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Where’s it all headed?

Jul 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Gorelick’s Management

When asked to describe the future of this industry, the majority of owners and managers will couch their response in terms of technology, the impact of general economic conditions, and/or rampant commoditization and intense price competition. Most of these responses are devoid of vision and tend to ignore the needs and challenges of the marketplace.

This issue of the future of the industry is of great (and understandable) concern to younger members of the work force who have been bombarded for a decade with predictions about the erosion—if not the disappearance—of print. Also, the disappearance of many graphic arts companies during recent years and layoffs in many companies have made employees skittish about the future of the industry. They can’t be blamed.

The future of print
Harsh as it might seem, I believe the industry has done a sorry job of selling itself to its own employees while, at the same time, creating councils and committees to try to sell the glory and riches to be had by entering the graphic arts industry.

The councils and committees proselytizing potential converts to our industry have, in my opinion, demonstrated a poor understanding of sales and account development. Who cares about the size of the graphic arts industry relative to employment in the steel or automobile industry? The key issue is the benefits that would accrue to a talented person joining our industry.

The future of our industry seems clear to me. It’s ordained. Digitization has changed everything. Preparation of artwork solely for print is becoming a distant memory. Print is one of many forms of electronic data ouput. One can argue that this invites competition for print, that it makes print easily accessible to customers and removes the element of craftsmanship. That’s true.

It’s also true that the Internet has become the medium of information—replacing much of the printing of manuals, directories, schedules, price lists, parts lists, etc.—while print has become the primary medium of promotion. This development is more than an idle observation. It is critical to those who seek an understanding of the future of print.

Integrated marketing communications
Yours truly and others have written and spoken extensively in recent years about the concept of IMC—integrated marketing communications. The graphic arts industry generally has greeted this concept with a giant yawn, but an understanding of IMC is critical to the future of the industry. It involves a paradigm shift on behalf of many—if not most—print companies.

The concept: Use of multiple media carrying or implying the same basic, differentiated message will have a "multiplier effect." For example, one communication, such as a direct mail piece, will have an effect of 1x. Two media with the same coordinated message, such as direct mail followed by a phone call, might have an effect of 3x. Three communication methods, such as direct mail, a follow-up phone call and a trade show, might have an impact of 7x.

The inexorable evolution of the graphic arts industry has begun. Print companies need to quit thinking of themselves as print manufacturers.

The bad news: Printing companies might experience the fact that their customers are becoming competitors.

The good news: Technology will almost always migrate to the customer faster than the ability to use it wisely.

Herein lies the opportunity, if not the future, of the graphic arts industry. Printing companies need to define themselves as business development companies for their customers that happen to have presses. Print needs to be viewed as a weapon in a broader arsenal, with each communication vehicle (Web site, e-mail, retail store, call center, CD-ROM, broadcast, etc.) driving customers to another vehicle in a coordinated manner.

IMC is not just another "fad du jour." Recent studies support the concept that marketers can benefit from using multiple media. A catalog can drive consumers to the Internet. In fact, almost two-thirds of consumers ordering certain products online had an open catalog in front of them when placing the order.

A graphic arts company’s adherence to and effective implementation of IMC requires a style of selling not traditionally practiced in our industry. A supplier must first be conversant with a client’s business, not simply printing, needs. Solution selling must transcend print.

Given this explanation, many print company executives have told me, "You’re asking us to become an agency." I don’t think so. The reality is that print can no longer be viewed as a discreet craft or communication vehicle out of context with other media. The future of print is bright: It virtually stands alone as the only mass, largely unregulated intrusive medium, a vehicle for exposing a message to someone who did not specifically ask to see it.

Dick Gorelick is president of Gorelick & Associates and the Graphic Arts Sales Foundation. He can be reached at

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