From the Editor: Another Year Without Networking
This will be the second year in a row that both the Association of College and University Printers (ACUP+) and In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) conferences will not take place in person. By the time they happen again in 2022, it will have been three years since managers saw each other face to face — and four years for me, since I had to miss the 2019 IPMA conference when my mother passed away.
For regular attendees of those in-plant gatherings, that is a really long time to go without the inspiration and fresh ideas that come from getting together with peers. Networking is vital for in-plants, perhaps more so than for any other type of printer. At home, their focus on printing makes them stand out from their coworkers, but at a conference, filled with fellow managers doing the same thing they do, they get reassurance and support. Talking with peers who have similar challenges energizes them and gives them ideas.
“Getting together with folks with so much in common is such a reassuring thing for me; just realizing we share so many issues is helpful,” agrees Bob Donahue, of Franklin University.
“The boost in energy that I receive from attending IPMA conferences is electrifying and keeps me motivated for a long time,” adds Christopher Donlon, of Kohler Co.
Though both ACUP+ and IPMA are again switching to virtual formats to provide educational sessions, most would agree that the magic of the live events can’t be replicated online: those chance meetings with new people, or the serendipitous way conversations shift into unplanned areas and bring out ideas no one would have otherwise considered — these things have been lost, and that absence is being sorely felt by in-plants this year.
“You know how you come away from a conference with two or three really great ideas?” remarks Dwayne Magee, director of Messiah University Press and Postal Services, in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “I miss not getting those.”
Meeting others who hold similar jobs lets managers build a support system of people they can consult throughout the year. Without it, managers feel isolated and bereft of new ideas.
“I rely on feedback from my peers,” laments Wesley Grigg, manager of Elon University Print Services, in Elon, N.C. “Not having that has created a void in my planning operations for the future.”
“I read a lot about what’s new in the industry, but attending the IPMA conference allows me to hear how new and current technology has helped or failed with other in-plants,” adds John Cruser, global manager of Bloomberg Ink, in Dayton, N.J. “This helps me review our current technology needs and helps me move in the direction I think is best for my team.”
Then there are the great ideas that come from random networking discussions.
“It’s those conversations that just happen over lunch or on the bus when you just start talking and find a common issue,” reflects Tammy Golden, who heads the State of Tennessee’s in-plant. “Those have been some of the most impactful learning moments for me.”
“When you’re in a group talking shop and it leads to other areas away from the main topic but you gain as much from that discussion if not more, you learn so much and take home ideas that you didn’t even know existed or were possible for your shop,” reminisces Gary Warren, of Fayetteville State University.
“There are just so many conversations that happen at an in-person event that you can’t fit into a group Zoom,” notes Laura Lockett, director of Sacramento State University Print & Mail. “I miss the spontaneous conversations that happen in between sessions … where we share ideas on new opportunities for revenue streams [and] how to strategically plan for the next 1-3 years.”
Going without in-plant conferences has impacted me greatly as well. Having attended both ACUP and IPMA for decades, I came to rely on them for insight into the industry. Without being able to chat with managers at conferences, I’ve found it much more difficult to know what’s going on. I get most of my best ideas from the between-session and late-night conversations. That’s where I learn who’s installing equipment or software, who has completed a complicated project, or who is diversifying their services. These conversations alert me to trends at in-plants, which I follow up on later with surveys or articles.
During the pandemic, I’ve tried to stay in touch with managers by inviting small groups to Zoom chats, but they are no replacement for the spontaneous conversations at live events. Plus, I always meet new in-plant managers at conferences, and eventually end up writing about many of them. Without these new contacts, I feel my coverage of the industry is less extensive. Others feel this loss as well.
“As many long-term managers retire, I find that I have not been able to build new relationships with their replacements,” observes Ken Johnson, of Ball State University.
By the time in-plant conferences resume in 2022, numerous additional managers will have retired as well, without having had a chance to say goodbye to their industry friends. That’s one of the saddest impacts of all to the in-plant community.
There is a bright spot, though. As vaccinations increase and people become more comfortable traveling again, PRINTING United will be taking place live in Orlando Oct. 6-8. IPI is planning to hold a full-day in-plant forum to bring managers together in person again. I hope to see you there.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.