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Clear Vision for the Print Industry

The second annual Vision 3 Summit convened in Marco Island, FL, on Sunday, February 19 and ran through Wednesday, February 22. The conference, which addresses the interests and concerns of commercial printers, is produced jointly by NPES, NAPL, and Printing Industries of America. The theme for this year’s conference was “Focus Your Vision on Transformation and Growth.”

In the congenial atmosphere of Florida’s Gulf Coast, printers, vendors, industry consultants, and association representatives came together to network and learn from one another. The event kicked off with Sunday night’s Welcome Reception, which was held in one of the courtyards of the Marco Island Marriott Resort.

Day One: Economic Turnaround

On Monday morning, attendees gathered in the main speakers’ hall for a day-long slate of presentations. In the opening session, Dr. Jeffrey Rosensweig, director of the Global Perspectives Program, Goizueta Business School of Emory University, addressed the subject on everyone’s minds, the economy. In “The Global Economy—Opportunities and Challenges”, he focused on several key indicators that provide clear evidence that, while slow, economic growth is happening.

Rosensweig offered figures that show manufacturing is on the rebound. “While we haven’t reached the highs from 2007, the growth is accelerating as we move deeper into 2012,” he noted. “You are in a tough industry, but overall, manufacturing is coming back.”

Even more compelling, although there is still fear that the momentum in the US economy can be negatively affected by the recession in Europe, our GDP (gross domestic product) has finally returned to the levels we saw prior to the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

While economic recovery was a recurring theme, so was the warning that recovery from the Great Recession will be different from previous recoveries. The economic turnaround does not mean that employment will return to pre-recession levels—at least, not right away. This recession caused a radical adjustment to the way business is conducted, and that change will remain in effect throughout the recovery.

Rosensweig also told attendees where they could expect to see the next wave of emerging markets. Look to countries that are experiencing population and economic growth. China has the fastest growing economy, followed closely by India, Taiwan, and Indonesia. However, while China has the fastest growing economy, you should be aware of the fact that it is still only half the size of the US economy. Other countries to watch are Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Embrace Digital Communication

Following that presentation, Kevin Keane, president of the International Association of Printing Craftsmen (IAPHC), spoke on “Keeping Print Relevant in an Increasingly Digital World.” He exhorted printers to “recognize that our own material is pretty damn awesome” and start promoting not only themselves and their companies but also their clients.

“We have to get out of the mindset of print as a manufacturing process,” Keane warned. Print is morphing from a manufacturing process into information services. This gives printers an opportunity to build community and engagement by using print as a launch pad to a completely immersive experience.

Printers must embrace emerging communication tools, such as social media, because that is where their customers are. It is crucial to interact one-to-one with customers. To that end, he suggested that printers should have one person on staff who is dedicated to maintaining and managing their social media marketing. “You’ve got to go where the people will respond, and that’s social media,” Keane said.

Print’s Transformation

After a networking break, the crowd heard about “Transforming Your Business for Print Profitability” from a panel led by Chris Bondy, Gannett Distinguished Professor, interim administrative chair, at the School of Print Media, Rochester Institute of Technology. The panelists included Robert Blakely, vice president Business Development, for Echo Communicate; Jon Budington, president and CEO of Global Thinking; and John Sisson, president of Universal Wilde.

According to a recent survey, commercial printers are regarded as the most trusted service providers. So how can printers leverage that trust into a positive force for growth? The panel urged them to focus on three areas: convergence, transformation, and optimization.

Convergence: The economy, culture, and technology are changing. As this convergence advances, the transactional, publishing, and promotional markets continue to merge. This creates unique opportunities for transpromo, advertorial, and e-book solutions.

Transformation: Printers need to develop non-print services—for example, DAM, Web-to-print, and Web-based services. Data management is crucial and the ability to blend products and programs and incorporate specific data points will be the keys to success. Printers will have to go beyond simple name and address to develop databases that incorporate behavioral data, including demographics, psychographics, and buying habits.

Optimization: Lean manufacturing and operational efficiencies are essential, not just to success, but to continued survival. Printers need to employ “forward constraint design”; limiting the options and choices they offer to customers in order to keep their production processes more streamlined. An example of this would be to adopt a house sheet in place of offering a broad selection of papers. Offer only those products and services that easily fit into your most profitable and cost-efficient production processes. Lean manufacturing means you must implement, track, measure, and establish a continuous improvement plan.

Panelist Jon Budington told attendees how he managed to use the recession to drive changes he wanted to implement in his company. “I see recessions as a time of opportunity,” he said. “When things are tough, our clients are more inclined to listen to our crazy ideas. When things are good, they’re more inclined to go with the status quo.”

Parsing Politics

During the lunch service, the information continued to flow with “Politics Unplugged with Mark & Lisbeth”. Presenters were Lisbeth Lyons, vice president of Government Affairs for Printing Industries of America, and Mark Nuzzaco, Government Affairs director for NPES. The two lobbyists regaled the crowd with stories of their adventures and accomplishments on Capitol Hill. They explained that the three biggest political issues affecting our industry today are postal reform, healthcare reform implementation, and taxes.

