Digital Original: Prepare Today for Tomorrow’s Prepress Skills

The quick printing industry is changing and the position that will be affected the most is the prepress department. Prepress has been constantly evolving over the past two decades, but the latest changes will put even more pressure on the prepress staff to learn new skills. No longer will prepress people just worry about getting images to print. They will have to make sure those images will communicate the customer’s message on a number of different media.

Before the recession, printing was the primary choice for moving and collecting information for most businesses. After two to three years of trying to survive, businesses have found other means to get their message to the masses. Today’s lower sales aren’t caused by a bad economy. They exist because businesses no longer use printing the way they use to.

Print owners have to begin looking for new revenue streams within the communication industry to augment the print they do now. Printers will still print, but it won’t be at the same levels as before. Printers will have to integrate print with other communication tools. Logical extensions will be one-to-one messaging and VDP, designing and selling websites, mailing services, managing social media, and managing and distributing email and mobile marketing messages. One of the most important new services will be creating and managing customer’s content.

The prepress department of the future will still have a technician who can get files to print directly to plate and to digital output devices. It will still need to have a designer who creates files from scratch for the customer. Someone will have to manage the workflow and make sure automation is used whenever possible to lower costs.

The prepress staff will still be required to interface with customers and salespeople to make sure digital standards are applied to all customer files. Today, in some shops, one person does all of this. In others, the tasks are assigned to specialists who work in their own areas of expertise. In the future it will be hard to find one person with all of these skills.

New services will require new skills from the prepress staff. Someone will have to understand databases and be able to work with Microsoft Excel and common database managers. Prepress will have to have someone who understands variable data printing and who can use the tools to create one-to-one messaging.

The prepress staff will have to learn HTML, the markup language for websites. They will have to be able to manage information and integrate the customer’s message into a website. This will also include linking storefronts, shopping carts, RSS feeds, and other tools into the site.

Most quick printers have a prepress person who can learn these new skills. The amount of work that the printer has will determine how many people will need to be assigned to that department. The old worry printers had was that their prepress person wasn’t busy enough. The new worry is whether the prepress person will have enough hours in the day to get the work completed.


Next Gen Talent

Finding people with the skills to do these jobs won’t be as hard as it was in the early days of desktop publishing. High schools, trade schools, and colleges are teaching website design and HTML. Understanding data is a required skill for anyone in business today, so technical schools are turning out people with experience in Excel and database management. The people with those skills are available when you have to add them.

Content creation will be the most critical skill that printers will have to add to their company. Few printers have someone who can write and edit copy and keep up with the daily grind to create content. The content created for the customer will find its way to printed pieces, the Web, mailing, email blasts, tweets, and more. The success of the content creator will depend on how well he can create content for the various information distribution channels.

The content creator will become more important than the designer. Finding the right writer is like finding the right designer. A good hire can propel a printer to the next level, based on the skills and intellect of the writer.

The content creator will have to be able to interview customers, capture their message, and then put it in a form that will grab the audience. This person will have to be able to write a sales brochure as well as a 140 character tweet, and make sure the message remains the same no matter how it is distributed. The customer will be paying for the creativity the writer brings to the project just as he does a graphic designer’s ideas.


Ramping Up

Is your prepress department ready for the future? Do you have someone who can create an automated PDF workflow today? Can your staff handle database programs and prepare the files for variable data and mailing projects? Can your staff run the VDP programs available for your digital output devices? Can they work with HTML? Do you have someone experienced with email management software programs such as Constant Contact or iContact? Does your staff know how to manage social media?

Is your prepress staff capable of copywriting? Can they spell? Do they know how to write informative articles? Can they write headlines that pull a reader into the story?

There won’t be an immediate change tomorrow or next week, but the shift from printing as the major communication tool has already begun. When you hire your next prepress employee, you need to make sure that they can do more than just manipulate InDesign and Photoshop files. Start training your prepress staff in basic HTML markup immediately. Get with your vendors and start training to use the VDP capabilities of your digital machines. Install your PDF workflow so it will be automatic and free up the prepress staff to do other tasks.

Also, look for content creators among your customer service staff. You may already have people on staff who have the writing skills necessary to help a customer with all of his information needs. When you hire a CSR, list writing skills as a top priority for the job.

Printing is changing, but it isn’t dead. It is going to evolve more into a communication service. Printers will return to being the “intelligent craftsmen” they were in Ben Franklin’s day. Communication skills are valuable and printers will be able to charge a higher price when they add their intelligence to the order.