Happy Birthday John Wayne

Yup.  Today is the Duke’s birthday.  For many of us, he was the persona of the American individual.  Rough. Rugged. Independent.  The roles he played in movies such as “The Quiet Man,” “The Searchers,” “True Grit,” were reflective of our parent’s generation – and influenced many Baby Boomers.  Do your job.  Support your family.  Live your life for the greater good.  Granted seen through the lens of time, many of his films may not be perceived as politically correct, but it reflects the world as many lived it in that era.

Contrast those aspects with today’s need to broadcast to the world what I had for lunch and the need for everyone to be on the cover of “Rolling Stone,” as well as the mandate for political correctness.  Yes, I’m started to sound like a dinosaur, but there are many aspects of what I remember of The Duke’s films and what he represented which many in our society could reflect upon.  Happy Birthday Marion Morrison!

Balance — It’s Not a Bad Thing

“May you live interesting times,” states the ancient Chinese curse.  Although I think that today we live in times which are more than “interesting.” We face the Russian Bear once again, as well as a China which is not only militarily strong, but also economically dominant.  We are in the midst of economic doldrums which have spanned nearly seven years, and we face a political landscape which gets more and more polarized daily.  We see a Middle East that is becoming more explosive and threatening as the fervor of religious animosity raises its ugly head all over the world.

Many lash out at the perceived and real threats and become more staunch in their beliefs.  Others adapt by ignoring the “real” world and immerse themselves in today’s technologies and live their life as a digital avatar or through the voyerism of social media. It’s much easier to ignore the world, or scream at it than to find ways to address the issues.

My concern is that we as individuals — and as a country — are becoming isolated behind the  walls we are fabricating.  The solutions are much more complex and require individuals who are willing to see the long-term and accept that the world is no longer what they grew up with.

I hope that over the next 12-18 months as we begin the process of voting for our national leaders, that we become engaged in REAL thinking and analysis and not just repeat the phrases we’ve heard from contemporaries who spin the idealogical mantras of “conservatism” or “liberalism.”

More than ever we need balance in our complex world.  Being a moderate shouldn’t be a bad word.

The Thrill Is Gone

Although we lost BB King last week, his iconic song “The Thrill Is Gone” continues to resonate in my head. For any contemporary music lover, the impact B.B. had over the past 40 years is probably as impactful as Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong had on jazz.

I remember first hearing Mr. King live in 1970 in San Luis Obispo. In those days, Cal Poly had about 9,500 students, but it was a good stopping spot for many groups making the trek from L.A. to S.F.  I was able to see legendary musicians such as B.B. King, Jim Morrison (Doors), Four Tops, Temptations, Steve Miller, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane), and many more during my time in that sleepy Central California town.

Yet, it was King who I probably remember the best.  He had been around for a few years and acid rock was in the midst of it’s hey-day.  Many of us were familiar with the name, but really weren’t knowledgeable of his music.  He opened for Steve Miller (a Dallas legend) and between both of them it was a heck of a show.  Miller was an up and coming act, but it was the old man, as I thought of him, who really strutted his stuff.  With the legendary Lucille strapped to his back, he showcased his style of electric blues that made many of us highly appreciative — if not lovers — of that form of music.

B.B. King may be gone — but the thrill of his music will be with me forever.

List Management

More and more print buyers are beginning to realize the potential of direct mail in conjunction with digital media, as well as the power of variable data printing.  Much of that has to do with a variety of awareness campaigns created by the industry manufacturers (Xerox, HP, Canon, etc.) as well as print providers who are realizing the necessity to sell the value of print rather than the technology of print.  Yet, there’s one facet of all of this that is probably not being addressed as it should be — list management, both in terms of postal issues as well as content.

In a member presentation this past Tuesday, Ronnie Ewers with EQ3 touched on a variety of issues on the postal front which can cost firms significant dollars.  How significant?  He used the example of a very large mailing client whose savings in postage was in seven figures.  How were the savings gained?  It took sophisticated list scrubbing and an understanding that the USPS system is not perfect in handling NCOA (National Change of Address).  It’s not uncommon for many lists to have 8-14% incorrect addressees in a database.

The other issue of course is content. Are data fields being used properly and are they usable in variable projects.  Too often variable print projects never come to fruition because the client’s data is not functional – and opportunities are missed for the client and the print provider.

Everyone talks about Big Data and the business opportunities to target message an audience.  Although if the data is not usable, for whatever reasons, the promise of Big Data is a pipe dream, but I see  glimmers of opportunity.

Why aren’t most print/mail providers working with their client to maximize the power of the data?  One of the major problems might be that the client doesn’t understand there are issues.  It could be that marketing won’t talk to I.T. and I.T. “knows” what they’re doing, and resolving the issue will take senior management’s involvement.  Thus this becomes an issue of “consulting” rather than selling a product.  It does require a different mind-set and possibly individuals with different sets of skills – but the upside could be extraordinary.

Think back to the 1960’s and 70’s.  Who ever thought that folks would want to “rent” computer time and outsource those activities?  IBM didn’t see it as part of their business strategy, but a guy by the name of Ross Perot did.

We Hate Business Cards!

Over my career in our great industry, which now spans four decades, one of the products most often treated by disdain by every printer was business cards.  Your prices were always too high and the cards never came out the way the customer envisioned.  Lord forbid if you screwed them up — because if you couldn’t be trusted with a “simple” business card, how could you be trusted with our company’s collateral?

