WhatTheyThink reached out to several industry association leaders to get their comments and opinions on association consolidation - specifically the opinion piecewritten by Frank Romano. Their opinions and insight, as would be expected, first and foremost express a common belief that they are meeting the expectations of their respective memberships and are working hard to continue to do so into the future. What is clear, though, is that all of the association leaders we interviewed see an increasing need for cooperation to leverage each other's strengths and to pool resources where appropriate. It is encouraging that this spirit of cooperation seems to be growing in strength and is delivering results already.

Comments are presented in alphabetical order by association. (International Association of Printing House Craftsmen, IPA, National Association for Printing Leadership, PrintImage International, GATF/PIA, Xplor International)

Kevin Keane, President and CEO, International Association of Printing House Craftsmen (IAPHC)

The IAPHC is certainly one of the less well known Associations despite our nearly 85 year history... The IAPHC is an "individual" membership association which mean anyone in the global graphic arts could be eligible for membership.

My view is that the move (as elegantly outlined by Mr. Romano) towards an umbrella Association is indeed a noble end.  Obviously, for the staff members of the various affected groups -- well, one assumes they might find it less noble...  The caution I would offer however, is that while some degree of consolidation might be appropriate and utilitarian, there are still niche markets that must be served.

There will continue to be room for niche associations and sometimes their value proposition will be an utter steal. The IAPHC exists for only one reason -- we want to help our members and the companies they own or work for obtain more business.  Not surprisingly, no one seems to feel they have too much business, no matter what form of graphics business to which they find themselves indentured.

By having a laser focus on that single goal, we do not need to get bogged down in affinity programs, or lobbying or other perhaps useful engagements which are simply not within our purview.

We have also grafted a global approach to our Mission -- one that is sadly lacking for too many of the extant graphic industry associations.  There's a great big global graphics economy outside the USA, we are xenophobic and downright narrow minded if we ignore the truth of globalism.  When a member of the IAPHC in New Jersey asked me for expertise in setting up a prepress service bureau in China, I was able to direct him to fellow members who had the network he needed -- they were based in Toronto, and Portland, and Winnipeg and Hong Kong. It's a small world after all.

Steve Bonoff, President, IPA

IPA certainly understands the point of consolidation of associations with similar missions and constituents and I think the recent WTT article by Frank Romano does an admirable job in addressing these issues. The organizations Frank mentions all have printing as the common thread. IPA and its members, on the other hand, have their own unique value proposition.

The typical IPA member's prepress experience has given them the necessary competencies to effectively create, facilitate and manage graphic content better than any other industry segment. This encompasses migration both upstream and downstream from their traditional core businesses. Our Association is dedicated to helping its members capitalize on these digital competencies to profitability grow their businesses.

Our Webinar program has educated thousands of graphic arts professionals as we lead the way in our industry in online education. In fact, we have had over 7,000 people attend IPA Webinar programs just this year. In addition, we have a total of 31 Webinar promotional partners" consisting of 11 media and 20 association partners.  Our 2003 Technical Seminar attendance topped 300 and we're poised to expand on both these educational fronts in 2004.

The fact that our membership retention has been excellent over the past year validates our mission and focus. The prepress industry has seen a lot of consolidation, and in fact there are less than half as many establishments as there were five years ago. But as an association, we are now actually growing in size and this reflects well on the resources we offer to our members.

There is, however, a need for more cooperation among associations, and cooperation is different from consolidation. We have partnerships with many industry groups and we would like to see even more. We recently partnered with DDAP to generate and deliver Webinars using some of their content and areas of expertise. And we recently announced a joint Webinar series with CIP4 called the JDF Expert Certificate programCIP4 had a need to reach a lot of people, and we had the mechanism to do it.

There are obviously benefits to consolidation and Frank mentions a lot of them. It makes sense that there would be some level of consolidation among associations representing printers. As far as IPA goes, we have a different constituency with different requirements.

Thanks for taking this issue on, because we think it's an important one. We are continually striving to get the message out that there is indeed a distinct value to IPA, one that our members find uniquely rewarding.

