? Just as there’s a market for printing products and services, there’s a market for what trade associations purvey—and those who trade in that market, not those who observe it from the detached vantage points of mastheads, are the ones who get to declare what the market should and shouldn’t be supporting. Last time I checked, there was intense duplication of effort among printing companies, equipment manufacturers, and, er, b-to-b media publishers. Let’s leave it to the associations’ members to decide, with their dues and their participation, which programs suit them best.

Get real on the subject of print industry employment. Has anyone been following the thread started a few weeks ago by “plategirl” at PrintPlanet.com? A CTP operator with 20 years experience, she says she’s earning all of $7 per hour: “Plus I get zero benefits, and my bonus this year was a $2 box of chocolates.” Her case, as respondents to the thread point out, isn’t typical, but it raises questions that seldom get an airing in the trade media. As journalists, we write with sincerity and zeal about the need to promote graphic communications as a career path, but do we realize what a hardscrabble road it can be for many in the industry’s rank and file? When was the last time anyone quoted an official of a printing trade union—yes, they still exist—or wrote about print industry labor issues except from management’s point of view? While we were bustling about at trade shows and vendor events, what really was happening to the employment scenario that we so often paint in such beckoning colors? Ask plategirl : “I love my work but am hanging on financially by skin and tendon, and I think I need to leave the business.”

Answer back when those who should know better misrepresent what’s happening to offset litho. To colleagues who make a habit of drawing attention to offset’s loss of market share in unrelievedly sepulchral tones: a little more perspective, please. Yes, the more we come to depend on the Internet, the less we rely on paper—I see it in my own information-consumption patterns every day. Yes, when we do opt for paper, digital output makes better sense for short runs, enterprise documents, and jobs where variable information can be used. But exactly when did the curtain ring down on the power of mass-produced, mass-distributed print with static content and traditional attributes? My mailbox is as full of catalogs, DM, and periodicals as ever; the bookstores I visit are still bursting with volumes; there’s almost no product or service of which I can avail myself that isn’t supported at some point, in some way, by conventionally printed material. Moral: the high-volume, ink-on-paper, print-and-distribute business model continues to get the job done. Offset lithography, a technology born in 1903, seems to have a great deal of work cut out for it in 2008. Although our ears sometimes ring with claims to the contrary, no bells are tolling for conventional production.

Keep an eye on those numbers. Tightened credit...a weak dollar...negative spillover from mortgage defaults...flat wages...rising personal debt...declining confidence...instability and turmoil in many parts of this troubled world. One doesn’t have to be an economist to spot factors that could spell financial distress for the industry in 2008 if they converge in trends that depress the advertising and marketing budgets on which printing so heavily depends. Fortunately, the industry has ready access to the insights of WhatTheyThink’s Dr. Joe Webb, NAPL’s Andy Paparozzi, PIA/GATF’s Ron Davis, and others whose analysis can help us to foresee the economic future to the extent it can be foreseen. We surely will need their guidance in 2008, when the economic news will be the story behind every story we file.

Continue to learn from the best minds in the business. Learning about the printing industry in order to write about it—could there be a better formula for continuing education than that? Not in this poster’s opinion. To the printers, vendor representatives, subject-matter experts, teachers, and others who have been so generous with their knowledge, many, many thanks for making my job a never-ending source of fascination and fulfillment. Best wishes to all for a healthy and prosperous New Year!

Patrick Henry, Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com is also the director of Liberty or Death Communications, a consultancy specializing in research, education, promotional, and editorial support services for the printing and publishing industries.

Patrick Henry is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at patrick.henry@whattheythink.com.

