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‘Slings and arrows’: an open letter to new PIAA CEO

Tuesday, 06 October 2015
By James Cryer

Dear Jason Allen,

We have never met but welcome to one of the most maligned and most misunderstood, but also one of the most exciting industries and career-opportunities,  that I have the privilege to belong to.

And contrary to some of the naysayers, I do not think it’s important for the head of the PIAA to come from our industry. In fact, I suspect there is a much stronger case for the incumbent to bring transferable skills in managing organisational change. We have too many ”old school” owners with closed-minded attitudes who don’t understand the need, nay imperative, for change.

Print is suffering the slings and arrows of uninformed criticism from the new breed of web- and internet-based technologies that are far more adept at putting their case than we are. I regularly question newly minted graphic designers who know nothing about the printing process. Sorry – that’s not entirely true: if they’ve recently got married they’d likely have had their wedding invitations printed letterpress!

More and more print these days is being ordered as part of something – a product launch, a marketing campaign, a corporate re-branding  with print is simply part of the overall marketing mix. And we’d better get used to that arrangement and agree to using colour-management protocols to ensure the flyer that we printed has exactly the same look and feel as all the other POS, promotional, signage, branding and other marketing collateral that may be supplied by a range of other, entirely unconnected suppliers.

Print must throw off its manufacturing garb and embrace the mantle of a service industry, such as hospitality or recreation. Perhaps the next CEO may come from having run Airbnb – or dare I say Uber! These new, often maligned, on-line industries are where the growth is and represent the increasing supremacy of on-line over bricks-and mortar.

We have been too ready to see threats on the horizon, like some kind of spectre, intent on bringing about our total annihilation. This is entirely natural, given our four-odd centuries at the top of the food chain, but we have to regard print as increasingly part of the answer,  not the total answer.

The head of the PIAA should be someone who can take us on this journey, of integrating the printing industry with the rest of the community. Bill Healey started this process and laid solid foundations, but by his own admission did his best work behind the scenes.

We must continue his initiative of reaching out to allied organisations. Why not partner with POPAI, for example! I attended one of their functions recently and was aghast to find less than a handful of printing companies represented! But the other thing we should do is ask just who or what constitutes the printing industry?

Some years ago I raised this question, as to whether print managers should be welcomed but  this was howled down Not by the PIAA, mind you, but a few vociferous members. What about the small digital print-centres springing up like mushrooms? I talk to them and most have never even heard of the PIAA! What about signage companies, or at least those small printing companie who produce and install signage? Ditto above – never heard of the PIAA!

These are just some of the new directions that our association may wish to explore. Only last week I read with interest, our new CEO’s impassioned plea for membership, wherein he listed all the good reasons to join. And may I say they were all compelling reasons, persuasively put. However, like most associations there is the free-rider problem where my competitor, who may be a member, and I both share in the benefits. This is a hard one to toss, as the law won’t allow discrimination in favour of PIAA members – sadly!

But there is a way! The PIAA holds the key to one of the most valued pieces of intellectual and marketing property known to man – but virtually gives it away.

I am referring, of course, to the National Print Awards, that most glittering prize that printing companies covet like the Holy Grail! Many use it as an extension to their own self-promotional and marketing campaign by boldly displaying their awards, not only in their foyers but also on the letterheads and website for the world to see. And so they should; these are the gold-standard of print, by which all others are judged. But for whatever reason, we commit two fatal errors – 1) by selling the farm, i.e. setting entry-fees way too low! and 2) allowing any printing company to enter!

Maybe this reflects our collective naivety whereby we’ve traditionally underrated the importance of marketing, but I believe entry-fees could be from five to ten times the current rates. This timorous approach to pricing also reflects our traditional obsession with quoting print jobs on a cost-plus basis, not recognising the value of the printed product in the hands of the recipient.

Bottom-line: no PIAA membership, no entry in the NPA.

Having said that, I also think we can greatly improve the format, the appeal and the publicity surrounding this event and turn it into a magnificent showcase of our industry rather than the mutual back-slapping event that it’s tended to become. This event is the great sleeper, it could become an event that attracts publicity and attendance from a wide range of audiences; print buyers, clients, designers and signage companies. It could even fire-up the imagination of school-leavers, if we invited a few along. And, if we were really generous we could even include – print managers!

These are all the kind of constituents who will make up the great print industry of tomorrow.

To the new CEO – welcome and good luck!


James Cryer,



– James Cryer is principal of JDA Print Recruitment. An industry veteran, he welcomes feedback on any of the thoughts and suggestions in his columns.


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One Response to “‘Slings and arrows’: an open letter to new PIAA CEO”

  1. October 07, 2015 at 3:37 pm,

    Brett Dashwood

    It’s the National Print Awards, not the Printing Industries Association of Australia’s Members Awards.

    I appreciate the sentiment if it is to be used as enticement to join PIAA, however although NPA is administered by PIAA, I believe that it is separate.

    As far as the entry fee, maybe NPA can offer PIAA members an incentive to enter (eg. reduced entry fee) however until there’s an issue of volume, I feel that increasing the fee would have an immediate impact on the number of entries and potentially reduce the income if the choice of fee change is wrong.

    I agree that we should be able to greatly improve the appeal and publicity surrounding the event – it just needs someone to do it – but I’m curious about your “Print Managers” comments. What are you suggesting they can’t do?

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