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What Happens When the Seasoned Print Buyers Retire?

February 12, 2016

By  | February 11, 2016

I recently watched a webinar on the changing role of print buyers that featured Elizabeth Howitt, manager of production services for John Hancock Financial Services, and Jeff Dickerson, procurement specialist for State Farm Insurance. Lots interesting things transpired during the event, but there was one takeaway, in particular, that I want to talk about here.

Both Howitt and Dickerson talked about the dramatic change, not just in the role of print buyers, but their numbers. At both State Farm and John Hancock, the presenters said, the print buying departments have shrunk by half. Some of this is due to improved workflows, online template-based ordering (which doesn’t require proofing), and the reduced need for press checks. But it’s also due to the fact that internal staff are tasked with actively finding ways to reduce the volume of print. This is the case both for existing documents and incoming ones.

“Every time something new is launched, there is the discussion of does this need to be in print?” said Howitt. “How do we design this so that it doesn’t have to be ink on paper?” Howitt talked about having to actively engage with IT personnel to explain why certain documents still need to be on paper.

In this environment, seasoned print buyers have a critical role. They understand the value of print and when print is not replaceable. Howitt, for example, came up through the ranks on the print side, including a stint as a GM. Dickerson came up through prepress at major print companies and worked for a paper company before taking on his role on the client side 17 years ago.

But what happens when highly print educated buyers like Howitt and Dickerson retire? Who is going to advocate with IT on behalf of print then? Research from Margie Dana and John Zarwan has found that most print buyers are in the Boomer category (45+ years old) or older. As they move on, who will replace them? Will those people understand the value of the print channel the way the current buyers do? “We don’t know where we’re going to find the people with experience in production and print management to take over those roles,” said Dickerson.

Print education is critical for the printing industry—not just going forward, but now. I continue to be struck by how often I still hear from printers who attend local Chamber of Commerce or marketing association meetings and say they are typically the only printers there. As an industry, we need to invest more in protecting the next generation of marketers and print buyers rather than just focusing on the immediate need to acquire and retain existing customers. We need to think more long-term.

For a long time, many assumed this was the role of the industry associations, but the role of the association has changed. Today, the education of small businesses, marketers, and corporate print buyers is on the shoulders of the printers themselves. If you don’t do it, who will?

Forget what other people are doing. What are you doing about it?

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