Losing A Legend

This week the printing industry lost one of its best with the passing of Jerry Williamson.  A consummate gentleman and die-hard Texan, Jerry was someone you never forgot after meeting him. He had a stately way of greeting you and his drawl quickly told you where he had grown up.

The memories I have of Jerry revolve around the passion he had for the printing industry.  He was heavily involved with Printing Industries of America (PIA) and Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF), which were merged under his leadership as PIA’s Chairman in 2000. Yet, probably more important for the industry, was the time he spent each year spearheading the Texas delegation of industry leaders who met with Congressman and Senators.  He knew many of our North Texas legislators and always opened the meeting asking about their family, which was extremely important to Jerry.  He would then succinctly discuss the issues at hand and the reasons specific legislation would help/hurt North Texas business and their employees.

In the years I had the opportunity to work with Jerry, I learned a lot. Our industry is better off because of his passion and caring, but we are all going to miss his gentlemanly ways and passion for our Country and all things Texan.


Wage Data

Although we’ve seen some short-term slowing in industry sales, we are continuing to see a variety of labor shortages across the industry with increasing wage pressure in various areas of the industry. Now’s a good time to do a scan on your wage and benefit structure.

If you don’t know where to go for this information, talk to your local PIA Affiliate.  Each summer these organizations survey their membership and the results are a unique tool reporting data on over 100 job positions (management through shipping) as well as benefits and policies. Rather than guessing what trends are occurring, this survey will provide significant information – and if you are a PIA member — at a very affordable cost.

Summer Doldrums?

In talking to folks in the industry, it seems that Summer came early this year.  Nope, not talking about temperatures.  In conversations with dozens of print providers and industry experts, first quarter of ’17 was very slow across the US and 2nd quarter doesn’t look much better.

Given that GDP growth at present is not strong and there’s a lot of instability in Washington (duh), many firms are cutting back and/or holding off on marketing dollars.  It makes sense, but it does affect firms in our industry.

What to do?

First don’t panic.  There’s been enough cost-cutting over the past years – and once those cuts occur; there’s no going back.  Now’s a good time to do some serious short-term strategic thinking.  Review your present accounts.  Look at the industry’s they represent.  What are the upsides/downsides of those industries?  Review your profit margins (ignore what the job jackets say – look at contribution dollars) for those accounts.  What accounts have greater potential?  What industry’s look good?  Then take a good hard look at your sales team.  Who’s producing?  Who’s not?  Are they concerned and wishing to make changes, or just want to keep on riding dead horses?

This kind of analysis should be done on a quarterly basis – and if you don’t have this type of data – it’ll take some work to put together – but you’ll find the result extremely rewarding.  And should make for a much better 3rd and 4th quarter.

Now The Fun Starts . . .

The Administration has been looking a lot like “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight” the past few weeks.  Everyone inside the Beltway is out to get them and self-inflicted tweets from the Big Guy doesn’t help.  With the budget’s details coming out over the next week and with the many “interesting” changes — deep cuts to taxes and social programs along with a healthy belief in supply-side economics — this Administration needs to be focused on legislation rather than “other” issues.

I read a recent op-ed from Karl Rove in yesterday’s (Thursday May 18) “Wall Street Journal,” and whether you consider him a Sith Lord, or a brilliant political tactician, it’s an opinion worth reading.  His key point was that the the Comey/Russian mess has become a major distraction.  Rove stated, “This presidency has reached a critical moment.  For months, true-blue Trump supporters grimaced at tweets and winced at needless controversies, but stood firm. Now many are questioning whether their man is up to the job.  Mr. Trump will not restore their confidence with the behavior he’s shown so far.”

Although I don’t agree with some of this Administration’s direction, I think that the President represents a significant portion of our country and those thoughts should be debated and if they have value should become part of country’s legislative fabric. And if found wanting, then we move forward as we have for the past 240 years.

Now It’s Your Turn

It seems like years ago – hmm, yet it was – that I was decrying the problems with Obamacare.  In my mind, it was never “affordable” and it was going gnat hunting with a 30-06 rifle.  In retrospect, it was President Obama and the Democratic party looking for a way to create a universal (single-payer) health care system.  The result, as far as I’m concerned, was a health system that was turned on its head and accelerated costs to the nearly 90% of the population which were paying premiums (employers and their employees), plus created another “we’ll figure it out down the road” entitlement program.

