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Decision points

Sep 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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“Decision Points 2006” was the theme for the 54th Annual Web Offset Management and Technical Conference held at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, this May. And new event planning decisions made by the Web Offset Assn. (WOA) board of directors and supplier advisory board were evident.

As a veteran attendee of WOA conferences, this year's offering combined the traditional sessions with some fresh ideas. The new material included a series of seminars throughout the conference that promoted implementing Six Sigma in combination with lean manufacturing systems. Attendees who attended one general session and three CI breakout sessions received a Certificate of Completion. It was a good concept led by Dr. Stephen Zinkgraf, CEO of Sigma Breakthrough Technologies, Inc. (San Marcos, TX).

One other major new effort went toward keeping attendees in attendance through the final Wednesday morning session. This, too, met with success as approximately 250 of the 535 attendees took the time to visit sessions devoted to employment and promoting careers in print. The sessions stressed tips and techniques to increase success in retaining employees. Led by Ron Wolff, senior vice president of sales and sales strategy for Caliper Corp., session attendees were treated to an updated look at performance appraisals, the use of personality profiles and interviewing skills.

Big names, big ideas

Amid this year's innovations, the WOA conference stuck to some of its more traditional approaches. Always known for its celebrity keynote speakers, Steve Forbes, president and CEO of Forbes Inc., took center stage in the opening session.

Forbes delivered a fundamentally optimistic outlook for industry in general and specifically for printers. “The American economy is doing very well,” claimed the magazine executive. “Profits have been growing by one-third over the past three years. Capital expenditures have been growing, especially in small businesses. Inventories are low overall. Never have corporations had as much cash as today.”

Growth can mean disruptive change, Forbes warned, adding, “But print is still going to be a part of the mix, even though it may be sold and marketed differently.” Forbes illustrates this principle with a reference to Forbes magazine, pointing out that the publication is put online the day it goes to press. In spite of that online version, print readership has increased slightly.

Jeff Jacobson, president of graphic solutions and services, and chief operating officer for Kodak's Graphic Communications Group, also delivered a message of optimism and faith in the printing industry. “This is an exciting time to be in printing, but it is a great time to be in the web offset industry. All over the economy, businesses are engaged in a fierce struggle for brand recognition and market share. That means opportunity. Companies have to communicate with their markets, and print is an essential part of that communication.”

Jacobson went on to describe some dangers. “There's one thing you have to watch out for, above all: Don't be afraid to change. You will have to change. Your business will have to change. You may have to fundamentally restructure the way you run your company. Print means shorter runs, more versioning and digital.

“The better you understand your customers and your market, the better you'll understand their decision points.” Jacobson concluded. “Be part of the decision, and you and your customers will find ways to prosper together.”

Ideas for the future

Although rapid changes have hit the graphic arts industry, some aspects of the WOA conference are stuck in the past. This group apparently does not see business casual attire as appropriate, resulting in a sea of men in dark suits. Don't get me wrong — it's a good conference even with the conservative dress code. But it certainly does send a message about the “stodgy” printing industry — a message that could use some updating.

And, just for the record, those tutorials that start at 7:00 am harken back to the days when everybody golfed in the afternoon. How about starting those tutorials at 8:00 and having the keynote speakers address a more wakeful crowd at 9:00? That would be a welcome change to any conference.

Jill Roth is special projects editor for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at