Can printing be sexy?

Recently, a focus of my reading and writing has been the dismal image that the Australian printing industry paints of itself.

Do we need to inject more sex appeal into printing?

Many industry writers do little more than reinforce the negatives – the number of companies that are going out of business; the downturn in turnover; the lack of new blood.

We hear it almost every day, in the trade magazines, by email, and, of course, the gossip machine.

It was refreshing, therefore, to read a very recent article in ProPrint that proclaimed “Printing is as strong as ever”.

Jeffrey Hayzlett, former CMO for Kodak, answered this leading question from interviewer Graham Plant:

“In Australia… do you think we are witnessing the demise of print as a viable marketing and communication medium?”

His answer was a resounding… “NO.”

“In fact”, he said, “I think print is as strong as ever. The issue is the overcapacity of print right now, which is the problem in the market.”

“Print is still very effective”, he proclaimed.

“Printers… are very process driven, which is important because they’re in the manufacturing business. They manufacture more one-off products than any other business in the world. They manufacture print the same way that car makers produce cars, but they do it one product at a time, and more of them.

“Printers are the most efficient manufacturers in the world, bar none.”

At last! Someone who truly sees value in what the undervalued practitioners of this trade keep doing, doing, doing.

But is it enough? I suspect not.

I am coming to the suspicion that the root of the poor perception of the viability of the Australian printing industry lies in the Australian printing industry’s own poor perception of itself.

The printing industry has lost a lot of its lustre and appeal, especially for younger generations, who no longer see it as an attractive career path.

Almost a year ago, Adam Newman bemoaned this lack of appeal. In an article in ProPrint, entitled “Industry’s image issues create generation gap”, he wrote:

“Despite offering dynamic career opportunities, print lacks the ‘cool’ factor to attract Gen Y.

“The printing industry is a powerhouse. It is a wonderful and traditional industry that is intrinsically linked to craft, meaning career advancement requires people to do their time, pay their dues and prove their worth. There is nothing wrong with this old-school attitude, other than that it takes time – lots of time.

“Working in print is miles ahead of working in other industries. We create things you can hold in your hand. Presses and machinery and installations are cool. The printing industry offers international opportunities above and beyond a design or PR firm. How many web designers get to fly to Drupa or complete hands-on training in the US?

“Why is printing being overlooked by the younger generation? As I see it, the answer is two-fold. First, the generation gap between leaders of our industry and Gen Y is too great; there is a natural but systemic mistrust that runs both ways. Sadly, I don’t know a quick fix to this problem.

“Secondly (and more fixable) is printing’s major image problem. We need to send a clear, unified message that it is an innovative, exciting industry to work in – and it is – and push that through the university system by investing in development. Until that is done, we will continue missing out on the brightest, youngest things.”

In an even more recent article, pleading “Don’t let a generation turn its back on print”, Adam concluded “There’s no silver bullet when it comes to attracting new entrants, but a bit of pride would help.”

Is that what’s missing? Pride?

Coincidentally, this wake-up call has come on the eve of the LIA Heidelberg 2012 Graduate of the Year awards. An event which holds a bit more meaning for me than usual, as my eldest niece, an employee in our family printing business, has been nominated as a finalist.

As proud as I am of her achievements and those of the other finalists, I wonder if the LIA and other industry bodies could be doing more to promote the appeal of printing as a career to school leavers, or to TAFE and college graduands.

The JPE, too, has come under fire for being overly conservative. “The organisation with an official mandate to represent youth in the industry has done no favours in fostering an environment to attract talented young people to print.” (Adam Newman)

The recent announcement of the closure of the RMIT print training school because it has been unable to attract enough students could be a resounding blow to our dwindling confidence in ourselves and in the future for new entrants.

So, what might be done to improve the industry’s self image? Perhaps the answer lies in SEX APPEAL. After all – we are always told by marketers that “sex sells”! But the printing industry? Sexy?

By now, we have all read descriptions of Landa Corporation’s launch of nano-printing technology, at Drupa, last month. Those of us lucky enough to attend one of the much-anticipated presentations can attest to the definite presence of sex appeal in the showmanship, in the futuristic machinery with enormous doses of eye-candy and iAppeal, and the orgasmic promise of things to come in the next few years.

By now, we have all read descriptions of Landa Corporation’s launch of nano-printing technology, at Drupa, last month. 

