On a Mission. An interview with Brendan Perring, New General Manager of the IPIA.
We have known Brendan Perring for a number of years now since he was Editor at Link Publishing on SignLink and Print Monthly, running these magazines and being a key part of the team that launched The Print Show in the UK. Now, four months into the post, he is General Manager at the IPIA, and we discovered more about his plans for the future.
How did this new position come about at the IPIA?
Sidney Bobb, the Chairman of the BAPC, heard about the fact the IPIA had a vacancy for General Manager. As we had worked together for around eight years and enjoyed a good relationship, he thought I was the right fit for the role given my industry experience and passion for industry growth.
I was working for a multi-national marketing agency at the time, and not overly loving it, and I had also worked with IPIA in the past with The Print Show as they were one of the largest exhibitors. In addition we had worked closely together as partners on a number of initiatives over the years and the CEO was a columnist for Print Monthly. The role really appealed to me, and after the introduction, I went through all the processes and I am pleased to say I have been here since January 3rd.
So it’s still relatively early on yet you seem to have been quite active?!
Yes, I have been pretty hectic since I started! The first thing that I wanted to achieve was to connect with my network and let them know what I was doing and how I might be able to help them with their businesses. The digitally saturated age in which we live I really do believe has become a barrier to people meeting face to face. What is key to any business is how to develop new customers, and to add value with existing ones, and you can only really do this on a long-term basis by meeting each one face-to-face.
I’ll give you an example. My neighbour - he is a production designer who is starting work with a t-shirt design company in the USA and they are looking for UK based T-Shirt printers. He called a printer in the UK and asked if he could visit them with a view to them becoming a large customer, and they simply had no avenue for them to do a tour of their premises. They didn’t know how to handle this! All he wanted to do was meet them and they were a little perplexed about this and why it was necessary, which is somewhat strange. It is a symptom though of relationships being transacted via digital channels to the exclusion of all else, and unfortunately those relationships are often very fragile. The shake of a hand, a personable conversation, sharing a meal at a networking event — this all builds trust and builds a relationship based on value rather than price.
How would the IPIA help solve this?
Key to our solution is running frequent events and networking opportunities. As such, there is a platform to meet with customers and suppliers on a one on one basis, and this is the most important thing you can do.
Since joining, the IPIA has been rebranded, what was the point of the rebrand?
During this time we upgraded the member benefits and have redesigned all of the marketing collateral. This includes the production of Innovations in Print Media and Marketing magazine, where I have put to good use my editing skills.
The rebrand was done because the IPIA changed fundamentally into a different model. Most associations use a ‘gym membership’ model where everyone pays the same each month. With so many different competing issues with people’s time - the gym membership model doesn’t really work. People do not use all the elements that they could and they feel they pay, but do not get all of the value.
IPIA membership now deploys a personal trainer model in that we create bespoke solutions based on theindividual requirements of the member. It means the value is higher and each member has the value they need to help develop and grow their businesses.
Another big part of the rebrand was deploying the Simon Sinek - find your why? Understanding not what you do,but why you do it. Understanding your product and why it is people buy into it. For print, it is not ink on paper - it is more than this, the value and solution it provides is significant and if you convey this then you will do better as a result.
What is the mission, or the why, for the IPIA?
We have three key pillars. They are:
CONNECT likeminded people across the print industry to strengthen the long-term health of the sector and create new business opportunities
INSPIRE through thought-provoking conferences and events so that our members' businesses can adapt and thrive
AMAZE by showcasing innovation in products and services to support our members and the wider industry
Marian, the CEO, has led reshaping this core vision with the council, some of whom are more marketing industry facing, which is a useful asset in understanding major print buyers. Part of the ‘why’ was doing the rebrand to freshen things up and to provide a visual difference so that it really signified change.
What core problem are you helping to solve?
