#UKvUSA: Whose responsibility is it to educate print buyers?

Posted by Matthew Parker

Two continents: US and UK. Two different buying backgrounds: procurement and agency. Two alternative ways of looking at things. I’m delighted to have teamed up with Deborah Corn from PrintMediaCentr to bring two extremely different views to some important print questions. So welcome to Print Buying: #UKvUSA where Deborah and I share information about our experiences from both sides of the pond.

At the end of this post I have linked to Deborah’s answer to the same question. We wrote our answers (each limited to 500 words) without any idea of what the other was writing. As Deborah says: “Maybe we will agree, maybe we won’t, maybe we don’t even see the question in the same way – who knows… that’s the fun part!”

Please do leave comments, thoughts and support at the bottom of this post and on Deborah’s post.   It would be great if also posted your thoughts on Twitter, using the hashtag #UKvUSA Remember to watch out for our answers to another question next month.

#UKvUSA: Whose responsibility is it to educate print buyers?

Print is declining

Everyone is aware that print volumes are falling at the moment. You only have to look at the long list of printing company closures every month to see how our industry is changing.

Many people are prepared to go as far as to say that the print industry is dying.

But it’s not all bad news

There are regular studies coming out that showed why print is still a vitally important communication channel. If you want to communicate effectively with your customers you need to use print. This applies to direct mail, catalogues and signage, to name but three opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong, digital is also a fantastic way to communicate with people. But Print can enhance that the channel too.

So why don’t buyers get the power of print?

It's time to educate people about the power of print

It’s time to educate people about the power of print

There’s a simple answer to this: not enough people are educating them. For an industry that is supposed to be all about communication, print often does remarkably badly. Professional print buyers understand why print is still so important – but all others need to be persuaded.

So whose job is it to start shouting out about the power of print? Personally, I think it’s down to a lot of different people. Here are three groups of people that I think should be telling more people why they should be using print.

Printing companies

Printing companies depend upon the use of print in order to survive. However, they have a tendency to sell to people who already want to print. I very rarely see printing companies going out and explaining it to other companies what they should be using print as part of their marketing mix.

Printing companies are in excellent position to do this. They could show specific case studies of how they have helped customers grow their businesses. However, let’s be fair, they need some help.

Industry bodies

Many of the print industry bodies that I come across are focused on helping printing companies as businesses. If you need help with finance or HR they are only too willing to help.

Not enough industry bodies campaign for more people to use print. However, I would argue that it is a vital part of their role. They should be developing resources that printing companies can use. They should also be creating their own campaigns to promote print.

There is another group of companies that should be helping out with promoting print as well.

Equipment manufacturers

Just like printing companies, equipment manufacturers depend on people using print for their businesses to survive. This is especially true of digital press manufacturers: their business model depends on clicks as much as people buying a press.

I have had conversations with two major manufacturers recently who are now beginning to realise that they need to educate users of print. It’s not just about talking to printing companies any more.

If you are a member of any of these types of company or organisation, you have a duty.

Tell someone about the power of print. Now

It’s time to take action. Can YOU go out and tell 10 people this week why they should be using print?

How did Deborah tackle this question? See here.

Look out for the next #UKvUSA battle next month!

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11 Responses to #UKvUSA: Whose responsibility is it to educate print buyers?

  • Roger Buck says:

    Matthew, here’s the post I sent to Deborah. Great topic!
    Ok, we want a good clean bout. Now go to your corners and come out typing!
    What a great idea!
    After reading both, it seems the correct answer may be everyone. Buyer should take on the responsibility to become better buyers through self education and suppliers/manufacturers should push education to the buyer channel.
    Deborah, in your post you state “you are a customer, and learning more about the products and services your vendors provide will make you a better customer”, I think we should add to that “learning will make you a more efficient buyer for your company”. Efficient purchasing can reduce cost, reduce errors, potentially improve sales and brand awareness. The buyer’s first responsibility is to his/her company not to the supply channel. Though we as manufactures loved educated customers, the buyers parent company wants and needs smart purchasing even more.
    Matthew, your comments are correct that printers and suppliers need to do a better job of education. It’s always amazed me that the print industry in the USA does not create formal mass education/advertising programs on print. You don’t see commercials or news releases on cable TV. You don’t see print or paper companies underwriting NPR. You don’t see business magazines and journals writing articles on effective print purchasing (unless it’s a print industry magazine which is like preaching to the choir).
    We use our bi-monthly newsletter to push education and product insight to our reseller channels. We offer whitepapers for their education and re-use. And we use many social media channels to try to push education and industry info to our following audience. But we work through reseller channels.
    This is a great topic and I hope we get some ideas and insight from both sides of the water.