Those of us lucky enough to attend one of the much-anticipated presentations can attest to the definite presence of sex appeal in the showmanship, in the futuristic machinery with enormous doses of eye-candy and iAppeal, and the orgasmic promise of things to come in the next few years.

As Gerry Mulvaney said, writing for Graphic Display World after returning from Drupa: “I am left with the impression of printing as a sexy industry. It certainly wasn’t before Drupa, but while I can understand people having their pictures taken standing next to the latest Ferrari or movie star, I couldn’t quite get over seeing so many people wanting to have their photograph taken while stood next to one of the Landa Nanographic printing presses. Every day, without fail, there were people queuing up to have their pictures taken in front of the Landa presses. Surely printing cannot be that sexy – or perhaps it is?”

If Benny Landa does nothing more than raise the sex appeal of the printing industry world-wide – then he will have achieved something of real importance.

Just before Drupa, Laurel Brunner wrote a two-part article for OUTPUT entitled “Is print sexy?” In it she advocated that “Print is uniquely physical. Like all media it expresses concepts, ideas and information, but it stimulates response using more subtle, tactile techniques. We have a singularly intimate and very physical relationship with print, because it appeals to virtually all of our senses.

“It’s personal and intimate, stimulating and arousing. It provokes responses beyond our control and it can leave us breathless, desperate for more and longing for the next encounter. It teases us with visual excitement, emotional engagement, tantalises us with its touch and smell. It’s a constantly evolving relationship, sensual and private, evoking a kaleidoscope of desires and passions. It’s a form of communication that stands alone in human experience, and only one other thing even begins to come close. Can there be any doubt that print is indeed deeply and profoundly sexy?”

For some of us, this industry is our life. Our livelihood. And our lifelong passion. How can we make sure our “passion for print” becomes more contagious? We need to infect everyone we come in contact with. We need to unashamedly share this disease.

“Passion for print” may not be as easy to catch as an STD, but it IS a communicable disease – in both senses of the word. It is an infection that we want to reach pandemic proportions. Every one of us should be doing our best to communicate our passion and to inject some sex appeal into our industry whenever and wherever we can.

Our challenge is to reinforce the sex appeal of print in ourselves, to promote it vigourously to our customers and, most importantly, to seduce the next generation to come and join the orgy.

Further reading:
Is Print Sexy? – Laurel Brunner, OUTPUT
Printing is as Strong as Ever – Graham Plant, ProPrint
Benny Landa’s Marketing Clinic at Drupa Fired Up the Printing Industry – Katherine O’Brien, OutputLinks
Don’t let a generation turn its back on print – Adam Newman, ProPrint
Industry’s image issues create a generation gap – Adam Newman, ProPrint
Final thoughts from Benny Landa’s Drupa – Gerry Mulvaney, Graphic Display World

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3 Responses

  1. John,

    I trust you are well.

    I have just read over your article “Can Printing Be Sexy?” and must admit that I agree with your editorial on this topic.

    Your last paragraph I believe summarises your whole article in just a few sentences.

    There are some in our industry that unfortunately go out on a daily basis to see clients, etc moaning to everyone how hard it is, who is going broke, how cheap prices are, etc.

    It doesn’t matter what sector you are in at the moment, the facts are that most companies are watching they’re spending habits more then ever in this climate. It doesn’t mean though that because spend is down, that we as reps and business owners broadcast “the end of the world scenario” everywhere we go, especially to our clients!

    An old saying I heard and live by is “A fish rots from the head down”. If the people running the business are constantly negative about our trade, this in turn will “rub off” on the staff and in turn, the staff will pass on this “negativity” to the businesses’ clientele. Unfortunately I have seen this happening a lot more often than not in the past few years.

    Why shouldn’t business owners and staff have a positive outlook on things?

    Our industry is one of craft and a rewarding one at that.

    How many other industries out there can you hold something you produced or walk past a shop and show your friends and family a job that you helped design and produce? How about walking to your mailbox and picking up a brochure that was produced by your company?

    Unfortunately our craft has been hijacked by “cowboys and fly-by-nighters”, looking for a quick buck and not caring about the industries direction and future, only the money to be made for themselves.

    I for one am proud to have grown up and lived in this industry for all of my 32 years.

    It is the responsibility of each and every one of us involved to “show off” the “sex appeal” this industry has.

    This is not as hard as some people would want you to think. How about going back to basics, things that were “standard” in our trade from years ago?

    Pride in our work and appearance? Good customer service? Innovation? Helping each other out? Honesty and loyalty?