In fairness, it dealt with one big issue ignored by many – the problem of how we deal with a system based on the ability to pay.  If you worked for a large wealthy employer (or were in a strong union), you had a very “rich” health insurance program.  If you worked for a small employer, you had no coverage, or at best, a meager plan.  Then, there were the folks who couldn’t afford health insurance.  Although the number of un-insured is in the millions, it represents a very SMALL part of our society.  Yet, we turned the system upside down for that group.

Now, it’s the Republican’s turn to muck it up.

As a long-time user of employer-provided health insurance, and as an executive who was intimately involved with providing health coverage for thousands of individuals, I’m concerned about the Republican plan.  First, millions will lose financial support and possibly coverage – regardless of “there’ll be more choice” rhetoric from Speaker Ryan.  For me, this is a poor decision from a socially conscious perspective, as well as a political one. Second, pushing through the Republican plan without strong deliberation and discussion is a failure of leadership.  Not the political leadership of winning at all costs, but leadership of doing what’s best for ALL Americans.

Health care for many, should not be in the prevue of the government.  Yet, whether we like it or not, the government has been in that business for decades – and it’s not going to change.  I understand that the horse has left the barn, but let’s not burn the barn down to prove that our way is the best.  As with any problem, there are multiple solutions.  Although I may be an idealist on this issue, I would like to see a comprehensive approach to fixing our health care system. Taxes.  Insurance providers.  Existing entitlement programs.  Health care providers as well as hospitals.  Repealing and/or replacing Obamacare, or ignoring the systemic issues of health care will not be in the best interest of the American public. The main question remains — does the Trump Administration or the Congressional leadership have the creativity to take on a true leadership role – or just play to its politically vocal base and just kick the ball down the road?

Wine & Print

This morning I was completing an article for one of the PIA Affiliates when I realized that my blogging had gone dark for a few months.  Although I have had plenty to say – much of it political – I felt that the blogosphere had enough of rants and raves on politics.  All I can say is that the next 120 days should be “interesting.”

One of the unique pleasures of my new career (semi-retirement) was that it afforded my wife and I a 10-day trip to California late last year. We started in Los Angeles and for the next week and half put over 600 miles on our rental car.  We drove up the coast all the way to Mendocino (my wife grew up just south of there) with our good friends John and Kathie.

Since all of us had been to Napa and Sonoma in past years, we decided to see the “not-so-famous” areas of Santa Ynez, Paso Robles, Carmel Valley, Healdsburg, and of course, Anderson Valley.  Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip – and a reminder of the role print plays in communication.

As all of us know, packaging will continue to play a key role in visual communications for decades to come.  All of this was obvious with the different labels which we saw at over 16 wineries.  What was a pleasant surprise was the collateral material we discovered at every stop.  Some of it as simple as a six-panel folder, while others were complex marketing pieces.  Granted the wine industry isn’t supporting the entire California print industry, but it reminded me of the key role  print continues to play in this world of self-driving cars, virtual headsets, and Amazon’s Alexa (topic for another time!).

What Now?

That’s the question many are asking themselves two days after one of the most contentious elections in recent history.  I was going to stay away from any commentary, but after the barrage of news and discussions with friends and associates, I once again became a moth drawn to the flame.

If you are a Trump backer, you’re excited about the possibilities to “Make America Great Again.”  If you were a Hillary supporter, you’re still in shock of how this could have happened.  And then there’s a whole bunch of folks (and I include myself in that group) who want to see a different Donald Trump.  One who is willing to move his agenda forward, and yet remember that a 50/50 split in the electorate is not a mandate.

As many have said, “the people have spoken,” but it’s the 535 individuals in Congress plus the President’s cabinet and administration who govern, and that group is not very homogeneous.  Odds are that the majority of those folks are not in Mr. Trump’s camp; thus, how he approaches Congress (and all the other power brokers) over the next few months and into 2017 will be critical to OUR country’s future.