EPIC exists (Everything is Possible in Communications),which was previously EPIP (Print being the final letter) is a campaign developed to address this problem. When we visited Marketing Week Live I was shocked there were so few print related exhibitors. Clearly, the core problem is that the print market spends too much time talking to itself. The kind of conversations that we like to have included how to be technically proficient and this is OK. But it is not great if buyers are not buying more print. The print market just doesn’t evangelise itself to marketers, brands, agencies, and designers. When we were at MWL there were fewer than five of us from the print industry at the event that were inspiring people with the creative potential of print. Print may have its weaknesses, but the print is an incredibly strong channel if it is properly invested in and used in conjunction within an integrated communications strategy.
We do not tell the marketing community this. As a result, marketers often have zero knowledge of what is possible with print. When you show them variable data printing or special effects, they are blown away by the power and possibilities despite the technology already being around for 20 years! As an Association, we want to represent print to the markets that buy from them and make a difference.
Is the fact that the print market talks to itself just human nature?
Maybe, but if you think about it the print industry is production led, not sales and marketing led. Before the internet, if you wanted to communicate you had to do it through print, so a culture for selling didn’t really form. It was so ubiquitous that it didn’t have to market itself. There are some parts that do, but most that do not.
Do you think the sign or print sectors are better or worse in this regard?
To be perfectly honest, the sign and wide-format sector are better. This is driven by the fact that most sign-makers were forced to evolve when wide-format inkjet printing came along. Some 30 years ago or more, they were hand making signs as a matter of course, but now they can create them using printers, vinyl cutters, 3D printers, routers powered by CAD software, and innumerable machines that do not require hand skill.
I think this is because they were not production led, they were creatively led, and therefore they have a better understanding and connection with their customers on a higher value level. They continue to adapt - large segments offer digital signage now so they have writing skills, print, and digital signage and they are doing this as a matter of course. They have value conversations on a higher strategic level, as opposed to a lower transactional level. They ask, ‘what are your trying to achieve’ not ‘I will give you a lower price then the next person quoting’.
Printers in commercial print are defined more by their offset and digital print workflows, which makes it hard for them to consider that their product is not ink on paper, it is solving the communication and marketing challenges of their customer.
What should companies do, focus on their core proposition or develop new ideas and services?
First off, the commercial print industry should stop calling itself that. Blockbuster once had the largest brand recognition for in home entertainment, and it did it by having the only film hire shop in every town. It often had a monopoly. And now it does not exist. It disappeared as it focused all its energy on DVD’s and Popcorn and then had the front to penalise customers when they did not get their product back on time. Netflix realised the product was convenient in-home entertainment. For the viewer, there was no option. Almost overnight Netflix and its peers killed Blockbuster. So for print, we need to ask, how can we better provide this product?
As I said, we have to think that our product is not ink on paper. Our product is to solve communication problems or help clients achieve their business goals. Whether that is through offering print as the only solution, or offering it as part of a solution that encompasses all channels, the question has to be “How can I add value to my customer’s business and raise the tide for them?”. Hundreds of forward thinking commercial printers have now evolved to offer wide-format print, direct mail, website design, creative branding design and development, exhibition graphics, soft signage, and so on. And if they do not do it in house they say ‘yes’ to the customer and find a reliable subcontractor that can. A fantastic example is Datum in Hemel Hempstead, look them up and you will see what I mean.
Are social/cultural demographics a problem?
Yes of course too many middle-age men are a problem, but you cannot blame them! There are structural problems that have been reinforced for generations. I think it is more about identifying value properly.
There has been this intense focus on faster, leaner, more efficient, and higher quality print. I think it has reached a point where no one really is noticing the difference. Customers know they do not need to buy machines that give them only marginal advantages.
So has digital helped this at all or has the mindset remained the same?
Some are just using digital in the same way they use offset. But some are also starting to use it more effectively, so not investing in new presses. The technology is not the problem, but a cultural shift needs to take place and this begins with people. Our mission is to inspire this change and I am confident IPIA can make a significant contribution to helping grow creative, valuable print.