    If you look around, there are amazing things that have been produced and will continue to be by our industry.

    It is extremely unfortunate that “sexy” events like the “National Print Awards” have lost all the positivity and glamour that were associated with our “Night of Nights”.

    The fact is that “printing is as sexy as ever”.

    Maybe, just maybe certain people in our industry are not.

    Regards,

    Dean Boceski
    Sales & Marketing Director
    Rainbow Colour Printing P/L
    38 Mary Parade, Rydalmere NSW 2116

  2. Rebrand “PRINT” – let’s get physical

    John – I have read your opinion piece – I don’t know where to start – there are so many points that resonate – and so many tangential thoughts it prompts.

    One is: why the hell are you and I (and a few others) the voices in the wilderness?

    Why isn’t this the central theme of the PIAA and any other association that has the future of print at heart?

    Your main mantra – that print is alluring – is inextricably linked with the need to attract more school leavers. In other words, there are two audiences we’ve got to ‘seduce’ – one is customers, the other is new entrants (aka: future employees).

    Historically, we’ve been brain-washed into chasing the customer as if he were some elusive quarry. US marketing gurus have built empires flogging their sales and marketing theories to an unsuspecting public: us. To the extent that we pour all our meagre resources into trying to come up with bigger, better and glossier self-promotiona material ALL aimed at the customer.

    But while we’ve been running round obsessing about how to stir the customer pot – we’ve completely overlooked one equally burning question: why would anyone work for my company?

    I ask this question frequently, of clients (as you’d expect) – and the answers are either non-existent or pretty wishy-washy. But it’s something companies should be focussing on, given the skills-shortage – and forget about the lack of experienced staff – what about the lack of intake of fresh, new talent???

    Which brings me to: just as each company should compete on the basis of its brand (ie, how it differentiates itself from its competitors) – its unique value proposition, if you like – so should (are you ready for this…) an industry!

    For the first time in history (due to the skills shortage), whole industries are having to compete with each other in the jobs market. In other words, banking has done very well in seducing many of the bold and the beautiful into its clutches. Of course – once lured, it’s up to each bank to fight over who they actually get. But at least they’ve genereted a gene pool of talent.

    Likewise farming. Who wants to be a farmer? Apparently nobody, as the intake into farming courses has dried up, just like a drought on the Darling Downs. So what have they done – all the colleges offering ag courses are re-branding the industry and selling its seductive side – satellite telemetry, earth sciences, environmental sciences, food-security strategies, computerised climate modelling? Sound familiar?

    They, like printing, are labouring under a burden of misapprehension due to being perceived as an ’old’ industry. But at least it’s trying to re-invent itself as a fresh, sexy option in the competition for school-leavers.

    This is the point: the problem is beyond any one company (although Offset-Alpine are to be congratulated with their “Capabilities+” publication). We need to elevate the ‘image’ of print collectively in the mind of the public and school-leavers. (Note: This is NOTHING to do with print quality – but everything to do with print being an exciting career choice.)

    When people are asked to think ‘print’, there should be some vague notion or brand that springs to mind – instead of the non-existent or negative connotations which the public have in their mind.

    This doesn’t have to mean that we force the term ‘print’ into one all-encompassing bloc. Not at all, but it would NOT be a silly idea for their to be a stylish logotype to depict ‘print’ and a tag-line – and then – a listing of all the different kinds of print – each presenting their own unique story.

    Stepping back a bit: compare print with a country. Australia is having the same problem presenting it’s own unique ‘brand’. Putting aside the merits of “where the bloody hell are you?” – the challenge is to increase brand awareness of Oz as a destination – then – you can present all its marvellous diversity (snow, beaches, desert, wineries, etc, etc).

    The problem is that ‘print’ doesn’t have a strong brand awareness becuase we’re made up of 1,000’s of fiercely independent entreprenuers who all fly under the collective radar.

    So our message isn’t lost – it’s non-existent!

    How to fix?

    Easy. No kids read stuff. All kids go on-line (slight exaggerations but you see the point). We as an industry (think ‘agriculture’) need to come up with a ‘brand’ – a tag-line – and then encourage each segment of the vast printing industry to contribute its own exciting message (via video links, images of printed products being produced, printed, embellishing, finishing systems, examples of unusual printing processes, hi-speed labelling applications – the list is endless – and importantly, visually exciting!