We’ll see a different nominee for the Supreme Court, and we will see different paths taken by the regulatory agencies (EPA, OSHA, etc.), but those are not as crucial as how this new Administration will respond to healthcare, immigration, and more importantly, foreign affairs. Yes, I know what’s been said by President-elect Trump, but saying and doing are very different as every President of the United States has discovered.

How will this play out for the printing/graphics/mailing/visual imaging industry and the thousands of firms and millions of employees?  Difficult to say since so many of those firms are small businesses, and no one was really talking about small business during the campaign. Read Mark Michelson’s article on the subject and the comments made by Michael Makin and Mark Nuzzaco, neither of whom are strangers to Washington D.C.

Yet, let us not forget that every one of those businesses will be affected since they are comprised of individuals.  Those employees and their families will see changes to their personal well-being because of the new administration.  For the good.  For the worse.  I remain cautiously optimistic for the first option.

It’s All About Selling

I just finished reading two articles of interest.  The first by Robert Byrne who is Mimeo’s CMM (Content Marketing Manager) titled “How The Printing Industry is Ripe for Disruption Through On-demand Digital Printing Adoption.” The second by Dr. Joe Webb titled “Traditional Publishing Ebbs, and Oh, Those CMOs.”

What I find of interest is there perspective.  Byrne is an individual who cut his teeth on the fast-moving world of digital content and marketing.  Webb is the grizzled industry veteran who is known for his economic discussions, but is a marketer at heart.

In Webb’s article, my takeaway is the need for a print provider’s sales team to focus on helping customers define their needs and provide solutions with a positive ROI – because marketers are struggling with all the varying channels to create more sales.  In Byrne’s article, my takeaway is the need to embrace the technological solutions.  It’s what Paul Reilly (New Direction Partners) calls “Proprietary Customer Interface.”  The ability to create customer solutions which are supported by online technology.

If you were to read the articles separately – or just viewed the world from those single perspectives, I feel you would miss opportunities.  Technology has always been the core of the industry, it just looks different today than 30 years ago.  For the vast majority of the industry (and their clients), online solutions have to be supported by knowledgeable and competent sales individuals.  Technology alone is not the solution.   If one is to look back at the print providers (or whatever you want to call them) who have succeeded over the past 30 years, there success is built on being able to sell solutions — and merge the right technology.  It’s always been that way — just ask Johannes Gutenberg, who ended up in bankruptcy.

FedEx Is A Player

If anyone needs a reminder of the role print still plays, just take a look at FedEx/Office’s recently announced purchase –  1,800 Canon imagePRESS C700 color devices along with 1,400 HP DesignJet T3500 wide format printers. Although FedEx is not seen as a “commercial” printer by many in the industry, and their sales don’t show up in Department of Commerce data for the printing industry, they are a significant player.

As a company press release stated, “Our customers rely on us to provide the tools and technology they need to be successful and differentiate themselves from their competitors,” says Kim Dixon, executive VP and COO, FedEx Office. “The early feedback from our customers has been fantastic. They are thrilled with the vibrancy and quality of their color prints and large-format documents.”

Although this information may not portend well for many of the smaller firms in our industry, it reminds us that print is still an important channel of communications and there continues to be business opportunities.

Does Bernie Have It Right?

Over the years, I have become more and more cynical about our financial system – not that it’s a bad one, but one that tends to be too self-serving.  The Boys of Wall Street have a win-win game they play.  If you’re in the banking/investment industry, too often there is no downside.  Markets go up – you make money.  Markets go down – you still make money.  Try that in business – small business.  It doesn’t work that way.  Thus, the folks on the Street become insulated from the real world of people and basic economics, and I for one feel that’s not good for us.  If you want to look at a similar situation, look no further to the Fantasyland on The Potomac (Washington D.C.).  Too insular. And too much in control of our destinies.

Do I sound like one of Bernie’s followers?  Nope, his solutions aren’t the right ones – but he definitely brings up issues which should concern all of us.  Is there a simple solution?  NO, and that’s where the electorate (on the Trump and Sanders side) don’t get it. I hope that people can look at this complex web we have weaved over decades of regulatory and societal changes and realize that a “quick” fix, if possible, would be disastrous.   Any changes that will come from this next election will be slow to occur – and as much as I don’t like what I see from any of the candidates, I’m looking forward to slow. Let’s hear it for the turtles!