In July, The Print Council announced the appointment of Jim Mikol, EVP and Director of Print Management, to the Executive Committee of The Print Council. This is a landmark event for the council, since it is the first time there has been print buyer representation on the Executive Committee. The nine-member Executive Committee governs the actions of The Print Council. Mikol directed all creative services for Kraft Foods for nearly 20 years before joining Leo Burnett in his present position. In this role, he manages a group of 85 print professionals producing $250 million in print media. He was a member of the SWOP Advisory Committee and is a past co-chair of Primex. Ben Cooper, Executive Director of The Print Council, has described Mikol as “one of the leading advocates of print in the world.” WhatTheyThink spoke with Mikol to get his perspective. Mikol attended one of the early Print Council press conferences, and also has been a speaker at the IPA Technical Conference in the past, where he has shared great ideas about how production and creative can better work together.

WTT: Jim, it is a great pleasure to speak with you today, and we are delighted that you will be part of the Executive Committee of The Print Council. I understand that Leo Burnett is making some organizational changes that are relevant to the many changes we see in the industry, and perhaps can offer some good insight for The Print Council relative to how they might effectively communicate with buyers about the value of print.

JM: Yes, we are doing something very interesting here at Leo Burnett. We are combining our print and broadcast groups along with our retail and our interactive groups into one production group. This is an enormous undertaking for us. Broadcast and print are about the same size for us, and we will end up with a department of close to 200 people with an incredible amount of buying power, production expertise and fire power. This is an acknowledgement that production is becoming not only multiplatform, but is being driven across all of those platforms by the same type of elements.

WTT: So what does that mean in terms of production process and what should the printing industry take away from this move? We are doing something very interesting here at Leo Burnett. We are combining our print and broadcast groups along with our retail and our interactive groups into one production group.

JM: It means that as we start production, we will be producing for all media types from the inception. What is important is the recognition that this will allow us to start leveraging new and different tools. It also underlines what we have been saying, that while print isn’t going away—it is still an important and incredibly viable medium—we need to position it correctly in the world to make sure it interacts well with the other types of new media. We really see a redefining of the role that print should play going forward.

WTT: What will your role be in the new organization?

JM: I will be co-directing the new production department with Chris Rossiter, Director of Broadcast.

WTT: What was the buying power of the individual print, broadcast and interactive units prior to this move?

JM: We each spent about $250 million for a combined half billion dollar spend. Keep in mind that this is production only and does not include the media spend. It is too early to put numbers on the interactive group at this point.

WTT: So what is that $250 million in print production spend comprised of?

JM: About 65% of it is actual ink on paper printing. That is a bit different than a traditional ad agency that does the majority of its work in publications. We do a substantial amount of direct mail, brochures and other collateral.

WTT: What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Executive Committee?

JM: One of my aims is to bring the type of thinking that is represented by our restructured operations, as well as a buyer’s perspective, to what The Print Council needs to do moving forward to accomplish its mission. This isn’t print the way it used to be, or publishing the way it used to be. As we talk to the publishing industry groups, they realize their world is changing as well. We collectively need to get together to collaborate and share ideas. This goes across a huge spectrum of topics—not only what we are doing and how we produce today, but what the technologies are we are going to rely on in the future and how we are training people to come into the industry.

WTT: Speaking of training, there has been a lot of discussion on WhatTheyThink and PrintPlanet lately about the educational crisis for our industry. Is Leo Burnett doing anything in this regard, and should the Print Council be involved? One of my aims is to bring the type of thinking that is represented by our restructured operations, as well as a buyer’s perspective, to what The Print Council needs to do moving forward to accomplish its mission. This isn’t print the way it used to be, or publishing the way it used to be.

JM: At Leo Burnett, we have been very active with bringing our needs to various universities from an internship and curriculum standpoint so they understand where we need kids to be. We all need to be taking a proactive stance in this regard to make sure that the graduates of these programs are going to be able to function appropriately.

WTT: Although you are fairly new to The Print Council, I wondered how much interaction you have had with the group to this point?

JM: I have participated in several meetings, including an in-person meeting in Boston and several conference calls. The group realizes that it needs to start looking at things in a different light and there is a desire on The Print Council to do so. The brochure that The Print Council produced was a starting point. But it reflects where the world is, not where we can go in the future. It says what it needs to say from a print perspective, but we need to reflect the client, buyer, ad agency and users’ perspectives as well.

WTT: Are there any new initiatives you can share?

JM: One of the things The Print Council is doing is developing a new web site. It is in the early stages of being formulated and I think will be very interesting. It will have an area where there will be a lot of collaborative thought and research, so that someone who is working in print will be able to access it as a foundation for information. Content is fueled by a number of research topics being pursued by several of the universities that The Print Council deals with.

WTT: WhatTheyThink’s Dr. Joe Webb has suggested to The Print Council that it would be important for the organization to have a presence at venues where there are buyers, such as ad:tech. What are your thoughts in that regard?

JM: It is absolutely important. The Print Council should be an advocate of print and should be where the clients are going to be. It is one thing to talk about industry challenges and problems within the industry today, but the solution to those problems only go so far. We really need to interact with people who are making decisions about how and where to use print, and to reach out to them to help shape those expectations. Much of my role will lie in helping to bring some perspective on that to The Print Council. I think the really important thing is that they reached out to someone like me, understanding that they need to branch out a little bit and take in some other opinions and direction moving forward.

WTT: Are there other areas you think deserve more emphasis?

JM: I also believe they need some depth in terms of what media buyers are looking for, because ultimately, they are the ones placing the work, whether it is going to publications, online, broadcast, or whatever. A lot of those determinations are made by those folks, and we need to be familiar with, and working hand in hand with, that audience.

WTT: Do you have any words of wisdom for our audience of print service providers?

JM: This is a tough time to be a printer. Anytime you have an industry that is changing as quickly as ours is today, it is tough. Most of my life, I have been on the client side of the business. What has been perplexing to me as to why the industry wasn’t coming to clients to solve problems. There is a vacuum and a lack of communication. From an agency perspective, some of the change is being pushed by economic issues on the client side. They are not reducing their spending; they just want it to be more effective. The challenge for the printing industry going forward is to be able to show not only how they are relevant in value, but how they interact with other forms of communication to make a total package, going back to the client and ultimately reaching the consumer.

WTT: Some of the successful service providers who are doing just that are no longer calling themselves printers, but rather, marketing services providers or business communications services providers. Is that a valid approach, in your opinion?

JM: It is exactly appropriate. There is an aspect of ink on paper, but you also need to understand how you tie in with everything else. That is driving what we are doing at Burnett. We are no longer just printing. This is all one form of communications, and that is where we are driving forward in the future.

WTT: Jim, thank you so much for speaking with us, and thanks from the entire industry, if I may be so bold, for volunteering to work with The Print Council in this leadership role. I know you will bring tremendous value to the process. Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?

JM: This is a period that is very exciting for me. I have been involved in print for 30+ years and a little on the broadcast side. What is encouraging is that this can be a tremendous period of growth and relevance for print. I think we need to look at that collectively, not only as a challenge going forward, but how we bring value and drive that to our customers and clients. There is a tremendous story with respect to the relevance of print and an obvious need for it. Groups like The Print Council and a lot of other industry groups need to focus on what is the value of print and how we bring that to our clients. Hopefully we will be able to get that message across.