Industry Trolls

It’s been awful quiet on the “CTP Patent Troll” front.  CTP is the firm which was pursuing license fees from approximately 30 firms in the industry saying they are violating patents on computer to plate technology.  The reason for things being quiet is the review that is being conducted by the U.S. Patent Office (USPO) based on a request from various industry manufacturers.  The manufacturers are trying to show USPO that the technology was already in place and a patent should not have been issued. And let’s hope that the USPO decides in the favor of the manufacturers.

Regardless, of the findings I truly rail at this type of bottom feeding behavior.  It’s a business at any cost mentality which hurts small business and the individuals trying to earn a living from their chosen profession.

And there’s the other issue.  This patent was developed initially by a printing company which then put it on the shelf.  That company is merged into another very large printing company, which sells the patents to a third party — or did they?  There are still many who think that the third party is just a conduit for the very large printing company to find a way to “punish” the thousands of smaller firms who “compete” with it.  Now there are court documents indicating that this company has the potential to financially gain from the actions of the Troll.  And I thought that trolls were the lowest form of life in our business world.

Read This Book!

First a disclaimer.  I’m an abashed Joe Webb fan.  Yes, some people seem him as a guy looking through dark and gloomy glasses, but Joe tells it like he sees it.  And over the past several years, he’s been more right than wrong.

If you are involved with sales in our industry (and who isn’t in some form or fashion), a must read is Webb’s most recent book which he co-wrote with Richard Romano.  The book is titled “This Point Forward,” and was just released last month.  If you don’t want to sink into a downer (or get your eyes opened), speed read (but don’t ignore) the first 58 pages.  Joe is in economist mode.  The heart of the book is Romano and Webb’s insights into the world of marketing and communications and what it portends long-term for our industry.

As the Joe and Richard state, we cannot wait for things to go back as they were.  The individuals making decisions about marketing budgets are digital natives and have never known anything but computer screens and mobile smart devices.  The insights which the authors provide us are from a perspective of individuals who understand our industry – but also see what the future portends.  As the book states several times, we cannot make decisions based on looking in the rear-view mirror, we have to be looking down the road.

So, get a copy of the book and study it.  It’s an easy read and keep in mind what Tom Saggiomo, CEO for the DG3 Group, says regarding the book, “Webb and Romano offer a compelling case for sound strategy development and a roadmap for implementation. Ignore this work at your own peril.”

U.N.’s Climate Summit

I have been reading about the recent U.N. Climate Summit with a jaundiced eye.  Was it going to be full of wild-eyed radical environmentalist who are willing to “save” the world at any cost, or believers that sustainability is going to take a lot of hard work AND compromise.  It seems to have been “all-the-above” plus major corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s atending.   I will not, nor should anyone deny that globally we’re facing a changing environment and that industrialization has not helped.  I don’t deny that CO2 has an effect, the science is too strong, but it’s not just CO2 which is the culprit.  As scientist and environmentalists are discovering — it’s much more complicated.  It’s third-world growth vs. first-world wealth; it’s climatic cycles we don’t fully understand; haves vs have nots – who wanna-be’s; and a world that may not be able to sustain 7 billion people on the planet predicted to grow to 8 billion in 2024.

Let me focus on something a bit closer to home.

At this U.N. Summit, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s were two of the major signees to the “New York Declaration of Forests” which signals the vital role that forest (sustaining them) play in climate change.  I’m a bit concerned that this will bring another round of “save the trees – don’t print” reaction from many.  Now, is the time to make sure that we send messages to decision makers that paper production and print are SUSTAINABLE!  We need to clearly message that trees are being grown and protected to produce a crop called paper, and we are not indiscriminately cutting forests to produce it.  We also have to remind many of these decision makers that print is still positioned  as an outstanding communication vehicle and is as effective as always.

Spread the word “Print Grows Trees.”

Interesting Week

As a sports fan and as a competitive athlete (note — I didn’t say good!), I’ve been following the firestorm which was ignited this week regarding the NFL and it’s leader Goodell.  I’ve also been married for over four decades to a women who specialized as a psychological therapist in helping women who were sexually or physically abused.  My insights to this ugly aspect of “being a man” is somewhat unique.

As a compeitor for many years, I understand the necessity of aggressiveness in high-level sports.  Yet, I also saw the ugly side of having to be macho to prove yourself.  Becasue of my wife, I’ve learned how trapped women become in these situations and end up dealing with Hobsonian choices.

