Baseball in Australia?

The grass is just starting to green up in North Texas and trees are beginning to blossom – and I’m coughing and my nose is running.  And that must mean that opening day is just around the corner.  Well, not really.  It already opened – in Australia.

Australia?  Yup, MLB is trying to attract a broader audience and last week the L.A. Dodgers and Arizona Diamondback played the season opener in Sydney’s Cricket Grounds.  It was the first time a “real” game was played in Australia.  Although the Grounds did host an exhibition game between the White Sox and the Giants — in 1914!

As a ex-pat Dodger fan, I was following the event, and then I discovered that one of my cousins had attended the game and wrote an article which was posted on SB Nation.  He did a nice job of sharing his adventure and his love of baseball.  It’s good reading.

Oh, and it’s only six more days until the Rangers open against the Phillies – that’s if the Rangers have any healthy ballplayers left!

Expand Your Horizons

Several weeks ago, Dr. Joe Webb was in town and painted a picture of continuing change for the commercial printing industry.  Dr. Joe and all of the industry economists are in agreement that the industry will be a shadow of itself as we end this decade (Webb predicts a 30% decline in the general commercial printing sector over the next 6 years).  Yet, Webb sees opportunity for companies/owners who look beyond being just a print producer.

And there’s a printer in Vegas (definitely a creative place) who is taking Joe’s words to heart – and is really thinking out of the box.  “The printing industry is not growing. It’s not a growing business,” said Kathy Gillespie, owner of A&B Printing in Las Vegas.  What’s her solution?  Now that Clark County has approved a medical marijuana ordinance, Gillespie hopes to get out of the printing business and focus her attention on medical marijuana.  She said her Las Vegas-based printing business could be converted into a dispensary.   Far out dude!

Here’s the story as reported by KVVU-TV- Fox 5 news in Vegas.

SXSW – Revisited

I’ve written about South By Southwest before — and I continue to be amazed at its drawing power.  This little music venue which started 27 years ago has become a world wide phenomena.  More interestingly is it’s drawing power.  Over the years this is the place where new music groups came to be introduced; social media software stepped to the forefront, and this year, I think, it’s gone to a new level.

This “little” festival is very quickly becoming a place to be seen — and heard.  And it’s a very eclectic – and one may say – influential group who are voicing their opinions. Let’s mention a few of the speakers: Chelsea Clinton, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Julian Assange, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Seth Rogen, Seth Meyers, Anne Wojcicki, Lada Gaga, and Eric Snowden. Regardless of what you may think of these folks, it says a lot about the organizers and who’s attending. 

One has to remember the folks attending are part of the “electron” crowd who are influencing – and will continue to influence our world of business and communications over the next several decades.   If you don’t believe events can influence society and the world of politics, let me provide two phrases — Woodstock and Democratic Convention 1968.

Clean Air — 2014

An article published in the Dallas Morning News this past Sunday raised the question of unhealthy air.  The article was front and center on the front page and raised issues which will be facing many major metropolitan areas.  The article began, “For three days next month, independent scientists will explore whether a child with asthma in urban North Texas might be in more danger from smog than previously thought,” wrote staff writer Randy Lee Loftis.  “They’ll consider whether the summertime ozone inhaled by an outdoor worker in Houston, an Atlanta retiree or a healthy, active adult in scores of places might be harmful even at levels too low for the breather to notice.  And they’ll ponder whether the nation should do something about it.”

Although I don’t think that Loftis’ article is untruthful, it tends to overlook the complexity of compliance. He mentions that the air (in terms of ozone) has improved while the population has increased. He then states, “The numbers, however, also show that North Texas’ summertime ozone is still unhealthy.”  He does not mention that those numbers, which are the EPA’s benchmark for unhealthy air, have not been static.  The EPA has lowered the benchmark several times over the years, and frequently it has come before all of the state’s rules have been fully implemented from the prior reduction.

Mr. Loftis writes of more and more studies showing ozone as a bad actor in regards to asthma, children, people with low intakes of vitamins C and E, outdoor workers, and “there is also increasing confidence that ozone is linked to death.”  That will get your attention.

