January 20, 2005 Print Under Pressure With an increasing number of firms migrating from film to CTP, the prepress process is continuing to become more efficient. But there is still more that can be done. In the last decade, the position of print as the preferred communications medium has come under increasing pressure, arguably more pressure than has been seen during any period since the time of Gutenberg. We all know this is largely due to the ease and ubiquity of electronic communications. According to the Center for a Digital Future, 75% of Americans are online, spending an average of 12.5 hours per week accessing the Internet. Marketers, perhaps the largest print buying constituency, are under increasing pressure to justify their budgets and still find it difficult to create accurate and compelling return on investment (ROI) analyses around the production and distribution of printed materials. With e-mail and the Web, however, tracking can be easier--and faster (once the initial programming is done), allowing multiple iterations of campaigns over a short period of time that can be easily and quickly modified based on results achieved. As a result of these and other drivers, printing shipments are relatively flat and conventional print service providers struggle to maintain a sustainable business model and do appropriate succession planning in an increasingly difficult and competitive business environment. By implementing efficient Web-based customer-facing workflows, print service providers will be in a position to receive more efficient files that cause less problems in the production process. There is no question the business of printing has changed forever, and the way we conduct business--from sales efforts to customer service to production and distribution strategies--must change as well. I believe that print continues to have a significant role to play in human communications--and will for the foreseeable future. But there is much that we, as an industry, can do to ensure our future. Here are my thoughts. I look forward to hearing your perspective. Prepress There is no question that the prepress area has improved exponentially, and with an increasing number of firms migrating from film to CTP, the prepress process is continuing to become more efficient. But there is still more that can be done. I see two areas of significant change on the horizon that print service providers should be keeping an eye on: First, there is significant opportunity to improve quality, consistency, reliability, production time and cost efficiencies by taking chemistry out of the platemaking process. There is significant development work underway in this area, and a few products are available on the market, including those from Presstek. Attacking this area will also serve us well with respect to the environment and the increasing scrutiny by various government agencies under which our industry is operating. A chemistry-free operation can also be a good selling point for certain customers. Second, by implementing efficient Web-based customer-facing workflows, print service providers will be in a position to receive more efficient files that cause less problems in the production process. Additionally, customers increasingly see simple Web submission and job tracking tools as a convenience they would like to take advantage of. Of course, they still want the option of interacting with a live person under certain circumstances. But to the extent a self-serve model can be implemented and employed for the most common activities, content owners and print service providers can both benefit from productivity gains, improved cycle times--and reduced costs. Production Economies Look for bottlenecks and inefficiencies that can be corrected to make your operation more effective. Automating a broken process will not gain you much. We have come a long way in terms of improving the economics of print production. New presses are more automated and efficient, as is finishing equipment. We are able to effectively produce shorter runs with less waste and makeready time, and with technologies such as direct imaging (DI), high quality sellable offset print can be coming off the press in as little as seven minutes from the time the file is sent. While it is clearly beneficial to invest in newer equipment to take advantage of these efficiencies, you should also invest in a close examination of your production process to look for bottlenecks and inefficiencies that can be corrected to make your operation more effective. Automating a broken process will not gain you much. Talk to your staff--they live it every day and are an excellent source of ideas. You may also want to consider bringing in an outside consultant or taking advantage of consultative services offered by many of the equipment vendors. The key to improving your process is understanding your current state--and then from a position of knowledge, determining how best to move to a future state that will deliver even more efficiencies. Sales and Marketing You must understand what your customers are trying to achieve and proactively present them with innovative ways that print can help them achieve their business objectives. It is in the area of sales and marketing where we, as an industry, face perhaps the biggest challenge of all. If we don't educate the market on the value of print as part of a communications portfolio, who will? It is no longer sufficient to be an order taker--the old line, “How many of these do you want?" --is not the way to go anymore. Rather, you must understand what your customers are trying to achieve and proactively present them with innovative ways that print can help them achieve their business objectives. The earlier you are engaged in the creative process, the better. Are they planning to print 100,000 brochures? What are they going to do with them? Do they really need 100,000 right now? How many will be thrown away? Would they be better served to create shorter runs of multiple versions? Do agents, sales reps or franchisees need to be able to order brochures online? Do they need to customize them? These are the types of questions you should be asking. It is also incumbent upon you to educate your customers about the technologies available to them. Do they understand the difference between toner-based digital print, digital offset (DI) printing, and conventional offset printing? Do they understand the advantages and disadvantages of each and where they each fit? Probably not. Most don't. You are, after all, the expert. Share the knowledge! To the extent you can offer innovative ways for your customers to achieve their objectives, while at the same time saving them time and money, you will build long-lasting, profitable relationships and a new level of customer loyalty. And if you don't do it, someone else will. The Value of Print You, and your entire organization, must make it your mission to be evangelists for print Without question, today's marketing professionals are using a blend of multiple channels of communication with their customers and other stakeholders. They may not understand how best to incorporate print into the mix. They need help building ROI models for communications programs and campaigns that are a blend of multiple media. They need to be educated on how best to use what could be the most expensive part of a communications program or campaign--print--to their best advantage. Print is portable, permanent, believable. It can be folded and put in your pocket. You can take it with you to the beach. We understand this. But we need to do more, as individual business people and as an industry, to educate buyers and to remind them how print fits in. Once you have your house in order--once you are operating at optimum efficiency-- you, and your entire organization, must make it your mission to be evangelists for print, to work with customers to integrate print into their overall communications process, and to understand the new role print can play in Twenty-First Century communications. Most importantly of all, we need to help our customers build viable ROI models that measure the effectiveness of print and ensure that they are receiving value for their marketing dollar. We are, after all, in the graphic communications industry. We know about business communications. We need to live up to our heritage and spread the knowledge! It is a different world out there, and we must be different as well.