Postal Reform: “The USPS is on the verge of collapse,” warned Lisbeth Lyons. “That might have been hyperbole a year ago, but not now.” The mailing industry represents 8.5 million workers and eight percent of the GDP. Short- and long-term solutions are on the table—including two Postal Reform bills. Unless Congress acts decisively this year, the system will run out of cash in 2012. The collapse of the USPS would destroy tens of thousands of private sector jobs and would likely result in a government bailout. Long term reforms are needed.

Healthcare Reform: The presidential campaigns will likely frame the national conversation that will shape the eventual adoption of healthcare reform. Depending on the outcome of the election, there could be repeals of some reforms that have already been enacted or, if the President is re-elected, the reform could go into effect as it is currently written by 2013. Printers need to educate themselves about the facts in order to fully understand the implications this issue will have on their businesses and on individual citizens.

Tax Reform: A groundswell for sweeping tax reform could be on the horizon. The 100 percent Bonus Depreciation Credit has already run out, but the 50 percent Bonus Depreciation Credit is still in effect. There is a chance that the 100 percent credit might be reinstated. According to Lyons and Nuzzaco,this is one way that government shows that it understands the need to support businesses that are making capital investments in new equipment. They urged all attendees to get involved on behalf of their companies and the industry at large.

Power of Print

The day’s program concluded with the “Power of Print Panel Discussion” moderated by Printing Industries of America CEO Michael Makin. The panelists were Benjamin Cooper, executive director of The Print Council; Bob Lindgren, president, Printing Industries Association of Southern California (PIASC); and Kerry C. Stackpole, president of the Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic.

The panel members discussed the various marketing materials available to allow printers to get involved in promoting the viability of the print medium. Three campaigns to increase awareness of print’s impact and sustainability are currently available: Print in the Mix, Choose Print, and Print Grows Trees. All have excellent marketing materials available that printers can freely use to promote the power of print. These materials will help you answer the questions: Is print still in the marketing mix? What is the value of print? and Why choose print?

Promoting print and clearing up misconceptions about print and the printing process is our responsibility—and the means of our livelihood—panel members avowed.

Day Two: Pundit’s Perspective

On Tuesday, attendees had to make some choices. Along with the general sessions, there were also three sets of breakout sessions during the day. Morning breakout sessions included “Advocacy Bootcamp”, “Social Media and Print: Just Call It Social Business!”, and “Executive Briefing for Owners”.

The day’s first general session was “Pundit's Perspective: Inside the 2012 Election”, presented by Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report. Cook observed that “We’re at an inflection point. There are several ways this election can go.” Then he proceeded to dissect the current electoral process in great detail; supporting his theories with statistics from the last 50 years.

Will President Obama gain re-election? Maybe. Will someone break out of the Republican field and step into a position of leadership? Again, the answer is only maybe. According to Cook, this is the most irregular presidential field in recent history and all the balls are still in the air.

The numbers to watch, he said, are the unemployment rate and the GDP. Unless those numbers gel into something decisively good or bad, November could provide us with a nail-biter. Only one thing is certain: those on the left and the right have already made their decisions—the election will be won in the middle—the ultimate decision will fall to the people who are currently undecided. It’s up to the candidates to sway them.

Sales Profitability

Next up was NAPL president and CEO Joe Truncale moderating a panel that discussed “Transforming Your Sales Team for Print Profitability”. The panelists were David Pitts, co-owner of Classic Graphics, and Mark Potter, president of Conduit Inc. They described transformation as “a thorough or dramatic change in appearance or behavior”, and discussed what this meant in terms of the skillsets needed by those who sell the new non-print services being offered by print service providers (PSPs). They agreed that PSPs today need to change the way they approach the sale and offer hybrid solutions to their customers if they hope to remain competitive in the current recovery.

Print is NOT Dead

After the day’s networking break, attendees heard a riveting presentation from Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, Ph.D, director of the Magazine Innovation Center, Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi. Titled “Surviving and Thriving in a Transcended Media Age: Secrets Revealed”, Husni’s message was loud and clear that “Print is not dead.”

While he insisted that we cannot underestimate the value and importance of print, we can no longer simply be content providers. We must be experience makers. We have to accept that we live in a digital age. The question is no longer about ink on paper or pixels on the screen. Media is not either or, it is all.

When it comes to print, we need to ask ourselves: who is not valuing print? Is it the customer or the provider? Everything boils down to the customer, to the human. What is in it for the customer? You are not doing anything that can’t be duplicated—unique does not exist—you have to be different and better.

Lunch allowed attendees to divide up and choose from four Peer Exchange Roundtable Forums: “Using Data and Trends in Business Planning”, “Crossing the Chasm—Strategies for Marketing Services Providers”, “Living Socially—Social media Success Stories”, and “Leveraging Digital Asset for Business Success”.