Joseph P. Truncale, CAE, President & CEO, National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL)

If you look at the numbers, the majority of industry firms don't participate in associations. But of those who do, many are active, committed and vocal. And they choose to join the organization or organizations that best meet their needs. Everything we do at NAPL is directed at meeting the needs of our membership. We are a direct membership association, and member retention is a good measure of how members feel about whether they are getting the value they signed up for. There is simply no other reason to become and remain a member of NAPL unless you are getting good value for your dues investment (a very affordable investment at that). We are accountable directly to our members and we wouldn't have it any other way. They are members because they choose to be and we never lose sight of that. The Association was founded by, is owned by and is governed by its members. NAPL's retention rate is strong, the Association is in excellent financial condition and we have met our goals even during this difficult year. Our Board's view is that the selection process takes care of whether there needs to be an association like NAPL, and that selection process clearly indicates that there is a need.

We also view it as part of our role to promote industry issues that directly affect our members. To that end, we have been and will continue to be involved in a number of cooperative issues, most recently the Print Council; an industry-wide initiative with the United States Postal Service to promoteto advertising agencies and other advertisersthe value and effectiveness of direct mail as part of the promotional mix. We're also partners with PIA and NPES in the Graphic Arts Show Company and the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation. Participating in coalitions like these is an important way for us to advance the cause of our members.

There are areas where associations can and should increase their level of cooperation between and among each other and at the same time, do their best to not step on each other. Michael Makin and I have a good working relationship, and we have worked well for years with George Ryan and GATF (the Sheetfed Pressroom Conference is an excellent example). And we are exploring cooperative opportunities with other industry organizations as well. These are the types of things we, as associations, can continue to do in a cooperative spirit, and still fulfill our responsibility to our individual memberships, to whom we are ultimately accountable. It would be folly to tamper with ownership structure of the Association which has served its members well for more than seventy years. Rather, we need to cooperate, have open discussions, and build coalitions in areas where it makes sense. I see that sense of cooperation being displayed more strongly now than ever before and I'm encouraged at the prospect for progress in this area.

Steven D. Johnson, President & CEO, PrintImage International

Is there room for some consolidation? Very possibly. Is there room for cooperation between industry groups? Definitely! There is often a lot of overlap in programs, services, and meetings whether you are talking about associations in this industry or some other industry. However, this is a large industry covering a broad spectrum of businesses of differing size and focus. All of the industry's trade groups have an obligation to assure that their constituents' best interests are protected when discussions of consolidation and/or cooperation arise. The topic of consolidation, whether between printing companies or the associations that were formed to serve them, enters into many people's minds, and it always sounds good as long as it is someone else that is being consolidated, or that however it comes out, our people will be taken care of.

We were formed in 1975 as the National Association of Quick Printers (NAQP), and have been successfully serving the quick and small commercial segment printers with services and programs specifically designed for that segment of the industry. The association was formed at the time because there was an interest and a need within this developing group of printers for programs that were focused on their businesses. While there are common issues and challenges that cross over the various segments that have developed in the printing industry, there still remain specific ones that may affect one group more than another. Would all issues be best addressed through consolidation?

Our Board of Directors doesn't feel it is time to consolidate, but they do recognize that there is certainly the opportunity and the need for more cooperation between industry groups. And we have done some of that, in terms of co-locating our trade show with PMA, for example. We have had some very preliminary discussions with NAPL and IPA about the possibility of offering each other's programs to our respective memberships. We plan to keep the communications open with each of them and others to identify where their quality programs could be of benefit to our members, sharing resources where it makes sense. My belief isand I think it is true for all of uswhy should we recreate identical programming if other associations already have invested industry resources into programs that could benefit our members?

As far as PrintImage is concerned, our membership has been declining in recent years. We do still attract several hundred new members a year, but our segment of the industry is consolidating, many multi-location operations have moved out of their retail locations into more commercial settings, and some members are simply transitioning out of the business as they approach retirement age. We are, however, in as strong a financial position as we have been for several years. We are confident in the future of our progressive members and of what we can do to serve their needs.

So should there be some consolidation? When times are better, it is easier to be more territorial and say absolutely not. But times have changed and we can't operate in a vacuum. If there are options we should be looking at that will better serve our members and the industry, we will do so.

Michael Makin, President & CEO, Printing Industries of America (GATF/PIA)

Obviously, just as the industry is looking to consolidate to preserve precious resources, so must associations in the future. The GATF-PIA partnership, for example, provides members with significant benefits in the areas of technology, management education and advocacyall for one membership fee, through an extensive affiliate network. This partnership has saved literally hundreds of companies from paying duplicate dues. We constantly strive to improve the bottom line of our members and by consolidating our operations are able to devote more resources to support this objective.

