Looking for Common Ground in Pittsburgh
It’s been several weeks since representatives of the in-plant community descended on Printing Industries of America (PIA) headquarters near Pittsburgh for an “In-plant/PIA Summit.” The summit was the brainchild of recently elected PIA board chairman Tim Burton and followed on the heels of unsuccessful merger talks between PIA and NAPL.
Mr. Burton was responding to a blog I wrote in which I observed that, while the PIA-NAPL merger was represented as being a step forward for the printing industry as a whole, in fact it omitted a significant part of the industry—namely, 50,000 or so in-plants. Mr. Burton said that PIA was interested in opening a dialog with in-plant managers and asked me to assemble a slate of representatives to attend an in-plant summit aimed at starting a conversation between PIA and in-plant print managers.
I consulted with the leadership of the Association of College and University Printers (ACUP), the In-Plant Printing & Mailing Association (IPMA) and the National Government Publishing Association (NGPA), as well as Editor Bob Neubauer of In-plant Graphics, and we developed a list of more than 25 potential attendees. Eventually eight agreed to attend, and all but one, along with myself, actually did so.
The in-plant community was represented at the summit by Tammy Dunham, Nestle Purina Print Services; Jo Ann Duron, Northern Virginia Community College; Tim Hendrix, State of Oregon Publishing and Distribution; Lisa Hoover, Bucknell University Print and Mail Communications and ACUP president; Mike Lincoln, State of Colorado State Printer; Rob Lingard, Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators and IPMA president; Craig Sedgwick, LDS Church Printing Services; and John Wesseling, University of Cincinnati.
PIA was represented by Chairman Burton, PIA President and CEO Michael Makin, as well as the 2nd Vice Chair (and future leader) of PIA, David Olberding, and the president of the Printing Industries of Ohio – Northern Kentucky, Jim Cunningham.
The summit was an all-day affair. The morning session consisted of tours of the PIA headquarters facility, as well as presentations by the heads of the various operations groups. PIA leaders briefed in-plant managers on the advantages and benefits of PIA membership. President Makin pointed to several opportunities or collaboration, including cooperative buying, discounts on books and training sessions, free tech support and free webinars.
The afternoon session consisted of an open and frank discussion of the relationship between PIA and the in-plant community. In-plant managers described the strength of their relationships with individual commercial printing companies, but they also noted tensions when dealing with PIA affiliates. Several in-plant managers are currently PIA members.
If you have read any of my past blogs, I hope you noticed that I have argued for years that we—the in-plant community—lack advocacy. We don’t have a voice, an organization to champion our contributions and value to our parent organizations, legislative bodies, management associations, chambers of commerce and/or other public forums. We don’t have an organization to tell our story or address a frequently stated perception that we are, somehow, not “real” printers.
If PIA were willing to take up that role, I’d be the first to join.
Alas, I don’t think that’s what PIA’s leadership had in mind when it invited us to the summit. I don’t think they saw PIA stepping into the vacuum and becoming an in-plant champion. Rather, I think they wanted to build membership.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room was the lobbying efforts by PIA and its affiliates to close public-sector in-plants, including those in public colleges and universities. Some of us questioned whether PIA would lobby for in-plant members as aggressively as it does against us. This begs the question: can, or would, PIA be able to provide support to members from both the commercial and in-plant sectors in an outsourcing debate?
When asked how aggressively PIA would lobby for in-plants being threatened, PIA leadership was evasive and answered in platitudes. When I pointed out that closing public sector in-plants had been a PIA legislative initiative for many years, and as recently as last year a lobbyist for Pacific Printing Industries (PPI), the PIA affiliate in Washington State, had actively lobbied the legislature in that state to close the Department of Printing, the response was that he—the lobbyist—was just expressing his opinion, implying that he did not speak for PIA and/or PPI.
The question that I did not ask but wish I had is this: If the State of Washington Department of Printing, which spent the past couple of years fighting for its life, had belonged to PIA and its affiliate PPI, would either of these two organizations have lobbied as hard on its behalf as it lobbied to close it?
It turns out, the State of Washington Department of Printing did belong to PIA/PPI, at least until it was informed that PIA/PPI was lobbying against it, at which time, according to the former State Printer for the State of Washington, it dropped its membership. Documentation available on the web supports the State Printer’s account.
The PPI Washington State Legislative Update 2/6/2011 contains this report from its lobbyist:
“On Thursday February 3, The Senate Ways and Means heard testimony on SB 5523, legislation that proposes to eliminate the state printer. I testified in support of the proposal (my emphasis), emphasizing that the state printer already outsources nearly half of the state’s printing and the private sector can provide faster, quicker and better printing services to state agencies.”
In another legislative update, dated May 26, 2011 PPI reports:
"This AM, the Senate Ways and Means Committee scheduled a vote on legislation to eliminate the state printer. I expect to win the vote, which is a great win and momentum for us and PPI (my emphasis). A long way to go but early action by the Senate Democratic budget committee is important.”
There seemed to be consensus among the summit in-plant attendees that the conversations with PIA, while cordial, were not ground breaking. PIA’s lobbying efforts to close in-plants may be too much to overcome. That and the feeling that advocacy for in-plants by PIA and/or its affiliates might not be a path they are likely to take.
PIA was built on supporting and protecting the commercial printing segment of the printing industry, and its efforts to close in-plants are consistent with its mission. I get that. At the end of the day, PIA has to remain true to its base: the commercial printing sector. As Darrell Royal, legendary head coach of the Texas Longhorns, was fond of saying, “You have to dance with the one that brung you.”
On the other hand, in-plants, especially those in higher education, have led the way in developing and adopting many of the innovations in the printing industry. We wrote a job tracking and billing system and were experimenting with online ordering at the University of Iowa back in 1988. At the University of Louisville, we set up online ordering and took over mainframe printing from the data center in the early 1990s. The folks at Purdue developed a World Wide Web home page in the mid 1990s, long before most of us even knew what the Internet was. In-plant managers have been pioneers in wide-format printing, Web-to-print workflow, variable data printing and network connectivity, to name a few. I know of in-plant managers who have helped their commercial partners adopt new technologies by helping them write specifications for equipment, pointing out potential problem areas, and training staff on the new equipment. The list goes on and on.
I’ve been called a dreamer, and maybe I am, but I know the in-plant community is a critical part of our industry. Maybe someday we’ll be seen as more than a cash cow. Maybe some day we’ll be recruited for the contributions we can make to the printing industry, not the dues we can pay. Maybe someday one of our organizations will grow and mature to the point that it can take up the advocacy cause and watch our back.
Or maybe that’s Fantasy Island.
Ray Chambers, CGCM, MBA, has invested over 30 years managing and directing printing plants, copy centers, mail centers and award-winning document management facilities in higher education and government.
Most recently, Chambers served as vice president and chief information officer at Juniata College. Chambers is currently a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education Administration at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU). His research interests include outsourcing in higher education and its impact on support services in higher education and managing support services. He also consults (Chambers Management Group) with leaders in both the public and private sectors to help them understand and improve in-plant printing and document services operations.