The afternoon wrapped up with another set of breakout sessions. “Evolution of General Commercial Print: Implications for the Future–A Market Research Study by PRIMIR” was presented by Andy Gordon, president of “Hot Technologies for Growth and Profitability” was presented by Dr. Mark Bohan, vice president Technology and Research, Printing Industries of America. And Mike Philie, vice president and senior consultant for NAPL discussed “Is Your Sales Compensation Plan Working?”.

The rest of the afternoon offered free time to enjoy the amenities of the resort facilities, then the group reconvened in the evening for cocktail hour and dinner. During dinner, NAPL presented its Management Plus awards and the audience was regaled by a pair of circus acrobats.

Day Three: Full Throttle

The final day of the Vision 3 Summit ended at noon, but the presentations blasted full speed ahead until the very last minute. Immediately following breakfast, attendees opted for one of two concurrent breakout sessions: “Impact of Electronic Technologies on Print—A Market Research Study by PRIMIR” presented by Marco Boer, vice president of IT Strategies, or “Why Print Is Sustainable”, presented by Gary Jones, assistant vice president, EHS Affairs, Printing Industries of America.

After opening remarks, the day’s general sessions began with the high-energy motivational program “Delivering the Ultimate Customer Experience” by Scott McKain, co-founder and principal of The Value Added Institute. His program was rooted in the premise that the experience you deliver needs to be so compelling that your customer won’t go anywhere else.

In order to become a company of “distinction”, McKain outlined four steps that should be taken by each company:

1. Clarity: You can’t differentiate what you can’t define. You need to develop a clarity statement. Be precise when describing who you are and what you are not. Customer loyalty declines as that clarity becomes fuzzy. In your customer’s eyes, you become the same as everyone else.

2. Creativity: Creativity without clarity is useless. Define all your points of contact with your customer and then pick one to focus on. Be creative with that one point and be different.

3. Communication: Customers learn through narratives more so than through facts and figures. Customers want to be entertained when they learn. Write a story about one of your customers’ successes. Make them the hero.

4. Customer Experience Focus: What does it feel like to do business with you? Do you offer personalization? Customers will only become loyal to something they care about. Can you offer that “ultimate customer experience” that will differentiate you from your competition and keep your customers loyal?

Messages from Top Marketers

Gina Testa, Xerox vice president, Graphic Communication Industry Business, moderated a panel on “Messages from Top Marketers—How You Can Be Part of Their Team”. On the panel were Karen Keenan, CMO of Integral Metrix Group, and Jim Mikol, EVP director of The Solutions Group, Leo Burnett Worldwide.

Everyone is talking about the transition from being a print service provider (PSP) to a marketing services provider (MSP). Whether you love the term MSP or hate it, what it really denotes is a change in the way you think. You have to transition from thinking like a manufacturing organization to thinking like a service organization. Your mindset has to change from reactive to proactive.

Print is just one component in the multi-media marketing mix—which now includes up to 28 different platforms. All of those platforms are used by ad agencies, which are the primary consumers of print. According to an RIT study, 85 percent of print is bought by agencies, yet only 15 percent of printers actively call on agencies. If you want to tap into this lucrative market, you have to understand what agencies want and need. One salient piece of advice: “You need a marketing professional on board if you are going down this path.”

Crystal Ball Gazing

The afternoon wrapped up with crowd favorite, Andy Paparozzi, senior vice president and chief economist for NAPL, and his offering of “A Future View of the Industry”.

Paparozzi told the group, “Our industry really has changed. PSPs are getting involved in the process earlier and staying longer. According to studies, nearly 40 percent of revenue is from something other than lithography. We are offering services we didn’t even consider 10 years ago. And we will offer services 10 years from now that don’t exist today.”

He pointed out that sales grew between one and three percent this year—the first real growth we’ve seen since 2007. “We have a lot of ground to make up, but we will start making it up this year,” he assured the audience. “The economy will grow and will continue to grow, but we must prepare for this recovery. We have to ask: What are we doing that is new? What are we doing that is innovative? We can no longer use being busy as an excuse for not getting better.”

Remember, it's “print-and”, not “print-or”, he cautioned. Complement your core print capabilities with new businesses. Your customers communicate in different ways; be sure you can as well. There is opportunity out there, but it’s not in the same place and it's not the same things.

“We are at the start of a meaningful upturn, but there is nothing fair about this upturn,” Paparozzi stated. “It will be discriminating. It will reward those best prepared and punish those who aren’t. The recovery will be heartless in dividing the prepared from the unprepared.”

Relax and Refresh

After absorbing all that information, many attendees took to the links Wednesday afternoon for the golf outing at The Rookery at Marco. No doubt, the excellent venue, meaty information, and outstanding networking opportunities will draw attendees back to Vision 3 Summit next year. The 2013 conference will be held March 10-13 at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort in Tucson, AZ.