Why Would Anyone Want to Work in Printing?


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Why Would Anyone Want to Work in Printing?
Maybe it’s time to pull a Gretzky

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Raise your hand if any of the following situations sound familiar.
  • You have placed ads, endured career fairs, talked with placement people at high schools and community colleges and still get few people seeking a job in printing.
  • People you’ve been paying $16-20 or more per hour bail out to work for Amazon or someplace that pays a whopping 50-cents an hour extra. Or just has more health insurance.
  • You hire people who seem to have good experience. Too late, it occurs to you that they wouldn’t be on the street or changing jobs if they knew what they were doing.
  • Employee turnover is driving you nuts. You pay a decent wage, have a friendly environment, promote from within, yet people still leave.
If you raised a hand, or were even nodding, you are not alone.

It is not the economy, the recession that didn’t happen and only some of it is the decline in print. One reason is that print can seem out-of-step in an age of the internet and social media. Or so people claim.

Do What Can’t be Done
Print is dynamic, has staying power, and can be joined at the hip with the cloud, websites, social media and more. Print providers must show how print relates to all these options. This requires people with capabilities in SEO, databases, using variable content and more. You need to be hiring for these skills, which practically speaking, may mean younger blood in your company. So how do you find and attract them? Maybe by taking a note from the late Steve Jobs who noted, “We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Putting ink or paper on a page is, well, boring. Lots of people can do this at home with a laser or inkjet printer. If they don’t need a lot of prints or finishing they are good to go. Even when they do, binding the pages they printed at home can be done at FedEx Office. Sure, your business might add some value and convenience, but the difference can be like that between a Lexus and Subaru. One is nicer but the practical difference is minimal.

For instance, suppose a client wants a 20-page catalog of their home décor products and (presumably) knows who buys their stuff. A basic catalog is a few hours of page layout, printing and binding for the 520 copies they plan to mail. Pretty easy. But a digital press is not just for short runs. Suppose the catalog you produce uses text, images, and offers based on previous purchases. This forges a connection that makes the catalog unique for each recipient. The customer probably doesn’t know how do this.

Here is where the skills of your people make a difference. In this example, it means hiring a designer (or using a data-savvy one you already have) who knows how to work with the client’s database person in creating a catalog that targets the client’s customers. The result elevates your client’s relevance and commitment to its customers, stimulates customers’ ideas, and may increase sales. As a follow-up, you send a personalized thank-you postcard bearing the client’s brand. You can even add an email. Your present team may not know how to do this automatically and efficiently.

Your shop’s most tangible contribution was the printing—of a personalized catalog that was more engaging, more fun, and added value to your customer offerings. Following up on this is making clear to your team that your company places a premium on massaging databases, using variable content and more, and that these skills are requirements for success in your company. Don’t get me wrong. This is not about turning your print operation into a marketing company, the loony idea that some in our industry espouse. It’s fine if you can do that but adding value to what you print is far more important and comes without the challenges of transitioning to being a marketing company.

Pull a Gretzky
Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said he skated to where the puck was going to be. Print providers need to go where print is going to be. This requires committing to being a value-added print provider and making print a powerful medium in a digital age. To do this you need people who can help you move print out of the age of ink on paper and into the age of leveraging information that supports compelling print.

I’ve lost count of the number of print providers who question the training of the design school grads they’ve hired. Compounding the issue are applications like Adobe Creative Suite (which I don’t especially like). It has hooks for customizing text and images in personalized documents but these can be awkward to use. Nonetheless, some of the tools you need may already be in your shop, even though your team may not know how to use them. Encourage your people by your setting a higher bar for their work or adding a more skilled person to your team (peer influence can make a real difference). Meanwhile, be sure to ask your vendors for insights. They know what can be done and will usually share their thinking. They want you to succeed if for no other reason than it means more clicks for them.

Your alternative is standing watch over the death of printing. This may take 50 years. Or far less. Meanwhile, the value of your business will decline if you don’t move beyond putting ink or toner on a page. Instead, hire for a future that is arriving now, so your business can be part of it. Pull a Gretzky and go to where print is going to be.


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