OK, I’m not going to argue against the health issues — but I find it frustrating that these types of articles don’t speak about the accomplishments which have occurred in a rapidly growing metropolitan area.  This article speaks about the ozone standards proposed of 60 to 70 parts per billion and how it was rejected by the George W. Bush administration, but doesn’t mention that many industry experts, and professionals within the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) were concerned that there was no way to accurately measure ozone at those levels.

AND, last but not least, IF there is a hue and cry to do something, there’s one big problem.  In the North Texas region the bulk of the ozone is created by automobiles – which are not covered by the Clean Air Act.  Ask the folks at TCEQ if we can reach 60-70 ppb, which is what the article seems to see as a reasonable benchmark, and the answer will be no – unless we regulate automobile emissions.  Last time that was tried (in the mid-90s) our state legislators, and the public, shouted it down.  So, the question remains, “how do we get there?” because putting the burden on small business will not be a sustainable or equitable solution.

Scattershooting

Where do I start?  Stock market?  Unemployment? Immigration Reform? My favorite target – PPACA (Obamacare)?  Nah, spring training is just around the corner and the football season is over.  That’s a good place to start as the Boys of Summer start gathering in Florida and Arizona.  As always I’ll be following the Texas Rangers and hoping that the spate of injuries to their pitching staff, which started last year, will not be debilitating.  I’m especially looking forward to having the Prince (Fielder) at first base.  And of course, I’ll be watching to see what the Boys in Blue (LA Dodgers) and their bloated payroll will be doing on the Left Coast.

There was a group in Canada that for a short time was probably the most profitable print producer in the world.  Too bad that the Secret Service and RCMP caught up with them.  They were printing bogus bills using offset equipment, as well as specially treating the paper and using sophisticated finishing to make the bills “real.”  Regardless, as with many sketchy ventures, they got caught as did over 2,000 people last year attempting to find a way to easy street.   More here.

So, now that we know (do we really?) that 2 million folks are going to tune-in and drop out of the work force because of PPACA, is that a good thing or a bad thing.  One side of me says it might not be a bad thing for the folks who want to work on a part-time basis and can now have access to health care.  Another side of me says the spin doctors in Washington got it wrong – again.  The original prediction was 800,000 people, but then again those same folks said that we could keep our existing health insurance.  The problem being is that NO ONE really knows what this major change to our healthcare system will do.  We will have losers and winners, but it’s not going to be cheaper!

What’s Quad up to?  Last year it was the acquisition of Vertis and yesterday they announced the acquisition of UniGraphic a large commercial printer on the East Coast.  Craig Faust, Quad/Graphics president of their commercial/specialty division stated, “UniGraphic serves the East Coast from two strategically located facilities featuring leading-edge capabilities such as Web-to-print and on-demand services for static and variable print, as well as the latest technology for producing large-format signs and point-of-purchase displays. This is an ideal platform on which we can better service our existing client base, as well as grow by providing a more robust national footprint.”   Read more.

Although much of the industry is oblivious to patent infringement, it may not be for long.  There are several dozen printers, many in Texas and Tennessee, locked up in battle with a firm (non-practicing entity is the legal phrase, a.k.a. patent troll) who purchased a patent originally developed by a now defunct printing company. The troll is demanding fees in excess of $50,000 of firms using digital technology (workflow) to produce printing plates.  The patent is equipment agnostic and today’s patent laws favor the troll.

How these firms fare over the next few months, in what may be a very unpleasant legal fight, will dictate if this troll decides that there are 20,000+ victims waiting to be fleeced, or that their time could be spent better somewhere else.

The Mobile World

In the technology world, everyone is talking about Big Data and how it and mobile have the potential to change the world of communication.  It’s a given that we’ll be able to connect at anytime, anywhere, but the marketers are drooling over the potential to sell product.   Walk by a store and your mobile device (glasses, watch, implant, or for the elderly, a phone) will notify you about a specific product of interest which is available or on sale.  It has the technologist a buzz.

Concurrent with all of this buzz, we have another set of messages assailing us.  The NSA fiasco along with troubles with security theft at Target, Neiman-Marcus, and per the FBI, a possible 20 other similar attacks on major retailers, point to the dark side of this technology.  To me the BIG question which needs to be answered – will people embrace this world of communications, or will they hunker down and refuse to play.

