Last year, I had the pleasure of attending the 3rd Annual Print Buyers Conference.  It was a compelling and enlightening mix of educational sessions, exhibitors representing printers across all markets and categories, and networking opportunities. Today’s installment of the Creative Corner will provide a preview of the 4th Annual Print Buyers Conference, and feature a chat with Margie Dana, guru (guress?) of print buyers, head of Print Buyers International, and the tireless organizer of the show.

This year’s conference, themed “Relevance Through Reinvention,” will be held November 3–5 (that’s next week if, like me, you have problems with the space-time continuum) at the Westford Regency Inn & Conference Center in Westford, MA (just outside Boston). Whilst one of the foci of the conference is the “Print Buyer’s Boot Camp,” other sessions cover the waterfront of topics relevant to today’s multichannel media landscape, offering tips and advice not only on the mechanics of print production and working with printers, but also on the latest media trends and expanding beyond print and incorporating new and newer media channels in one’s production and procurement skill set.

A sampling of session titles includes:

  • Secrets to Staying Relevant as Print Production Professionals
  • Tweet Stuff: A Hands-On Introduction to Social Media Success
  • The Characteristics of a Sustainable (“Green”) Printer
  • Driving Value for Your Company: How Successful Print Production Pros Make It Happen
  • From eBook to Book: The Online Content Explosion & the Opportunities in Print
  • Professional Social Networking: How to Leverage Facebook & Other Social Networking Tools
  • Peer-Led Session: Anatomy of the Perfect Creative Partnership

Pretty meaty stuff there. Session presenters include Peter Muir, Sabine Lenz, Andrew Davis, Paul Powers, Gavin Jordan-Smith, and Frank Romano.

WhatTheyThink’s own Dr. Joe Webb will be conducting a session called “‘Break It to Me Gently, Dr Joe!’ (Of Printing and the Economy)” in which he “gazes into his crystal ball to predict the future of print and the trends, technologies, and other factors shaping the print industry’s use and relationship with other media.” Says Dr. Joe of his session, “Designers and creatives were the first to realize how imaging and graphic elements for digital media and print related from a production and a strategic perspective. Now they are being asked to work in yet more formats as non-advertising media grow, yet still need professional creative vision.”

When looking into the future, don’t be Tarot-fied.

The hallmark of any Print Buyers Conference is the “Print Buyers Boot Camp.” This year marks the debut of the “Advanced Print Buyers Boot Camp,” conducted by drill sergeants Frank Romano and Joe Suffoletto, which goes beyond the basics offered by past Boot Camps and promises to “take you to print buying’s highest levels with in-depth examinations of new technologies and skills.”

The Creative Corner cornered Margie Dana and asked her about the forthcoming show and the latest trends in print buying.

Creative Corner: To whom is the Print Buyers Conference targeted?

Margie Dana: Any- and everyone who influences the decision to use printed materials for their organization’s marketing communications campaign.

CC: What benefits would a designer or other print buyer get from attending the Print Buyers Conference?

MD (who really does speak in bullet points): Wow, that’s tough to cover in one tiny “A” to your “Q.” I’d say these:

  • They’ll get information on the latest trends in digital printing.
  • They’ll hear insights from a leading economics consultant on how print will be impacted in the next six to 12 months and also how print is affected by the growth of new electronic media.
  • They’ll learn from their peers and from peer-led panels about how to really add value to their current roles.
  • They’ll learn cutting-edge, knock-yer-socks off varnish techniques will be covered by Daniel Dejan of Sappi Fine Paper.
  • They’ll learn how marketing departments are dealing with print alongside newer media. In fact, one speaker from Fidelity Investments will share her experiences.
  • They’ll learn how to set up Twitter and LinkedIn accounts for business purposes, if they haven’t already.
  • Then Peter Muir will teach them how to use social networking tools to really push their business initiatives.
  • They’ll get an overview of the paper industry by PaperSpecs prez Sabine Lenz.
  • They will learn what it means to be a “green printer” from PIA’s Gary Jones.
  • Buyers will learn in several sessions how to “power up” their current roles—since print buyers are facing an extremely tough future.
  • They’ll learn from exhibitor-led lunch sessions about GRACol 7, UV Printing, Software Tools for Costing Out a Job, How to Give Your Printer a Financial Stress Test, and all about Virtual Proofing.

CC: What are some of the “must-see” sessions?

MD: Well, honestly, I think they are all “spot on” sessions, but I think these are especially relevant: “Driving Value for Your Company—How Successful Print Production Pros Make It Happen” (4 high-level buyers share their stories); “Critical Trends for Printing and Print Buying”; “From eBook to Book—Online Content Explosion and the Opportunities in Print”; “Mega-Trends in Digital Printing”; “Anatomy of the Perfect Creative Partnership: Printer, Creative and Buyer discuss what makes it work seamlessly”; and “Changing Dynamic of In-House Ad Agencies.”

CC: If someone has come to past Print Buyers Conferences, what will they get this year that they didn’t get in previous years?

MD: Every session is new—that’s a given. This year’s theme is “Relevance Through Reinvention,” since print buying as a career needs to evolve and it needs to start immediately. There are sessions on career development for print buyers, that’s totally new. We have four sessions that deal with social media or other new media, which is also new.

Our exhibit hall has been retooled this year. First, we never liked isolating our sponsors in a standalone hall. We’re not Graph Expo, after all! No heavy metal at this show, just displays by service providers who want to mix and mingle with attendees from dawn to dusk. So the main conference ballroom will house the sponsor displays and the round tables, where everyone will sit for keynote presentations and lunch-and-learn sessions by certain sponsors. It is much more inclusive for the sponsors.