The other thing that has really changed in the last number of years is that there is a fresh perspective from the new leadership and at the staff level within the companies we support. Volunteer elected printer members and vendor members are being engaged like they have never been engaged before, and they realize there is room for more synergies in the association field. The new leadership at PIA/GATF embraces that change. We are different leaders than our predecessorsand that is not to say our predecessors didn't make significant contributions, but the challenges we face today are different challenges, and it is important that we, as associations, bring a collective benefit to our members. I am delighted with the spirit of cooperation that I have seen from Joe Truncale and NAPL, with whom I have worked with for a number of years. And we have cooperative relationships with others as well. A couple of examples are the Color Management Conference we produced with the Gravure Association; and the Print Council initiative, in which we hope to have the vast majority of the printing associations involved that have an interest in seeing more promotional spending on print, including NAPL, NPES, the Envelope Manufacturers' Association, and right down the list.

Additionally, our indirect membership model brings great breadth to the organization from a geographic perspective, and it allows us to have significant outreach and a presence in the local area, which is clearly important to our ability to represent the entire industry. The printing industry is, after all, in every city, state and community in the country, and having an infrastructure that helps to reach out and serve that vast expanse of geographic territory and membership is clearly something that we have tried to provide.

And finally, our strong representation and sophisticated infrastructure from a governmental affairs perspective has been extremely important to the industry. We have literally saved the industry millions and millions of dollars through these efforts.

Clearly, from a GATF/PIA perspective, we believe we have demonstrated the synergies that exist when two organizations get together. The more we can cooperate to broaden that tent, the better. Ultimately we have to serve the members, not ourselves. Regarding further consolidation efforts with other groups, these are certainly possible and I would encourage any discussions which would improve the value proposition we provide our members.

Skip Henk, EDP, Chairman of the Board, Xplor International

This subject of association consolidation has been a topic of discussion within Xplor for some time. We have over the last two to three years looked at the feasibility of aligning ourselves in various ways with different organizations and forums. I think realistically everyone is faced with the same problems. Business is different, and people have neither the financial nor people resources they once had.

We realized a couple years ago that the dynamics were changing, so we started to take some specific actions. First, XPLOR itself had to stop the bleeding, and we made changes in terms of downsizing our home office, we paid off our long term debt and have done some other restructuring. We have established a strategic planning committee headed by John Lopiano, a former Xerox President and other senior industry executives to develop a strategic plan in terms of where we need to go. We have also added a Member Benefits and Development committee to look at and recommend member benefits that meet the needs of our members and their companies in terms of education, information and services. These two committees will allow us to focus on both direction and value.

For 2004:

  1. Many vendors have been with us for 15 to 20 years and have expressed their desire to continue to support us, but the change in business has made it difficult under the current model. In Dallas 2004 we are going to provide opportunity for our vendor partners to sponsor specific educational initiatives at a much lower cost than they would normally incur, satisfying their need to reduce costs and allowing them in most cases to continue their support. Beyond Xplor 2004 in Dallas celebrating our 25th year!our thought is to focus on hotel/conference center venues that are more conducive to the educational and networking environment.
  2. We will continue to look for opportunities to align with other organizations and/or events as I believe changes in technology and market convergence will present opportunities in the future. Regardless of any alignments that may take place, we are going to structure our offerings to expand their scope, capitalizing on our expertise in IT and moving upstream, blending data, data content, CRM, 1:1 marketing, etc. into our curriculum thus expanding our heritage of educational excellence. All are areas which our members have indicated are new areas of focus within their companies and pertinent to the evolution of the electronic document. We will look to our strategic planning committee as to how to best affect these and other changes long term.

At the same time, while we did see some contraction in membership over the last few years, we believe that our new focus and approach will net us a targeted 7-8% growth in membership in 2004.

As an organization we have tried to listen to our members over the last several years, and their feedback has started the transition of Xplor. We look to take an offensiverather than defensiveapproach to make sure that our ability to serve the interests of our membership expands and continues to be protected into the future, and that the industry as a whole is benefiting.

See Part One - Frank Romano's commentary

See Part Two - The printer's perspective

See Part Four - The supplier's perspective