My customer asked me…

“If you started over, would you choose printing again?”

My customer asked me would you choose printing again?The printing industry is often characterized as a “dying industry” that has to contend with forever-progressing digital technology imposing on its marketplace. Large-format printed signs are being replaced by larger-than-life video screens. Printed newspapers don’t provide information fast enough for our news-hungry society that can get up-to-the-second information via cellular phones. Dynamic web ads are replacing printed flyers and brochures because of their inexpensive and interactive nature. All around us we see examples of the digital world merging into the printed world. In many instances, it’s more like a hostile takeover.

In light of this view, there is an interesting question to be asked: “If you could start over, would you still choose a printing-related field?” A LinkedIn discussion question, posed by industry professional Marc Mapes, sparked a number of interesting responses that gave way to this article. The question he posed was this:

“The daily news of company closings, job cuts and no improvement in sight in the printing field has me thinking about looking into other areas for employment (even though I know they aren’t much better). Most of us ended up in printing for the following reasons: a family member or friend was in printing (my dad was a plant manager and my brother a pressman), some of us ended up majoring in a graphic arts field in college and some of us just fell into it because you could start out at a fairly good pay rate without much experience. My question is, if you could start over, would you choose another profession?”

I thought this was a very interesting question that would prove to spawn even more interesting answers – and I was not disappointed. In the next few hundred words, I am going to guide you through an array of responses I have chosen from the LinkedIn discussion. There were insightful responses.

“This is a loaded question. I am certain at one time or another, we have all thought ‘how did I end up in this crazy industry?’ That being said, printing has provided me a good living. I am able to provide for my family. If you have the will to learn, there are endless options and directions to go. I would say ‘yes’ I would do it all again!!!”

Forward-thinking response

“Yes. And no. I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy four or five distinctly different ‘professions’ over the past 23 years, all within the graphic arts industry. For the past 10 years, my time and attention have been focused on digital imaging – and more specifically on the transformation of printing from an analog business to a digital one. And even after a decade, the tremendous potential for digital imaging to revolutionize printed communications keeps me excited to show up for work every day. So yes, there are many other professions I would enjoy pursuing. And no, if I had it to do over again, I would not abandon the graphic arts industry. It has provided me with amazing opportunities to learn and grow, opportunities that I never imagined when I started down this path.”

Devoted response

“I figured most, if not all would say they would absolutely choose to do it all over again. We are a die hard and loyal lot. Maybe it’s the ink running through our veins.”

Whole-hearted response

“Things change and that is what keeps us on our toes. My passionate belief is that when the smoke clears, the most thoughtful and creative people will prosper. It ain’t going to be easy, but we will have to figure out how to leverage print into new marketing services. Once you are able to do that, the question will become ‘can you imagine choosing any other field?’”

Clever response

“One of my friends who grew up in a printing family once told me his dad would throw away handfuls of rack brochures when he came across them and when he asked him why his dad simply replied ‘I just made a printer some money.’”

Disheartened response

“Don’t mean to be a negative Nelly but, no, I would not. Yes, like others I got into the business because my father was a pressman and then plant superintendent. I worked my way through undergraduate and MBA degrees, and although I looked for other opportunities after getting through business school it was hard to find anything outside the industry. I have relocated my family numerous times and did an outstanding job (millions to the bottom line because of true leadership and operations improvements), but somehow got caught up in a ridiculously political consolidation that left me unemployed. This and few other teeth-kicking incidents left a sour taste in my mouth for this cut-throat industry with razor-thin margins. I enjoyed many great times and had great accomplishments achieved through working with great people, but I am now 42 and find myself wishing I would have gone to medical school and done something more significant with my life. I had a great boss that once said to me, ‘Scott you need to relax, we aren’t saving lives here, we are just putting ink on paper.’”

Response from a sales perspective

“I love my job because it depends on my relationships with my clients. It’s all about relationships, casting a wide enough net, and finding clients who can benefit from AND RELY UPON our approach and expertise business value.”

My personal favourite response

“ABSO-F’N-LUTELY”

In reading the entire group of answers to this question, most were very positive with only a few stating that they would not choose printing if they could start over. Whether all of the positivity is due to the nature of the respondents and the fact that they are actively involved in printing industry groups on LinkedIn or whether these views are representative of the larger population, I’m not sure. In any case, I feel that the printing industry is still a promising avenue to establish and build a career. Although more traditional industry segments are printing fewer copies (reference material, catalogs and manuals, for example), there are many growing segments and opportunities in areas such as digital printing, variable data customization and packaging. After all, we can’t overlook the bigger picture. According to Statistics Canada, the Canadian printing industry is the fourth largest manufacturing industry in Canada and we employ over 84,000 people in every region across the country. In one way or another, we support every other industry in Canada. Without us, people would know very little about everyone else. We exist in the form of books, signs, clothing, packaging, decals and so much more. You literally can’t open your eyes without being exposed to print. WE ARE EVERYWHERE!

I leave you with one final response to this thought-provoking and multi-faceted question.

“I have been working in the printing industry for over 20 years, and no, I wouldn’t change industries. There are so many aspects that are fascinating and so many different directions one can pursue. The industry changes and re-invents itself to continue to produce, manufacture and offer the best of the best. It’s been a growth opportunity always and contributes back in so many ways to local, national and worldwide markets. It’s history in the making and without PRINT, the world would be boring. There is so much creativity to the business. I have had the opportunity to work in many parts of the printing world to appreciate the efforts and hard work from people in this industry. People drive the industry and the industry drives people (and sometimes drives us crazy) to always improve and come up with something new. Hats off to this billion dollar industry!”

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Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.

0 responses to “My customer asked me…

  1. I love this industry, its challenges, its technologies and most importantly its people. Printer’s are a passionate bunch. I graduated university with an Honours History degree, not the most useful education in the world, but my interests even in school was running a small resume and poster making business. That, and a lucky connection with a printing plant manager back at school getting a degree got me started in this business. I’ve never looked back.