 

Discussion

By Dr Joe Webb on Jan 03, 2008

Happy New Year to you too, Patrick! How about "not enough" trade associations? Printers should be expanding their horizons and getting active in local chapters of the American Marketing Association, the Public Relations Society of America, the Internet Advertising Bureau, and so many others. Our own associations will sort themselves out. It's the outside trade associations that can really give printers new ideas, new contacts, new opportunities. Employment will be best promoted by healthy, growing companies with interesting workplaces. No matter how much we love to promote our industry, it's those workplaces that attract and retain workers that are the most important, not what we write or evangelize. Once people are curious about investigating us for possible careers, the ball has to be picked up by a visit to a real work site where workers are happy, engaged, and well-compensated. Unfortunately, not enough owners feel that way about their own businesses. You've seen plenty of businesses through the years that never seem to have a problem finding workers. Think back to how many times it's been a great owner or supervisor who makes that kind of thing happen. It's a little before my time, but I wonder how many companies complained that offset couldn't hold a candle to letterpress, or that digital color separation was inadequate to provide the quality of camera color separation (that's the time I joined the industry), or that cold type was inferior to hot lead typesetting. It's pleasing the customer that matters, and we're often stuck in the familiarity of old processes rather than taking that leap of faith forward with other untested processes. We love to call ourselves entrepreneurs, but we cower when risks become apparent. It's easy to forget that not doing something has a risk in itself. As far as the economic numbers, print businesses just have to navigate those. Sugar coating or minimizing the nature of the marketplace only results in having print businesspeople not bringing the tools that they need to excel in their daily battles. Business is hard. That's part of the adventure. But all economic data are backward looking, a rear mirror view of business decisions long past. Sure they can be a springboard, but no one does anything without some kind of expectation about the future. One of my favorite sales trainers would always remind me "If you don't work to create the future you want, you'll be stuck with the future you get." Learning from the best minds should always include looking outside the business. John Dreyer, who built the massive Pitman Company with a fine organizaion of executives told me that he would visit trade events of other industries for ideas about his own. He found, amusingly, that he got some of his best ideas from trade shows for the health and beauty aids industry. Insights can come from the strangest places. Sorry for being so long with this, but I found your comments to be quite helpful in getting the juices flowing. Maybe I should have saved them and used them for my column Monday :) Regards to all who read this post for a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2008. JWW

 

By Al Zowada on Jan 14, 2008

Pat, A Happy New Year to you, as well, my friend. I thought I would offer a viewpoint from the perspective of an individual member of several trade associations. More importantly, I’m a participating volunteer. Like everyone else, I too, need to find value in an organization before I devote any of my precious spare time. Relevance and compatibility are certainly important elements in determining which one(s) I choose to give my time to. But, those aren’t the only factors. I choose associations that demonstrate a fair and balanced approach to their event programming. As a current president of a local organization, I certainly appreciate the needs of both the suppliers and the members. Trade associations must give everyone balanced choices. They accomplish this through workshops, seminars, and simple discussions as well as certified programs that are produced either by the association’s stable of educators or through a partnership with a supplier. My employer and I need to take advantage of all opportunities to learn of the latest technologies that benefit the entire printing industry, not just a particular supplier. To succeed, we must make well-informed decisions, which, are often based on information we’ve learned at a particular trade association’s educational program. No single association can cover all the topics I need nor can they provide the same level of expertise I might require. To coin an old phrase, “variety is the spice of life” and I don’t want to lose sight of that fact. On the issue of redundancy, I once helped to form a coalition of fourteen NY/NJ area trade associations whose sole purpose was to avoid more than one association covering a subject during the same time period. I mean, how many presentations can we handle on the subject of “Sustainability” or “Data Asset Management” in the same month, with the same potential audience? That was more to the point of what can happen when there isn’t a spirit of cooperation or communication between organizations. The industry, then, begins to believe there are too many associations. The suppliers are then required to choose which ones they will support and which ones they can’t. Everyone loses. In closing, I would suggest the following for consideration. The question shouldn't be whether or not there are too many or too few trade associations within the printing industry. Perhaps the better question to ask is, “Why do only a small portion of printing companies recognize the need to support them?” Where else can a printer go to find the educational tools that they need to succeed? Where else can an individual go to feel the camaraderie of colleagues and friends? I, for one, would like the comfort of knowing there will be an association that will meet my needs, both professionally and socially for as long as I am involved in this industry. My best wishes for a prosperous New Year to all, Al Zowada SUNBELT GRAPHICS, Inc./Sunbelt Dimensional President IAPHC - NJ Chapter of Printing House Craftsmen

 

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