Breaking the glass celining for increased print sales

ImageIn recent years I’ve been asked to reflect upon strategic
trends that if heeded might better position printers for improved long-term
viability. I’ve written extensively through the decades of leading-edge
technologies, benchmark manufacturing practices and some of the most innovative
product development initiatives and case studies. There’s a vital trend that’s
becoming increasingly clear that could truly spell the difference between mediocrity
and corporate stardom. And the cost is not a financial commitment. As a matter
of fact, the investment is nominal. But it requires a concerted philosophical
shift in management’s organizational mindset.

A month ago I was invited to participate in the Sunbelt
Graphics seminars. Since it had been a few years since I was last in Atlanta, I
decided to fly in a few hours early and visit my alma mater, colloquially
referred to as the North Avenue Trade School. During my college career in the
1960s, I was active in the Georgia Tech Student Government. I went by the
current SGA office and was fortunate to find the administrative secretary there
who had been in that position for the past 17 years. During her time there she
recalled that nearly half of the student body presidents had been women.
Officers in virtually all of the more popular extracurricular clubs and
organizations represented a disproportionately high number of females as well.

I already knew that females had grown to 38% of the student
body in this school that only offered technical degrees in science and
engineering. But I found it interesting that young women were assuming the
elected leadership roles in a higher proportion than their population. As proud
as I am to be a Ramblin’ Reck, I really don’t see this demographic shift as
being unique to this former male-dominated institution.

In the new millennium, I have attended two annual Print
Oasis Conferences. They are the world’s only dedicated conclave for print
buyers. I spoke to Suzanne Morgan, President of Print Buyers Online
(printbuyersonline.com) and organizer of this conference, about the gender
statistics of this vital professional niche. She remarked, “Female print buyers
are now 70-75% of the total. A decade ago it was just the reverse!”

Lets look briefly at broader statistics. The National
Foundation of Women Business Owners reports that women-owned firms, about 9.1
million companies, represent 38% of all firms in the United States and generate
$3.6 trillion in annual sales. This has more than doubled in the past 12 years
according to aphradmedia.com.

Internationally, women-owned companies are between 25-33% of
the total business population. At the conventional 2%, which is the print
proportion of total corporate revenues, these new-generation female
entrepreneurs buy over $700 million of printing each year.

A couple other
studies are worth considering. Since 1985, women have comprised over 40% of all
law students. However, in 2001 their enrollment proportion surpassed men. In a
1998 study by Women Entrepreneurs, 51% of women said a desire for flexibility
was the top reason they left their previous employer. In the same year Two
Careers, One Marriage conducted another study indicating that 49% of women and
23% of men took advantage of formal flex-work arrangements offered by
employers.

Lets return to the structure of the printing and graphic
arts industries. While actual statistics are difficult to come by, in my
experience, women are increasingly assuming a higher proportion of electronic
prepress jobs, particularly in the smaller commercial printers and in-plant
printers. This is because a higher proportion of them have commercial art
design degrees and were the quickest studies for these emerging technologies.
Larger printers meanwhile, may have their electronic prepress departments
dominated by former Scitex operators who were all male.

Another source of technical skill growth, again for the
small to medium-sized commercial printers and in-house prepress operations, has
been the cadre of freelance designers. Virtually all are female and have worked
at home to be able to be near their infant children or have more flexible work
hours around other family priorities.

This computer-savvy group has been strongly considered as
natural employee candidates when these smaller firms have expanded into digital
printing and wide-format digital printing. Substrates and stock variations are
easier to teach to electronic designers, than are computer networking and
operating servers to lithographic pressmen.

This career progression is easy to follow and predict.
PC-based database management software and expertise seems to be easier to learn
by many of these former commercial design artists as the printers diversify
into internet-to-print applications. Who then is the most logical candidate to
sell the variable data printing and multi-media programs? Is it easier to teach
the lithographic print salesman d-base file delimiters or the female computer
operator who has a pleasant and helpful personality but has never sold before?
That transition is not a huge stretch either, as most of these female computer
and software experts have worked very effectively in customer service driven by
that product development initiative.

Female leadership is finally being acknowledged in the
printing industry. Printing Impressions has highlighted the highest-ranking
female corporate officers at printing firms in annual feature articles for a
number of years.

The magazine’s listing of the largest printers in North
America will show one or two female CEOs out of the top 100 firms.

The National Association for Printing Leadership inducted
their first female Chairperson of the Board this year in Joan Davidson, CEO of
The Sheridan Press. The recently elected Chairperson for the National
Government Publishing Association (an organization of State Printers) is
Deborah Messina of Delaware. However, the fact still remains that the
“good-old-boy network’ reigns supreme in Ben Franklin’s industry, which could
pose a dilemma for a number of unenlightened firms.

This is not to suggest that this army of female print buyers
mentioned earlier would discriminate against all of these print sales guys.
After all, the results of their purchasing alliances must show good value,
consistent quality and quick turnaround times.

On the other hand, if they went on a visit to qualify a new
prospective printer and met the top three officers, at least one of which was
female, female department heads in customer service, prepress, mailing and
fulfillment, do you think they would categorize this printer as a good old boy
throwback, or a potentially new millennium graphic solutions vendor? They might
just give them the chance to bid on and produce a challenging project to test
out their communications skills.

As my clients and publishers know, I don’t write many sales
articles. I leave that to the master, the “Manna Man.” On the other hand,
considering that he has three daughters, each of whom is quite sharp, I’m
surprised that Harris DeWese has not written one of his popular monthly epistles
on the print sales force of the future – one that’s not only empathetic
and sensitive, but has more than a single storefront female among its group.

It was suggested earlier that this organizational human
resource dynamic was really one requiring a philosophical mindset shift. With
colleges and commercial design schools graduating more females than males and
females showing increasing professional ambition, it might be as simple as top
management being open and receptive to the best candidates for the job.

On the other hand, if your corporate policies are not
sensitive to the personnel flexibility policies expressed in the earlier
surveys, you might best wait until one of these female entrepreneurs offers to
buy your company and get it turned around!

C. Clint Bolte & Associates, Chambersburg, PA.T:
717-263-5768  F: 717-263-8945E:
cbolte3@comcast.net

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