Thus, I hope the NFL gets it right.  Violence against women, in all its forms, is insidious and I’m constantly surprised of how young men are willing to accept that behavior.  Whether Goodell goes or not, is not as important as for this extremely wealthy and high profile organization to take a stand on ANY mis-behavior of its athletes/coaches.  Integrity is important in any endeavor and the NFL has an opportunity to take a true leadership position.  I hope they get it right because young men need to understand that this type of behavior – in any form – is despicable.

EPA Vs. Texas

This past week Gary Jones, PIA’s VP of Environmental, Health and Safety shared some “interesting” news which could adversely affect small business – and our industry.  It seems that the EPA is getting ready to reduce the ozone levels from its present 75 parts per billion to 70 or possibly 60.  Needless to say this is going to create some real heartache for cities like Dallas and Kansas City where the real polluters are automobiles – which are not regulated under the Clean Air Act. Guess who’s going to bear the brunt of the regulations?

Because of the time involved with the EPA approving State Implementation Plans (SIP), many cities/regions are still in the process of implanting plans from the last change (reduction) of the Clean Air Standards.  There are also some experts saying that the tools available to measure 60 parts per billion are not very reliable.  This is definitely one of those knee jerk reactions saying that if 75 is good, 60 must be better because there is no scientific proof that these types of reductions will create significantly “healthier” air.

Well, I’ll be in Austin for a meeting with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  Should be interesting.

Meanwhile I’ll share some thoughts from Patty Eldridge my PIA friend from Houston.  Her thoughts were due to additional news from Gary Jones regarding the amount of pollution (12 parts per billion) which is being transported from Mexico into Texas due to the prevailing southerly winds.  Here are Patty’s thoughts:

Steps to keeping Texas air clean:

  1. Another reason to close the Mexican border – they can keep their own stinking air (build a taller fence?)
  2. Remove all the cows, dogs and cats (bye Fido and Fluffy), trees, plants, etc. East Texas will be barren, the lumber industry will be eliminated, but it’s all in the name of clean air. {Both animals and trees emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are precursors to low-level ozone.]
  3. Get rid of the animal processing plants – large amounts of methane gas eliminated, although we can keep another large source of methane gas – Grandpa Joe (he needs to be careful though; that too could be regulated soon). We can all be vegans but you can’t use agricultural equipment because of the emissions. Can’t use horses, oxen, etc. to pull farm equipment because of their emissions.
  4. Make it illegal to have a lawn mower – you won’t need one anyway since there won’t be any grass (see Item 2). All teenage boys will either love ya (now they don’t have to mow the lawn for Mom and Dad; or hate you since you just took away an employment opportunity)
  5. Remove all refineries
  6. Remove all vehicles – since the energy and chemical companies are a major employer, people won’t have jobs to go to so they will be off the roads. Of course that will severely impact other industries and the economy and quality of living for pretty much everyone, but hey, it’s all in the name of clean air.

And that leaves you with… INSERT NAME OF ANY THIRD WORLD COUNTRY

Are You Ready For Chicago?

As we get closer to the next GraphExpo, I’m seeing more and more press releases on new products, technologies, etc.  I also saw a recent posting on Print Production Professionals where an individual was beside himself about Benny Landa’s Nano Technology and what it potentially offers.  And then I remembered how the late Dick Gorelick used to reference GraphExpo — The Annual Overcapacity Fest in Chicago.  People flew in from all over the world to see the latest and greatest — and buy it.  Too often the reason was “to keep up with the competition.”

It’s probably an illness that goes back to the days of Johann Gutenberg.  Too often we become enamored with the technology itself rather than asking ourselves, what can the technology do to improve my company’s growth and profitability. Let’s look beyond the “sizzle” and realize that most buyers don’t really care about what kind of press we use, or the type of workflow, or about the sharpness of dots (or lack of dots).  They want a product that sells their message at a price they deem worthy.  If we make a significant dollar investment and our customers/prospects don’t reward us with increased sales or new sales, we have to question the validity of our investment — regardless of the cool factor. And don’t buy into the “time savings” idea.  When new technology “saves” time or “costs,” the result is the creation of capacity, but it comes with a price tag (new equipment, software, personnel, etc.).  It’s only when “new” sales dollars are generated that the investment begins to pay for itself — and if those sales dollars don’t exceed the investment . . .  ’nuff said.

 

Print IS Everywhere, But . . .

I recently received a link on a blog by Mark Vruno, editor of Quick Printing, which spoke about the pervasiveness of print and the size of our industry.  I did have a bit of a problem with him stating that print is a $640 Billion industry – unless he’s including EVERYTHING under that umbrella (USPS, ad agencies, publishers, newspaper, etc., etc.) Regardless, it’s an interesting – and valid position.  BUT, we need to remember that the vast majority of people (non-printers) are totally oblivious to Mark’s points.