I think that the genie has been let out of the bottle, and we’re not going to go back to the world of paper checks and newspapers, but it does cast a light on a variety of major hurdles marketers must consider prior to jumping on the “everything mobile” bandwagon.  If you are in the world of visual communications (yes, that includes print), you need to read “Mining For Mobile Data” in the latest issue of “Marketing Insights” published by the American Marketing Association.  Written by Joan Mancuso and Karen Stuth, it explores the concerns about data privacy and research being conducted – and how perceptions of privacy can shape/should shape marketing decisions.  It well worth reading — and exploring the questions raised with your internal team and clients.

Commoditization In Full Force

I was doing a bit of surfing on industry links today and ran across a printer in Florida offering business cards for free.  Normally I ignore these types of messages, but on a whim decided to check it out.  The company’s promo copy stated, “The customers can now get 50 percent off on calendar printing with costless shipping, 40 percent off on post card printing, brochure printing, bumper stickers and label printings. On the top of this, we are also offering 35 percent off on catalogue and booklet printing. This will enable customers to avail our highly experienced and exceptional quality printing services at affordable rates.”

Granted, it may be possible that this company is making money with this kind of pricing, especially if they’re using the jewelry model of pricing.  The retail price has an outrageous markup and the 50% going out of business sale tag on the item still has plenty of margin.  No, what concerned me is the whole idea of “we’re cheap and we provide great quality.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard this story dozens of times over the years – and all it does is create a race to the bottom.  More so today because in the past only a handful (relatively speaking) of buyers heard the message.  Today that message of “print is CHEAP” is being shouted from the mountain tops.  Oh, and those companies who were “cheap” and offered “great quality” didn’t survive for long.

See Ya In Court

When is a non-compete agreement enforceable?  It depends, as I was reminded the other day while sitting in courtroom as an expert witness.

Although not common place in the printing industry, we are seeing more and more firms who are “migrating” into the industry use them — and struggle.  As is often the case, even in Texas and Missouri which permit non-compete agreements, the courts don’t go out of their way to enforce them.  If the covenant is drafted in such a way as to preclude the employee from working at all within the industry, courts will not support the document. Thus, language stating that an employee could not work within 35 miles for any printing firm, or have terms much longer than 12 months, could be suspect.  Courts will be friendlier to the agreement if it is specific.  In the case of a sales rep, language that precludes the sales rep from calling on any accounts after they leave may not be enforceable, but language stating they cannot call on accounts developed while working under contract could be. But there are no guarantees.  Ask any good business attorney.

Here’s a good article to review if you are considering — or using — a non-compete agreement. AND always have an attorney develop these agreements and review them on a regular basis.  More importantly, remember that if you are going to enforce these agreements, you will end up in court. It won’t be cheap, and there’s no guarantee as to the contract’s viability.

Troll Bashing

This past Tuesday, PIA’s Michael Makin made a trip to Washington D.C. to testify at the Senate’s Judiciary Committee hearing on “Protecting Small Businesses and Promoting Innovation by Limiting Patent Troll Abuse.”  Kudos to Lisbeth Lyons, PIA’s Government Affairs VP for pulling the right strings to get Michael in front of the Committee.  He was the only individual representing small businesses at the hearing.

Michael did an excellent job of making it clear that this type of patent “protection” is really more similar to a protection racket run by the mob than protecting someone’s intellectual property.  Makin’s statement to Senator Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, says it all, “Keep in mind Mr. Chairman that patent trolls do not innovate.  They do not promote economic growth. They do not contribute to education and scientific research.  Most importantly patent trolls do not create jobs. Our businesses do.”

Now comes the arduous process of crafting legislation which will pair up with the House’s recently passed Innovation Act.  One can hope that our representatives can get the right balance of protection for both patent holders and businesses.  Right now it’s fairly one-sided.

Media Wars

Over the past few years, it seems like the print industry has been fighting a constant battle to prove that print is a valuable media. Remember, we’re not the only ones in the media wars.  Radio and broadcast TV are fighting for their place in the food chain, as are many of the “traditional” cable folks as Netflix and Amazon are starting to enter the fray.  It’s a complicated and rapidly changing world – but there are still plenty of opportunities.  Just to keep things in perspective, check out this YouTube message from our publishing friends from across the pond.  Make sure to see the entire message.