I recently spoke with Peter Wilkens, Agfa’s Vice President of the Prepress Solutions Segment, who is responsible for sales and marketing for Agfa’s commercial, corporate, and newspaper segments. ,. Prior to taking on this role in 2007, Peter was director of Agfa’s newspaper segment for North America. He joined Agfa in 2005 after many years with ECRM, where he held senior management positions with global responsibility for Sales, Marketing and Customer Service. In this conversation, we spoke to Wilkens to get his perspective on Agfa, the industry and what we might expect to see from Agfa at drupa 2008.

WTT: Peter, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you share a bit of your background with our readers?

PW: I have been in the industry about 20 years and with Agfa for almost 3 years now. I joined Agfa after spending a number of years in various senior management positions with other companies in the industry, with responsibility for global sales, service, marketing, distribution and all combinations of the above during those years. Most of my time was spent with ECRM, and I was on the senior leadership team with that company. At Agfa, I initially ran the newspaper business in North America, which was a challenging and rewarding assignment. In June 2007, Tom Saggiomo asked if I would lead the overall sales and marketing effort for Agfa in the U.S., across all the segments within the U.S.

WTT: I understand this organizational alignment of sales and marketing is somewhat new for Agfa.

PW: Yes, this is a new position that reflects Tom’s expanded role, as well as the belief that these business segments should be closely aligned. If you want to effectively engage both your organization and your customers, your sales and marketing organizations have to be hand in glove. That is the goal behind the structure we have created here, an organization where all customer facing activity is collected in one area so we can be united in our approach to the marketplace. The role is multidimensional, and it encompasses how we approach our own people as well as how we approach our customers. There is one set of information you have to have for your own people, formatted in a certain way. There is the approach to our distribution partners, and that has to be tailored to their needs. And then there is the customer. All roads lead to the customer, so it is important to have the entire organization focused and aligned on delivering the right messages, services, and solutions to the end user.

Some of these mega-publishers need highly integrated communications systems for transmitting their work around the world, and we have products tailored for that. These products also have relevance in the commercial segment.

WTT: What organizational changes have you made since assuming your new role?

PW: I brought the contract administration function into the group, which used to function as part of the controller’s organization. They now are more closely supporting the selling organization. I also broadened the scope of our solutions selling effort with a team of solutions selling specialists. Glen Gross is in charge of that organization and will lead that effort across all three segments—commercial, corporate and newspaper. The intent is to improve our sales team’s capabilities and raise everyone’s skill levels in delivering the value of the solutions we have and presenting them in ways that help the customers understand their value. One thing that drew me to Agfa initially was the phenomenal product portfolio—plates, film, CTP imaging and comprehensive workflow, inkjet, fantastic products. The flip side is that it can be a challenge for sales to present the breadth of our offerings. We are putting a great deal of focus on continuing to consistently get the right message into the marketplace and explaining our value proposition. What I am trying to do is put a finer point on some of the structures we have in place. My mantra has been “back to basics,” and my focus has been to get training and leadership in the field driving in the same direction.

WTT: What do you see as the biggest needs in the printing industry and how do your solutions meet those needs?

PW: One of the key areas printers always need to focus on is improving efficiency, streamlining operations and containing costs. The print market is always under pressure to improve profitability and efficiency. Whenever you can deliver these solutions, people are interested. We have products like :Delano that offer customers collaborative tools to work with their customers over the web. Those types of solutions pique the interest of printers. Anything we can do to integrate processes is very important to printers today.

WTT: What impact do you think consolidation is having on the industry?

PW: Consolidation is a fact of life in our industry and has been going on for years. Some segments of the industry are already pretty well consolidated. For example, there are 20-some companies that control the entire newspaper industry in this country, and it is no different in Europe. Certainly there is a trend of ongoing consolidation, and no one is going to go out on a limb to say it will stop anytime soon. But it does present certain challenges for the vendor community in serving the larger printers that have emerged as a result. Agfa is well structured to do that. We have a corporate account strategy in the commercial markets in the U.S. We have a very strong global relationship with some of the larger printers, and we will continue to focus on that and expand our programs where it makes good sense for the customer and for us. On the newspaper side, we have a global leadership position. This is definitely a mega-publisher industry, and our products are well suited for those types of operations.

We are continuing to invest across the board, and spending resources and time on developing high value solutions for our customers.

WTT: What do you mean by that?

PW: A great example is that some of these mega-publishers need highly integrated communications systems for transmitting their work around the world, and we have products tailored for that. These products also have relevance in the commercial segment.

WTT: How is your sales organization structured to meet the needs of these larger printers?

PW: Both in newspaper and commercial, you need to have seasoned people dedicated to these types of environments. We have a local organization that supports large printers that are based in the U.S. and Canada, and we also have a global account team that is focused on supporting the international aspects of these large operations. Many of them have print operations scattered around the globe, to enable them to better compete in global markets. We are well structured to support that and have been successful. You have to have a company with a culture that understands how to sell around the globe, and Agfa has that.

WTT: What about the mid-sized printer?

PW: A solid business plan is key for the mid-sized printers, many of whom are emerging with solid business propositions. I have seen a number of small- and mid-sized printers starting to join forces with others, creating small groups that can survive and support a marketplace, aligning themselves with each other. You also have very small printers that support local markets that may not have a lot of competition.. As you get into the more metropolitan areas, you start to see printers consolidate, and they operate under the radar of the larger printers until they reach a size where the larger printers get interested in them. As the fish grow to a bigger size, the biggest of the fish get interested in them.

WTT: Are you seeing more of these printers joining buying groups to offset pricing disadvantages? And are you working with those groups?

PW: We have relationships with the buying groups. The buying groups are really a hybrid. They bring value to their members and we certainly want to work with them. I do not see this as a growing trend, though. There seems to be more traction in the packaging industry. In the general commercial print world, it is a little less consistent.

WTT: What can we expect to see from Agfa at drupa 2008?

PW: At drupa, we will be focused on solutions that people can buy right now. We have a lot of exciting, innovative technology that we will be coming out with, but we will not be announcing things that are pie in the sky. There are a lot of exciting products that have already been introduced, like the long-run, no-bake :Energy Elite plates. We are heavily focused on plate development and are one of the companies that has demonstrated consistently that we are continuing to invest in digital plate technology, so we will show some further innovation in that area. We will also be showing inkjet wide format, including :Anapurna and :Dotrix, we have some very exciting offerings in that arena. We will have more to come on our drupa showing more specifically in the coming months.

WTT: What should printers be looking for at drupa?

PW: That goes back to what we were talking about earlier. They should be looking for solutions that improve efficiency and profitability. They have to look for products that deliver a competitive advantage for them in their marketplace and make them capable of gaining new customers. For example, our ThermoFuse products are no-chemistry and low-chemistry, with an environmentally friendly approach. They can give printers a competitive advantage as they go green. Our :Azura and :Amigo products have been well received, and we are a leader there. :Azura was announced at drupa 2004. So printers should be looking for solutions that will bring them automation, efficiency, cost savings and competitive advantage.

WTT: Anything else you would like to add before we close?

PW: Just to reiterate a couple of key messages. We are very focused on our customers and how we work with our distribution partners to serve our customers. We are working hard to make sure that all of those strategies are well aligned. The second thing is our product portfolio. We feel we have the strongest portfolio in the industry, with solutions and technology that can bring real value to customers, and we will continue to innovate. We are continuing to invest across the board, and spending resources and time on developing high value solutions for our customers.