Yet, VistaPrint and other print providers (Printplace.com, Staples, Office Depot, FedEx) have used this and many other “non-sexy” printed products to create a whole new sector of print providers.  Cimpress (VistaPrints parent company) is taking this success to another whole level.  As a recent online article in Printing Impressions stated, they are focused on serving “the marketing needs of the small, micro businesses and consumers who want to boast collateral that reaches the professional level of Corporate America.”

Check out this article to see what Cimpress (VistaPrints parent) is up to. Interesting reading.

Words and Images

I was viewing a recent interview that Mark Michelson, Printing Impressions, conducted with Thomas Quinlan, RR Donnelley’s CEO.  In explaining RRD’s strategy, Quinlan stated they were in the words and images business and their role was to synchronize their customer efforts with the varying media.  Words & Images.  I like it.

The day prior I was reading a Wall Street Journal article titled “Retailers Can’t Shake Their Circular Habit.”  It dealt with free standing inserts and the author’s premise was that retailers were “stuck” [my word] using expensive print using an anachronistic form of publishing – newspapers!  Yet, when one really reads what the author was saying — and I don’t think she did our industry justice – the reason the retailers continue to use print is BECAUSE IT’S MORE EFFECTIVE than digital and social media!

So, let’s hear it for words & images – in all its forms.

Just Around The Corner

Spring training is now in full swing, which means that the Boys of Summer will soon be playing in earnest.  Yet, I feel like Punxsutawney Phil, who just saw his shadow. Is spring ever going to show up?

I’m looking out my window at about 4″ of snow overlaying ice.  Granted this is not unusual for North Texas, but for the last three weeks we’ve had more freezing weather than we deserve.  Send it to Buffalo.  Send it to Chicago. They’re used to it and they’re lacking baseball teams.  Although in fairness to Cub fans, there actually may be glimmers of hope in ’15.

So, let’s get the season started.  It’s the time of year when everyone is excited about their team and there are dreams of a season lasting until October.  Play ball!

Billion Dollar Broker

This past week industry power-house InnerWorkings announced it reached $1 Billion in annual sales.  Their motto of “We make marketing happen” is one that should truly resonate with print providers, yet very few firms have been able to execute at this level.

The concept of a print management company (or if you prefer the old-fashioned moniker – print broker) succeeding to this extent was unheard of 20 years ago, and 13 years ago when the company was founded, most folks would have laughed you out of the room if you suggested that they could generate even 1/10 of their present annual sales.

For me, the InnerWorkings success says a lot about how print buying has changed in that time.  Over the past 15 years, while many print providers were struggling with the question of should we go digital or remain offset, this company was taking advantage of how corporate America was changing.  The buyer could care less (although they didn’t always say it) as to what kind of press you were using.  All they wanted was a competitive price and their print problems to go away.  InnerWorkings made it happen because their vision went beyond ink on paper and focused on managing the logistics of print, and it didn’t hurt that they also were able to make the industry’s over-capacity work for them. They’ve become the low cost producer for distributed enterprises who see print as a commodity.

Although I still think our DNA is one of a manufacturing industry, the success of InnerWorkings tells us how much the industry has changed from being purely manufacturing centric to becoming more customer centric.  Therein lies the kernel of truth of how to succeed in the 21st century of visual communications.  It’s more about providing solutions than it’s about being a manufacturer of print.

To Regulate or Not to Regulate

OK, I’ll admit at first I wasn’t too excited about this topic of Net Neutrality.  I liked things the way they were.  Limited regulations and free enterprise. Good things I thought, but then I started to do a bit of reading and talking to my son.   James grew up (professionally) during the dot com days of Silicon Valley and makes his living in that world. He is a proponent for net neutrality and was upset with the folks in Congress who “didn’t get it.”

I also started paying attention to my rising telecomm costs at my office and at home.  I also noted that there were more and more mergers in the world of telecommunications and less and less competitors.  Hmmm.

Although I’m not one for regulations, I think I concur with the FCC on this issue.  Utilities (or services which are utilized by the vast majority of our country — and dominated by a handful of companies) need to be regulated.  Otherwise, it’s my observation, that the smaller companies and folks who don’t have the deep pockets get forced out of the markets.  Talk to the young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, and you’ll see that they support net neutrality – because they want availability to the opportunities that a regulated system could provide.  The companies who are beginning to dominate the channels want to dictate the terms of access – and they speak about open markets and efficiencies.  But is this best for us?  Is this best for creating new markets and allowing the world of communications to grow?  Is this good for small business?

Congress is going to become involved in this and it behooves everyone in our industry – who utilize these pipelines of information every day – to contact their legislator and speak up.  I for one think that net neutrality is good for business.

Let’s Play Two

This past week, baseball lost another legend — Mr. Ernie Banks, a.k.a. Mr Cub.

He was in his prime in the 1950’s and into the early 60’s.  In those days, we didn’t have the 24/7 media connection we have today.  You followed your local heroes and occasionally read about the “other” stars in the newspaper and magazines.  Yet, for many of us kids growing up in those days, Ernie Banks was synonymous with the Chicago Cubs. Mickey Mantle was the Yankees.  Boog Powell was the Orioles and Stan the Man represented the Cardinals.  And of course for us Dodger fans, we had the Duke and an up and coming southpaw called Koufax.

Yup different days.  But the game is still played between the lines and every team has a chance in March. The smell of fresh cut grass; the crack of the fungo; and the snap of a catcher’s glove when the ball strikes hasn’t changed.  That’s what makes baseball such a great game.  So, let’s play two!