What Happens When the Seasoned Print Buyers Retire?

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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6 thoughts on “What Happens When the Seasoned Print Buyers Retire?

  1. Brent Moncrief

    Could not agree more.

    As our industry continues to mature/decline in many it’s segments, there is little or no awareness and/or interest of pursuing a career with the word “print” in it. We have put together a small team here at Fujifilm to develop a simple communications plan, and support materials to reach out to not only the “usual suspect” national graphic arts educators, but also to use within local trade associations, business networking groups, etc.

    This topic, combined with the challenge of managing millennials, is a common thread in conversations with print leaders – often a higher level concern than sales, marketing or capital equipment planning.

  2. Jacquie Perno

    If we shift from selling “print” to selling the results, outcomes, value, action that print delivers, might the shift away from selling through seasoned, professional print buyers be a good thing for print service providers?

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Walker

    At Graph Expo, I was fascinated by the number of programs designed to bring in new talent to the industry (i.e., those offered by Skills USA), but they were not well promoted and the events were not well attended. I think we need to make a greater effort in grassroots programs — not just developing them, but promoting them.

  4. Brett Wright

    As a seasoned production manager and print buyer recently given notice, I recognize the marketplace trend to focus on mobile ads and digital communications. As print professionals, we have to protect our profession and accept the place of print in a digital society. In some digital cases, we’ve accepted diminished quality in interest of speed, convenience, and cost. Like Jaquie Perno comments, we have the recognize and promote print as a part in the solution sale strategy. Maybe then we can “ride this horse” a few more years. In the interim, increase your skillsets and talent in related areas (email, direct mail, etc.).

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