By Frank Romano March 11, 2005 -- My recent article about the merging of NAPL and PrintImage International, published on WhatTheyThink, generated a great deal of reader feedback, which, in an e-mail age was almost instantaneous. Interestingly, the fact that PrintImage and NAPL may or may not merge was less important to readers than the impact of association duplication of effort. I wonder if there is a disconnect between the membership of our associations and the Boards that are elected to represent them. A vote by the actual memberships could be most interesting. A few readers found a way to reach me by telephone and shared interesting, but anecdotal information. The Graph Expo and PRINT shows are seeing a decline in space allocations and this will have an effect on NAPL and PIA/GATF revenue over time. Some callers said that the shows should expand into package printing and even converting, but that some Board members have voted this down. Package printing is a growth market for commercial printers and it is unfortunate that a few myopic printers can hold back an entire industry. The Printing Industries of Illinois/Indiana felt that I should not have abbreviated PrintImage International as PII. They claim a trademark on PII. I am not sure you can trademark an acronym, but certainly their logo is protectable. By the way, PII’s Web site does not have a TM or copyright symbol or statement anywhere on it. And shouldn’t it be PIII? See their letter below. Some industry consultants were almost catatonic about any merger. Many consultants derive income by being affiliated with one association or another. Some members of our associations said that the issue comes down to past relationships with the PIA affiliates. These negative experiences led to members abandoning PIA for NAPL. It was like the pilgrims leaving the old world for the new world. OK, that may be a lame example, but I am feeling historical. I have provided a good sampling of the feedback below. It is amazing how many of you responded so quickly and so eloquently. One would think that an issue like this with so much support would force more rapid progress. John Stewart "The Quick Consultant": For those of you who have not read the complete article by Frank Romano, I urge you to do so. The article, or at least most of it, is dead-on when explaining what has happened and is happening in the printing industry and the trade associations that attempt to serve it. Unfortunately, Romano's opening statement is dead wrong when he states in his lead paragraph, "Very soon, NAPL and PII will announce a merger." This statement is simply untrue. It ain't going to happen, certainly not any time soon. It may make for good press but as it stands the statement is simply wrong! First, no merger can take place without the prior approval of the PII membership. Although I do suspect that, if the case was made, a majority of the PII membership might very well approve such a move, especially considering some of the alternatives. Better a consolidation of some services and an expansion of others than for an association to wither away and disappear entirely because there were simply not enough firms to support it. Nonetheless a merger is NOT going to take place any time soon... not in the next couple of weeks nor in the next couple of months. What can happen a few months or years down the road is anyone's guess! Have talks taken place regarding the possibility of a merger? Of course there have been. These types of talks have been going on for years and will continue to do so. It is sort of like asking a printer if he has ever considered a merger. Most of us have thought about it, and many of us have talked about it with fellow printers and competitors. There are advantages to such moves, as well as disadvantages, and that's why talking about it rather than ignoring it is the proper thing to do. One would have to be totally naive, looking at the declining membership in the three major associations serving our industry (PII, NAPL and PIA), not to consider the possible benefits of one or more such mergers. According to Romano's article, a total of less than 270 companies attended the last three respective trade shows or meetings sponsored by the above mentioned groups! Those are shocking numbers! You cannot sustain “business as usual” with declining memberships and declining attendance year after year after year. I agree wholeheartedly with Romano's statement, "Spin this any way you want, but the facts are inescapable - the industry is not supporting its own trade associations... when membership dues do not cover costs, you must cut overhead, and all of our associations are now at their leanest staffs in years." Anyway, thanks to Frank for raising the subject once again. I only wish he had been a bit more careful in his opening statement. Frank is certainly free to speculate as to what the future holds, but to state as a fact that a merger will occur "Very soon" is simply incorrect and not supported by the facts at hand. Joanne Rock, Interim President and CEO, Printing Industry of IL/IN Association: I wanted to acknowledge the veracity of your comments about the upcoming merger and the fact that, like there are too many printing companies, there are also too many graphic arts trade associations. I would be remiss in my position as the Interim President of PII, if I did not point out that you referred to PrintImage International as "PII" in your editorial. You can imagine my surprise when I saw the title of the article "NAPL and PII merger..." "PII" is the trademark of the Printing Industry of IL/IN Association and should not be used to refer to any other entity, particularly one with a connection to printing. I respectfully request that (1) clarification be issued on the site and (2) that future articles referring to PrintImage International use the entire name of that association. Bob Hodgins, Hodgins Engraving Co. Batavia, NY: I want to thank you for the excellent article and perspective on associations. I have been active for years with Worldwide Printing Thermographers Association (WPT, formerly the ITA), the International Engraved Graphics Association (IEGA, formerly the ESMA) and the Foil Stamping and Embossing Association (FSEA). A few years ago while president of the WPT, I initiated a discussion of merger for these three associations. The presidents and staff all met together to discuss it. The FSEA right away said no thanks. The WPT and IEGA have been pursuing it. We had our first joint annual meeting last June. It was a huge success. Both boards have approved a committee to work on a full merger. Our second annual joint meeting is coming up in June. The points you raise in your article are exactly what we have been experiencing. Each of our companies are adapting to incredible change, but when it comes to our associations, many are certainly "stuck in the past" We keep fighting the battle, and we continue to make progress. Printing company president: Frank...let me just say I agree 100% with your comments and suggestions regarding the duplication of services from the NAPL and the PIA. I suspect there is a certain degree of ego involved that may never resolve this issue until one or the other association comes to the brink of insolvency. Printing company CEO: As a commercial printer trying to survive in this rough environment, I would welcome the consolidation of these two large organizations. I would imagine that their combined muscle could unify the industry, speak with one voice and bring us all to the next decade a little more intact as an industry. Right now I feel we are wobbling and ripe to be consumed by the HP's, Kodak’s and Xerox's of world and instead of being an industry we will soon be a users group. Thanks again for speaking out on this subject....we need some leadership to change this eroding environment. Printing company CEO Regarding your NAPL & PII merger and other association commentary- I want to say RIGHT ON. Industry Consultant: Great article on WTT. I just hope someone reads and it and takes some action. This consolidation effort is long overdue. PrintImage member: From what I hear, your comment about this merger is a little premature. Having said that, I offer the following: I also have been promoting the possibility of combining resources to both NAPL and PrintImage for a couple of years. I feel both associations can benefit from some kind of merger or cooperative effort. Certainly, small company members of both associations could benefit greatly. Both have a lot to offer and I don’t think PIA will ever do what PII/NAPL could jointly do for the quick/small commercial printers. The devil is always in the details, but there should be enough creative minds to work this out. Keep the challenges coming...the “devils” can work out the details. Industry Consultant: A couple points to add to Frank Romano's on-target commentary encouraging consolidation of print industry trade groups: Never underestimate how long it can take for an association to die financially. Once the HQ building is sold, staff cut to the bone, and key functions outsourced, information technology allows any Association to "go virtual". In other words, if the elected leadership has the will to go on, the Association can probably survive indefinitely. Having spent the first half of my career in the trade association field, it was my experience that it's extremely rare for a Board to push for a merger--since their primary mission is not to enhance shareholder value but to advance the competitive position of their company. And don't expect the salaried Executive Director to push for a merger--riverboat gamblers don't get hired for top Association positions. Editor’s Note: Look for comments on this issue from PIA/GATF's Chief Economist, Ronnie Davis, in tomorrow's edition of WhatTheyThink! Please offer your feedback - [email protected].