    It would be a website, designed like an on-line coffee-table book which, anyone even vaguely interested in print as a career, could visit and browse through, to their heart’s content.

    Each industry sector would be free to contribute its own ‘content’ – so for example – you’d have stuff from –

    – Commercial
    – Mailing
    – Magazines
    – Labels
    – Packaging
    – Signage

    … and each industry association representing each of the above would organise their own content, so as to reflect their own issues, ideas and benefits of working in … labels, or DM, or cartons.

    Note: in the above list, nowhere have I referred to any particular ‘process’ (offset, digital, flexo, etc). We’ve got to wean ourselves off this drug-of-addiction, where we think of everything in manufacturing terms. With some exceptions, clients don’t really care. It’s a symptom of old-world thinking. We should be focussed more on market segments (as per the above list) – so we’re talking the language the boy or girl in the street or school can understand.

    (That alone would be a big step forward. Let’s not have different training regimes for offset printers and digital printers – look what a mess of over-specilaisation it’s gotten us into. They should think “commercial’ printing , not offset or digital. Likewise, we shouldn’t specialise in screen-printing or wide-format inkjet – it should be regarded as training in ‘signage’, and be trained in all processes.)

    Some people feel this may cost money!

    But what is the cost of doing nothing?

    But seriously, what is the cost of developing a website these days? It’s like mobile phones, they’re getting cheaper by the day.
    And surely, we’ve got hidden away in the far recesses of our industry segments enough creative genii to generate most of the format and content ourselves. (By ‘ourselves’ I mean all the various contributing industry segments, see above list, ably guided and prodded by their own respective associations.)

    A problem shared is a problem solved. You’d need a coordinating committee drawn from all the participating associations (that may be a good idea in itself – they’ve probably never even spoken to each other) – BUT – the over-riding aim is to preserve the identity of each segment (mailing, packaging, etc) – just like you’d have the Riverina, and Tassie, and Surfers’ and the NT all presenting their own unique, exciting, highly individual messages, under the broad Oz umbrella.

    Getting back to your premise: print IS sexy. Yes, but we’re like modest Victorian-era types running round in neck-to-knee cossies too afraid to flaunt our best bits.

    By that I mean – print is being hijacked in exciting new directions – 3D printing to make actual physical objects, highly sophisticated marketing campaigns using personalisation, printing patterns onto aluminium to make solar panels for Third World countries – the list is a marketer’s (brand-manager’s) dream, but we tell NOBODY. No press releases, no media events, nothing.

    There were a few Oz entries in the recent Drupa exhibition – creative examples of Aussie ingenuity using specialised software – competing on the world stage. Did they get any recognition? No. Any publicity? No.

    Do we promote our NPA’s to the media? No. They do in NZ.

    In conclusion, who in the modern printing industry has heard of Beatrice Warde? She was the one who in 1929, wrote “This is a Printing Office” – which used to hang in almost every printing company’s foyer. Now it’d be considered a bit of an embarrassment.

    But to read her words is to be reminded of the pride in which print was held – both as a medium of communication – and as a career of choice. (My great-grandfather used to rock up to work as a compositor in the 1890s, in a hat and tie – take them off to work – and then bung them back on, on the way home, as he was proud of his profession.)

    The good Beatrice described us thus – “Refuge of all the arts … armoury of fearless truth … incessant trumpet of trade ..” – these are not the words of an industry on the back foot. And of especial interest is the somewhat obscure reference to “from this place words may fly abroad not to perish on waves of sound … but fixed in time having been verified in proof …”.

    I didn’t realise until recently that this was a sly reference to the threat of radio which was expected too kill off print. But no, print survived by adapting and complementing radio as a medium – not competing against it.

    And so 80-odd years later, how are we coping with the ‘threat’ of the internet. Are we “an incessant trumpet of trade” or have we become a whimpering second-class citizen, too afraid to blow our OWN trumpet?

    James

  3. Great article, some of our challengers could be resolved by LEADERSHIP.

    Should we be holding an industry conference with the industry on stage and our leadership in the the audience? We can then explain to them what we we want from them.

    On the note of “Generation gap” and why there is a sense of disengagement between print and the new generations. I can say from my personal experience I attended a lecture at a well known University on Online Vs Offline and we were poorly represented and as a result we got smashed. The lecture finished with a Tomb stone with the words printing etched on it. We have no print ambassadors that go out to the Uni’s, colleges or Tafe’s. Our lack of unity is slowly bringing this industry down.

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