This article is preaching to the choir, and it’s sad to say, but the choir does not have the dollars or the energy to stop the train from moving down the tracks.  Case in point.  Read this article by David Carr, which was published yesterday by the New York Times, which means that it got a lot more eyeballs than Mark’s column!   If you read the entire NY Times post, you realize that the article is not saying that print is dead – but the newspaper industry is continuing to change.  Yet, if one stops reading at the first few paragraphs, the message is one of a decaying industry.

The reality – in my mind – is that we cannot stop the changes in communications because we think it’s unfair to our industry.  We MUST adapt and move forward – which many in our industry are doing!

We need to grasp that our roots in print can provide real opportunities.  Some might be in digital media (mobile apps, web pages, etc.) as a recent article by Richard Romano in Quick Printing suggested, while in some cases it’s the ancillary products (mail, fulfillment, etc.) which can help us bring value to our customers.  And that takes me to the heart of the matter.

Whether it’s print, digital media, or other services, the successful business men and women of our industry provide services which help their customers thrive – regardless of media or print process.  We can no longer say, “If it’s not putting ink on paper, we don’t do it.”

Go Around

I was headed north on I-35 today, and as I’m wont to do, my eye wondered over to the aircraft on final approach to Love Field.  As I-35 meanders through the Trinity River flood plain, you can easily see the aircraft getting ready to land on either runway 13R or 13L.  The aircraft seemed to be “just a bit” high and that got my curiosity.  After I made my lane change (safely of course), I glanced back towards the airfield, and sure enough, the aircraft was climbing. Its gear was coming up as the pilot had probably declared a missed approach and was turning around to give it another go.

Needless to say, the pilot was probably not happy (and his passengers wondering what happened).  It’s embarrassing for any pilot to fly a go around.  It signifies you really didn’t have the plane in control and in the right spot to start the final approach to landing.  Ask any aviator (old and experienced) and they’ll tell you that it’s best to go around rather than attempt to land when things aren’t right.  Eat a bit a crow in front of the FAA crowd and your peers – but you land safely with your 100+ passengers.

So, that got me to thinking.

How many times in our business career or personal lives, do we decide that we are going to make something happen come hell or high water.  Yet, our intuition is telling us something else (abort, abort, abort!)  It could be hiring that sales rep with $2MM in sales; expanding our business into a new market; or telling your teenager that “I would never have done that!”    Let’s learn from our Southwest Airlines aviator.  Sometimes it is best to “go around” and have a bruised ego rather than a significant failure.

The Cost Vs. Price Conundrum

My associate in Southern California, Bob Lindgren, has been extremely vocal through the years/decades about the myths of budgeted hourly rates, and he recently wrote these thoughts, “If we accept that we are revenue maximizers and also accept (regretfully) that we don’t have perfect knowledge, we ned a systematic approach to predict the maximum price that a client is willing to pay.

The first step is to think about the core of our present process, the estimating system, which turns around budgeted hourly rates (BHRs).  This rethink should involve the people in the firm who have experience with the outside world – usually the CEO (if he/she is involved with sales), the sales manager and the sales reps.  Note that this group does not include the accountant nor the plant manager as their experience is internal not external.  This task force’s mission is to make their best overall estimate as to the average rates in their market – about how much are competitors charging for a 40” 6/C, etc.?  Chances are that the answers are not going to be too much different from the numbers already in the estimating system.”

I would argue (from experience) that if the firm was to calculate their “actual” budgeted hourly rates, there would be no correlation to their existing BHRs. And here’ the heart of Lindgren’s argument, “An extremely important shift in thinking has begun – we now understand that the estimating package is not a cost prediction process, it is an available price prediction process.”

This is CRITICAL.  Most companies create a myth that the BHRs in their estimating system reflect costs of production – and entire processes are built to “try” to make the round peg fit in the square hole.  If we truly understand AND accept that our estimating system is used to create pricing palatable to the market place, we can then start using other methods to measure the costs of production and find ways to maximize our return on investment.

What are those other ways?  More to come. . .

It’s More Than Print

If you are not familiar with the largest marketing execution firm in the U.S. (they used to be the largest print management firm in the U.S.), you need to be.  InnerWorkings employs over 1,500 employees, and has 67 offices in 30 countries.  Last year they reported over $890 Million in sales and have been in business since 2001 – and are publicly held.

They recently made an announcement that they will “direct and manage the production of non-newsprint products including inserts, direct mail and select marketing materials purchased by Newsday and its advertisers.”  So as you can see they’re much, much, more than a Super Broker.

So, my first question is, if they are able to make this work for them, why aren’t more printing companies adopting a similar model? My second question is, what are you going to do to stop them from “directing and managing the production” of your customer’s work?