Sales Clinic: Manage Your Future

Almost every time I talk to a print professional, the question always comes up-where is this industry going and how should I be preparing for the future of my company? No one has a magic crystal ball that can predict the future, but the one thing that has remained constant through good and bad times is the need for a thorough and deep knowledge of what you sell and the most effective way of producing it.

Recently, I discovered that there are thousands of print and marketing providers that do not belong to, nor participate in, their trade associations. Given the amount of technological changes, competing media and the economic challenges faced by most print providers, this is not logical. Granted, these are challenging times and many printers have cut expenses to the bone. But the financial, operating and marketing data and best practice information that trade associations provide are more important than ever. How can any company or organization operate without this type of information?

Members of Associations Perform Better

Ronnie Davis, chief economist for the Printing Industries of America (PIA), shared with me that historically this is not unusual. The rule of thumb is that roughly 20 percent of print providers join the PIA and most do not join any association at all. He said it is somewhat surprising to him since the successful organizations in graphic communications are the ones that tend to network more and participate in industry events.

In PIA, in studies in 2007 and 2008, members of associations outperformed non-members in sales increases, 2 to 1 in 2007, and 3 to 1 in 2008. Davis expects the numbers will increase even more in 2009, due to a difficult economy and structural changes in the industry. He went on to say that to achieve superior results it is not enough to join, printers need to actively participate and engage in association offerings and resources.

Three Good Reasons To Join

There is a mistaken belief that there is enough free information and training content on blogs, Web sites, trade journals and webcasts. This is not the case. Deciding what to review, what is important, what works and what can be implemented requires almost a full-time effort.

There are three good reasons to join a local or national print-related association:

  1. One Stop Education: Industry trade associations are outstanding developers of business and marketing training materials. There is simply no substitute for an unbiased nonprofit industry dedicated source of information and training.
  2. Networking for Great Ideas: Meeting and discussing common problems and opportunities is the best way to get good ideas. Whether at a formal facilitated conference, or during a short conversation at the bar after a local association meeting, it only takes one idea to turn a challenge into an opportunity.
  3. Government Affairs: Thousands of pieces of legislation are passed that directly affect print providers. There are government mandates that printers must know about whether they are related to employees, taxes, safety, etc. Associations represent the printing industry, and provide a voice for printers, whether they pay membership dues or not.

Vital To All Industries

Today as in the past, there is simply no substitute for industry-dedicated associations. There is no viable industry in North America that does not possess a network of trade associations. The printing industry is being hit with a “Perfect Storm” of challenges from the current economic downturn, competing medias and government regulations. At this moment, the need for like minded businesses to join together for their common good has never been greater.

The print industry has a strong history of active and powerful associations. The first modern printing association, the Typothetae, was founded in 1862 in New York as a local association, and became a national organization in 1887. Printing associations have been extremely important for small and medium size print providers to help them confront common general business and government concerns. Additionally, printing industry associations have been, and continue to be, the major force for technical and business training.

Training Is Key

Training is more important than ever. Even with new digital technologies and the Web, printing is still tricky to manage, market and produce. The printing industry is still different from most other industries since each order, program or campaign must still be customized to the exact requirements of each customer. Consequently, an unusual amount of skill and technical knowledge is required for the effective and efficient processing of print jobs. Similarly, there is a need for the training of salespeople, managers and supervisors.

Vicki Keenan, vice president of Printing Industries Alliance (PIA), a regional trade association serving New York State, northern New Jersey and northwestern Pennsylvania, reinforced an important job of local associations, “Since most print providers fall into the category of small and medium size businesses, they do not have the staff or scale to manage everything that is required. The local trade association helps level the playing field.”

Keenan went on to say she is pleased that so many printers regularly take an active role in the association. They are ensuring that the printing business remains current, relevant and profitable for current and future printers. She felt that many non members may not be aware of the many services provided and suggests that they visit their local association Web site.

Don’t Wait Any Longer

Some have walked away from trade associations because of the criticism that national organizations don’t keep up with technology and change, or have not been successful enough in lobbying for industry interests. The well-kept secret is that national organizations never lead changes in the industry. Historically, it has always been initiated by local associations with active members who developed innovative solutions to problems. The job of the national association is to identify the great idea, promote it, enhance it, then package it and disseminate it to its membership. Our industry associations can only be as good as the willingness of print providers to get involved.

If you are waiting for your national association to lead, you have waited too long. Get involved on the local as well as on the national level.