Supremes Get It Right

On Monday, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a specialized appeals court had followed incorrect legal standards – for almost 30 years.  The end game of this decision is that patent holders can no longer shop for a “friendly” venue to file patent infringements.  It was this type of shopping that helped non-practicing entities (patent trolls) victimize the printing industry several years ago.

Although this may be a bit late for our industry, it’s a beneficial move since legislation has been stymied for the past four years because of partisanship and special interests.  Supremes — you rock!

Really?

This morning (Tuesday, July 12, 2016) Bloomberg reported that Xerox is in talks to acquire R.R. Donnelley.  Really??? Xerox has always had a hate/love relationship with many in the commercial and quick print industry.  Some  print providers saw Xerox as a direct competitor in managing “in-house” document centers which would move business out of the commercial space, and others did not like the fact that Xerox was selling equipment to both the commercial/print-for-pay firms while also selling to corporate end-users.  Many print providers saw, and continue to see, Xerox as a valued supplier.  Yet, this announcement may indicate that Xerox has decided to cross the Rubicon and position itself as a print provider rather than a manufacturer of equipment.  I’m perplexed by this announcement and will be curious to see how this all plays out.

White Space

There’s a new phrase I ran across in an online article from Andy Plata’s Output Links – White Space Management.  Not one to get carried away with wonky management du jour philosophies, I started to ignore it and go back to aimlessly deleting emails.  Then, I thought, “What the heck is White Space Management?”

Per the article, “In business management terms ‘white space’ is a process management concept. It was described by Rummler and Brache in the 90’s as the area between the boxes in an organizational chart where no one is in charge, and yet is the place where an organization has the greatest potential for improvement.  In essence, manage the white space effectively and you can improve an organization’s overall performance!”

Okay.  It’s an interesting concept but given the size of most companies (small) in our industry, I don’t see it as a crucial management topic.  Then I continued to read the article, which was written by Crawford Technologies and directed readers to their blog – Reducing Document Production Costs is So Last Decade.  That got a bit more interesting.

Although the article is directed at corporate communication/inplant operations managers, and it’s a bit of an infomercial, there’s a lot of fodder there for folks in the commercial world.  It reflects the continual challenges large companies have with internal communications as well as messaging to their clients via transactional printing.

It brought to mind what a consulting friend of mine (non-print) stated in a recent conversation.  In a commoditized business (yes, that’s us), differentiation is crucial, and the role of consultative selling is vastly important, which means we need to know more about a client’s business than they do.  And more the reason to read this article, and peel back the onion.  There are potential nuggets of opportunities for a print provider if they expand the way they look at the world of print/paper.

Check This Out

When was the last time you used a check to make a payment?  Odds are if you’re under 40, it’s been awhile.  That trend is being reflected in the announcement made this week by Harland Clarke of the planned closing of their “base” plant in San Antonio.  A facility which to my knowledge has been in operation for over 40 years.

As we all know, it’s a sign of the times.  With the continued use of electronic tools and the internet, the day of the paper check is waning.  In Harland Clarke’s case, digital print engines are much more capable of doing the job that utilized legacy offset equipment.

Yet, for many there are still opportunities.  Visit Harland’s site and you see how the company has diversified and is no longer a “legacy” print company.  They were able to see a door opening when others saw doors closing.

 

 

Expanding Markets

I was catching up on my readings and read “Printed Electronics – Salvation or Snake Oil” by Bruce Kahn published in PIA’s “The Magazine” earlier this year.  I really liked Mr. Kahn’s brutal honesty on this topic.  As he stated, “I have been involved in printed electronics for over 10 years. In every one of those years, pundits, prognosticators, and soothsayers predicted great things for the future, particularly the near future, most frequently ‘next year’.”

Although he did a nice job of making the reader consider that which glitters is not always gold, I felt he could have gone further and reminded the audience that too often we think of technology as the product rather than as a tool to create a successful business.

In the case of printed electronics AND 3D printing, these technologies are not really printing – they are enhanced forms of manufacturing.  Consequently, the target audience for that product is not normally people who buy print – and that’s where many of these soothsayers and futurists go astray in challenging our industry to expand into these markets.  Yes, some print providers may have the know-how to make the technology work, but what is required are customers who buy – in serious amounts – what they are capable of producing. It also requires a sales force capable of selling in that market space.  This is a MAJOR challenge. One just needs to see the uphill battle the industry (as a whole) has experienced in having established sales reps sell digital printed products.

Does that mean printers should just fold up their tents and go away?  NO.  It means we need to focus on the fact that our industry is an integral part of the channels used in marketing products and providing information.  That’s where our focus should be – not necessarily manufacturing technologies which happen to have “printing” in their title.

Big Data

Boy did I get an eye opener this past Wednesday.  I attended the Greater Dallas PCC meeting and heard a presentation from Mike Hail. Hail is the founder of Knowledgebase Marketing, former CEO of market research firm Yankelovich, Skelly and White, and current CEO of Web Decisions Group.

While I’m not a novice on the topic of Big Data, Hail’s presentation helped open my eyes to the sheer mass of data being created.  As Mike pointedly stated, all of man’s written material would consume 50 Petratbyes of data.  Google captures 20 Petrabytes of data on a daily basis.

He went on to share how his company (and probably others) are going about mining that data and the ability to transform how we communicate.  Some of the potential is very interesting while other aspects are a bit scary from a privacy perspective.

Regardless, I challenge anyone who reads this blog to do a bit of research on this topic – and watch it closely.  There’s a lot of potential for those firms who are able to tame this monster – or at least cage it!

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.

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.

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.

Vegas

I’m presently looking at the stark mountain range west of Las Vegas from the 32nd floor of a hotel.  102 miles to the west is Death Valley one of the most desolate areas of the world.  Below me is the Mecca of Sin, as some see it.   Others view it as Disneyland for adults.

It’s been about five years since I have been here, and it’s amazing the amount of changes which have occurred.  More hotels.  More entertainment.  More things to do.  Yet, what has not changed is the pace of Vegas.  The hype.  The energy.  And there’s been plenty of energy – and learning – at this year’s EFI Connect, which I’ve been fortunate to attend.

The focus of the conference is product centric – similar to HP’s DScoop — but there was plenty of good solid information.  More importantly it was the opportunity for management teams to meet and network with others who are living the world of implementing management systems and digital workflow. Talking to someone face-to-face in a collaborative manner is still the best way to communicate and learn.

One of the most interesting points of the past two days, given EFI’s core business in MIS software, was a discussion I had with several folks regarding production standards, BHRs, and sales comp.  It seems I was having these same conversations over 30 years ago – and the importance of these issues have not paled.  Our tools have become much more sophisticated, and we have a lot more information and data, but the base issues still remain the same.  Do we REALLY understand what the data is telling us?  And HOW are we going to use it?  The more things change ……