BY AARON KIEL
COLD FEET (WARM HEARTS)
PIA and NAPL broke off their engagement but remain good friends and may yet tie the knot.
Uniting the Printing Industries of America (PIA) and National Association of Printing Leadership (NAPL) was first bandied about two decades ago. But the proposal picked up steam earlier this year when the two industry associations formed a special taskforce to explore blending the two organizations and creating an entirely new organization—one that might have even introduced a hybrid local/national membership model.
PIA Chair Laura Lawton-Forsyth, President/Owner of Lawton Printing Services, said a unification discussion was the logical result of tough economic and business realities. Also, conveniently enough, Lawton-Forsyth and then NAPL Chair Darren Loken are practically neighbors in Washington, with the former in Spokane and the latter in Seattle. Thus, the two became co-chairs of the taskforce in February, beginning a journey that’s been the subject of much industry discussion. (Loken just finished his NAPL leadership term and left the printing industry. He could not be reached for comment.)
According to Lawton-Forsyth, the taskforce wanted the new organization to be forward-looking with related services, considerate of new market opportunities for printers, and more nimble, with a smaller board of directors to get things done quickly. “We also wanted it to have architecture that other organizations [such as mailing, marketing or new media associations] could join us, so we wanted to accommodate that.” New NAPL Chair Nigel Worme, CEO of COT Holdings Ltd., in Barbados, concurred: “We wanted one very relevant organization that would provide an umbrella for others to join, providing tremendous benefits for members of our industry.”
On unification, Michael Makin, President/CEO, PIA, said, “It would have been timely and appropriate for the industry.” Joseph P. Truncale, President/CEO of NAPL, didn’t go quite that far, but he did express an underlying unification philosophy: “We will continue to change and modify and help our members transform,” he said.
THE SELFLESS SIX
So why did unification talks end? Lawton-Forsyth said the six-month discussion involved many complexities. For the initial meeting, each co-chair brought three people to the table to create the taskforce. “We had great consensus in February, and all of us stated what we wanted to do,” she said. Throughout the process, various NAPL and PIA staff members were also involved—at all levels. “That couldn’t have been a harder thing to do, as some would more than likely lose their job [if a union were to happen]. I can’t even think of an instance where self-preservation even came up. I have never witnessed staff being so selfless in something that could jeopardize their jobs.”
The taskforce met again in April and included the CEOs of both organizations to look at due diligence for combing the two entities; they also hired an attorney. During this meeting, the participants wrestled to define the model of the new organization. “It started to become evident that structure was going to be a sticking point,” said Lawton-Forsyth. Another meeting followed in June, and a few more stakeholders were added. In July, three PIA affiliate managers met to evaluate the pros and cons, including what NAPL would bring to the table. (NAPL members did not meet separately or submit ideas to the taskforce). According to Lawton-Forsyth, the PIA affiliate meeting generated a “healthy” discussion, but membership structure remained as a key issue.
PROPOSED MEMBERSHIP MODELS
When the taskforce met in August, the team vetted the PIA affiliate ideas, and two more PIA affiliate managers were added to the group. NAPL added a few more people, too. “If we couldn’t come to an agreement on how someone became a member, we couldn’t move forward,” said Lawton-Forsyth.
She described three possible membership models:
1) Direct membership (which NAPL employs)
2) Membership via a local affiliate (which PIA employs)
3) A new hybrid model.
Under the hybrid proposal, one could become a member on the national level, local level or both; the member could determine the most appropriate membership. “I really think [a hybrid] could have had some great traction and some great features,” said Lawton-Forsyth. “The taskforce was behind this, but there wasn’t support.”
PIA representatives were concerned about the impact of direct membership on its affiliates, according to Lawton-Forsyth. She added that NAPL probably faced a similar dilemma. “[On the] flip side, I think it’s hard for NAPL to look at affiliates. It’s hard to justify [such a] radical change.”
MONEY WASN’T THE MOTIVATION
The financial stability of both organizations didn’t prompt unification discussions. “Both groups can remain independent and be financially secure for years to come,” Lawton-Forsyth said. She conceded, however, that sponsorship from the vendor community may impact both associations. “Vendors are being asked to support one or the other or both, and there’s less money to throw around,” said Lawton-Forsyth. “They’re going to have to be choosy with their dollars, and that may drive the two organizations together.” Truncale said there has to be value for a supplier to align itself with an organization: “If there’s no value for them, then they shouldn’t spend their money that way.”
Worme added that many vendors were disappointed that the two associations didn’t join forces. “The vendor community is in dire straits,” he said. “They would relish one industry organization. I heard that loud and clear at Graph Expo.”
Announcing the end of unification talks, the NAPL/PIA press release noted, “Ultimately, after careful consideration, the task force concluded that it was not possible to formulate a combined entity that accommodated the diverse needs of both a direct and locally delivered structure.” The two groups said they’ll continue active collaboration on key programs and ongoing partnerships in the Graphic Arts Show Company, GAERF, and conferences such as the Vision 3 Summit. Said Truncale, “We spent a lot of time and energy on this and we took it as far as we could take it.”
IT COULD STILL HAPPEN…
Lawton-Forsyth said there is no immediate plan to revisit the subject, but “nothing is off the table,” because some in the industry still want a union to happen. “What’s in the best interest of the printer is really to have these two organizations come together,” she said. “It was a little heartbreaking to have it not happen. It was definitely disappointing.” Makin also anticipates future discussions. “I am personally very disappointed that it was not successful,” he said. Commending all the leadership involved, Makin concluded, “I know it was a lot of hard work, and we came so very close.”
Aaron Kiel is the senior editor of GreensheetBIZ and OutputLinks, divisions of OutputLinks Communications Group. Talk to Aaron at Be2Me.me/AC9
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 15 edition of GreensheetBIZ, a division of OutputLinks Communications Group. To learn more about GreensheetBIZ—a bimonthly print and electronic newsletter—and to subscribe, go to: Be2Me.me/A6