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Roger, thanks for some great comments. And well done for promoting print. Over in the UK we have Print Power, which is an industry body trying to promote spreads. I’m not sure whether there is a US equivalent. Nevertheless, I do feel that everyone should be doing more.

  • Cindy Walas says:

    Hi Roger and Matt –

    Roger, I am right with you on your replies to both Deborah and Matt. It should be a two-way approach from buyers/purchasers themselves, printers and manufacturers. I ran a lot of “training” sessions for new AEs, traffic folks, and agency clients back in the day, and it really did help more folks understand the value of the process.

    And yes, it is unfortunate that the industry itself is not doing more to promote print. Maybe we can help change that?

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Thanks Cindy – training is definitely a vital part of the process. But sometime we need to get buyers interested first…

  • #UKvUSA: Print is an Education
    Deborah and Matthew, I feel both of you have a very great understanding of where print buyers are, and maybe were, however, the world has changed. Today as a millennial fighting to find my voice amongst the baby boomers, I look at things differently. I grew up in a print shop, I learned the art of selling from printing.
    Today, the world of selling is completely different with the introduction of virtual storefronts that provide customer service in a completely different way. The process of production, as a craft and commodity has changed, flash back a few #printchats ago. As a brick and mortar trade printer I must respect and study the virtual guys, shout out to the animals and percentages, to see where the growth is coming from and going.
    As the production center for many print buyers I work with I should have an easy day when talking about print. That is not always the case, I often compare apples to oranges with people. The reason that I feel this happens is because of fear. They fear that they should have known this, or that, or what CMYK conversions to RGB are. Though, it does not have to be terrifying event to learn something about print.
    When it all boils down to it, the person dealing with print must be willing to go to the resources you both spoke about to get the answers they need. Using suppliers, vendors, peers, or the internet to learn about their trade/industry is vital for survival and growth. Would it hurt your vendors to host offset lunch and learns like digital guys are doing these days, not at all! But if someone does not make time to learn then they are only letting themselves down.
    If accounting is wondering why print is so expensive explain to them the value over price. If HR wants to know where their business cards come from invite them to go pick them up with you one day. All the lessons of the world cannot be learned by sitting at a desk reading about them.
    Over the last 4-6 years printers, print buyers, and marketers have worked diligently to get the price as low as they can get it. Often at the sacrifice of craftsmanship, or individuality. We should not be scared to go and learn about how print change the prospective of a digital campaign or vice versa. We must take the ink cans off the shelves ourselves and put words on paper about how important ink on paper is.

  • Hi Matthew and Deborah……Felt it worthwhile to give you a perspective on our clients as buyers and their perception of us as a Printer. We have always produced work of exceptionally high quality and at a price ( normally) that we desire to sell it at. Not down to a price.
    Our major clients are almost all deign companies and we work with them from early in campaigns to assist and guide them on what is achievable from the print process BUT with a proviso that we will attempt even the un-achievable to see if we can obtain a result. As a result of this we have produced some truly astounding work on very unusual papers.

    These then act as a showcase of our talents and our biggest sales tool when we send out the samples to other interested companies. In addition our greatest successes almost always come from referrals from clients we have produced great work for who then recommend us to others.

    So addressing the headline point of print buyers not knowing print we believe that it is down to the printer to work with the buyer/designer to achieve the result they want. Many printers in the UK adopt an attitude of ‘we can’t do that’ or ‘that isn’t what we do’. They want easy print 4 colour on gloss or silk stocks and quick turnaround.

    We even encourage paper merchants to visit our major design clients and introduce them to the papers available that most aren’t even aware exist. Being proactive has seen our continual growth and an enviable ability to win new clients almost weekly. Offering paper merchants samples of our products on their stocks encourages them to back sell to more design companies bringing in more referral work.

    Print buyers can therefore be educated on what is possible, they can ask for samples to show the value of better print/finishes and papers and sell the virtues and advantages to their bosses and end clients, cost then becomes less of an issue as they have been ‘sold’ on the added value good print and paper can achieve prior to the pre-ordering their own job. Budget constraints and cost then are secondary.

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Hi Alan, thank you for your comments. It’s great to hear what you are doing with your clients.

  • CHris Lyons says:

    Excellent topic, the most recent print buyers reserach conducted by GD usa provides a quantitative update the the changing landscape, and some of the trends being seen from the creative communities POV, very wirthwhile read, and I think one that transends the “pond”



  • Nicolas says:

    I agree that some printing companies may need to try a bit more to sell to people who are perhaps that obvious. It’s really important to get other buyers to realise how great printing is and how it is a great tool.

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