Although a few speakers are back again this year—after all, they are the best in class —we have many new speakers to reflect new content. Drew Davis, Cofounder of Tippingpoint Labs, will speak on eBooks to Books; Dianna Huff of DH Communications is a social-media devotee who knows more about using Twitter and LinkedIn than anyone else I know; Gary Jones of PIA is the “green guru” for that association and I’ve always wanted to have him with us; dinner keynoter Dr. Paul Powers is a career consultant and one of the brightest guys I know; Gavin Jordan-Smith of Xerox Premier Partners has serious experience in digital printing and is sure to open our eyes; Deb Elder of Fidelity Investments will share what’s happening in the corporate in-house ad agency world; and many of our panelists are also new. We know a lot of people and enjoy spotlighting new folks each year.

CC: Who will be exhibiting?

MD (who really does speak in alphabetical order): Here goes, in alphabetical order:

ACME Printing Company, American Printing, Battlefield Graphics, Bentley, Brown Printing Company, Concord Litho, DS Graphics, Four Colour Print Group, Japs-Olson Company, Mammoth Media, The Messenger Press, MicroPRINT, mTivity, Neoprint, Print Communications, Ripon Printers, Sappi, Solo Printing, Standard Modern, Unigraphic, Xerox (our Patron Sponsor), and xpedx.

By the way, although many sponsors are from New England, many are not. They’re also from Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, and Canada. Almost 50% are returning sponsors from last year, too.

CC: You said that the Conference theme is “Relevance Through Reinvention.” What do you mean by that?

MD: Print buying as a career is undergoing transformative change. As print volumes decline, and electronic media are on the rise, the role of print buyers is changing. At this Conference, we are acknowledging this change and have sessions offering constructive help to guide buyers into revised, redefined roles.

CC: What’s the Boot Camp and what does it offer attendees?

MD: There are actually two Boot Camps this year. The “Advanced Print Buyer Boot Camp” is an all-day classroom-style program that offers education on key print-related issues, including color management, workflow, proofing, and digital printing. It’s for experienced print buyers. Certification is optional—we offer that via an open book exam. The “Boot Camp for Print Reps” is a half-day program that is geared to print professionals, such as sales reps, CEOs, and CSRs. In it, we’ll cover current print buying behaviors, trends, and challenges. It will help attendees appreciate what print buyers are dealing with and how they look at the printing industry.

CC: What networking opportunities are offered and how can attendees benefit from them?

MD: Networking is a given. The venue is a private hotel, and ours is the only event there for three days. There are round table sessions on day one, where a different topic will be covered at each of 10 tables. We have scheduled breaks during both days to encourage casual networking, and of course our show wouldn’t be complete without a cocktail party. So we’ve built in lots of ways for attendees and sponsors to connect.

CC: Moving to a broader topic, what are the top concerns for creatives and print buyers today?

MD: Two things. How to deal with the changes in communication trends (traditional media vs. new media), and how to remain relevant and valuable in their careers.

CC: The print and new media landscape has been changing dramatically in recent years, but have you found that the printer-print buyer relationship has changed in the past—say—five years?

MD: No, there’s nothing significant that has changed.

CC: This topic came up recently in a conversation I was having with a digital printing expert whom I know, and we had differing opinions, and I thought I’d get your perspective. Has it been your experience that it’s graphic designers who are the ones who choose a printer for their clients, or is that decision made elsewhere?

MD: If you’re asking about independent designers, then, yes, they typically choose printers for their clients. If designers are in-house for a larger organization, they may or may not select the printer—it depends on the company policy.

CC: One of the topics of discussion is “Better Print Buying with Social Media.” What role do social media play in the print-buying process, and how are creatives taking advantage of them?

MD: Creatives and print buyers would be wise to jump into some of the newer media to understand how they can help them keep current and improve their businesses. Buyers should be involved in LinkedIn and Twitter in order to grow their peer network. Secondarily, they will probably “meet” service providers through such media. My feeling is, if your customers’ eyes are focused on new media, yours should be as well. It’s short-sighted to think these channels are going away.

CC: One session is called “Recession Proofing Your Career.” How has the lousy economy affected the demand for print, and the printer-print buyer relationship?

MD: Budget cuts in corporations seem to always include marketing efforts, and one easy way to cut costs here is to reduce or eliminate printing projects. As print declines, print buyers have less work to do. There have been significant layoffs among print buyers since the winter of 2008. I don’t know that full-time jobs for print buyers will return. New media are complementing traditional media. Buyers need to evolve.

CC: How can creatives and print buyers stimulate a demand for print among their clients? Or can they?

MD: By determining the ROI of print materials, by developing marketing strategies that rely on a print/new media combo. Print complements many marketing campaigns. Also, printed materials will always get delivered to a mailing address. There’s a measure of comfort in that.

CC: What is the demand for environmental sustainability among print buyers?

MD: I did a lot of research this year and asked this question. The belief is that “green printing” costs more, and during tough economic times, it is nice but not necessary for many customers.

CC: Is there anything else potential attendees should know?

MD: Just that we believe our Conference program hits all the “high notes” for professionals who work with the printing industry—it has the best-in-class content and top-level speakers, all of whom are psyched for the show. Folks can register just for the Conference (being held November 4–5), just for a boot camp (being held November 3), or for a Conference/Boot Camp combo.

CC: Thanks for talking to us. Have a great show!

The full gamut of information about the 4th Annual Print Buyers Conference can be found at