I recently sat next to a printing sales guy at a direct marketing industry luncheon. He works for a well-known manufacturer that has been in business for many years. A very bright and engaging fellow, he asked me how I had managed to change the focus of my career from being print-sales focused to that of a marketer – something I told him I began back in 2004. We both agreed that the market for print sales today continues to shrink and what’s left has been marginalized.
Even though he isa few years younger than me, he lamented that in his view I had a more than 7 year head start on reshaping our business model. He feared it might be too late. At the time I disagreed and said it’s never too late to learn new skills. But it was clear to me that the skills he had developed to help him enjoy success were not only no longer as relevant, they would likely not ever be relevant again.
I know this because I have skills that I used every day for more than 15 years that I rarely use today. When I think of what I was doing ten years ago in my day to day business activities it’s hard to believe it’s been only ten years since what I do daily now is vastly different than what I did back then.
A recently as eight years ago were spending a large part of our time helping clients print and distribute (mail, inserts etc.) millions of pieces; there were press form layouts, optimal folding considerations, paper purchasing and delivery considerations. We knew the labor rates and run times for our print manufacturers and could accurately estimate their costs for a printing job and how much paper they would require. In fact many printers would be surprised when we would indicate to them what we felt their pricing should be on a project – and we were right. We were good. Really good. Unfortunately those skills are not required nearly as much today.
One thing I did not do was limit myself to thinking we were ‘only’ a print re-seller. We knew which packages worked and which did not by how often they were printed and if they were altered – or not. There’s no better evidence of a successful control than seeing it run time and again. That insight had us move into marketing strategy and creative that would be used to formulate and execute future marketing plans. It wasn’t easy then and is still not easy today but that transition enabled our company to stay relevant for the time being. Irrelevance is always a possible future for any company.
What will my colleague and others like him do? Well if the current status of many of our 2004 clients (those that were responsible for print production) is any indication, finding another line of work is most likely. All those skills and all that knowledge will be lost in transition. I can’t say it’s not fair since it happens all the time, now more than ever.
Who knew you had to be an oracle in order to have a long career?
I also was in the print business before moving over to marketing. I left printing in 2002 — moving into PR for four years and then into marketing. I identified with your post because I can’t imagine doing what I did in 2002 — today. The move from printing and PMS colors to devising strategy for major brands wasn’t hard…but it was different.
My career move was only industries — I stayed in sales — and that allowed me to enter literally 100s of different companies to sell my PR wares. That was the learning curve I needed to understand how other industries worked…and that led me to a better understanding of what marketing really is.
But I have to tell you — I still do a lot of print work — and the smell of ink never really leaves you.
Didn’t know you were in the ink on paper business Chris – and yes we still do a fair amount of print as well but the balance has shifted in our own business much has it has in general. Thanks as always for the insightful comment.