The Universal Truths of Print - Deborah Corn. Print Media Centr.
Deborah Corn is the Intergalactic Ambassador to the Printerverse. Deborah has 25+ years of experience working in advertising as a Print Producer. She currently provides Printspiration and resources to print and marketing professionals through Print Media Centr, working behind the scenes with printers, suppliers and industry organizations to help them create meaningful relationships with customers and achieve success with their social media and content marketing endeavors.
Deborah’s LinkedIn group, ‘Print Production Professionals’, now totals 96,128 members and is the #1 print group in the world.She continues to help print connect in new ways through her Project Peacock events and other community-based initiatives. In this interview, we discover more about her philosophy and her opinions on the big issues in print.
Tell us a little about your background.
For 25 years, I was a Print Producer in New York City at some of the most well-known ad agencies in the world. I started in print traffic and worked my way up to Director of Production. In my production role I managed the internal and external needs and budgets of projects, and collaborated with creative teams to solve problems and bring ideas to life.
How did you get your knowledge for print?
My knowledge—if you can call it that—was mainly based upon the information shared by the printers and vendors I worked with. I did not realize this was as limited as it was until Print Media Centr opened doors and I started going to the print shows. I learned quickly walking the show floors that I really knew nothing.
This is such an important point, especially if you are a print customer reading this.
Printers, and service providers no matter what industry they are in, are going to educate customers on the technology and products they have to offer so they can make sales. But today, print customers really need to take more of an initiative to learn what is out there. Digital toner, inkjet and wide format printing have significantly changed over the past eight years, and the print customers are not up to speed on the new possibilities. They are missing out on better ways to produce their work, and maybe even save a little money along the way.
Print customers are always invested in creating great relationships with their vendors. Now they need to find the right vendors with the right technology first. The problem is, how?They don’t go to shows, they don’t talk tech when it comes to speeds and feeds and quite frankly, they don’t care about that as much as what the new technology can do. Trust me, in the last 10 years I could have learned how a press works from thousands of printers and manufacturers I’ve met with… but I haven’t. I only need to know what the press can do, and see samples from it. While there are geeky print customers out there who love to know all about presses, more are like me. Regardless of that, they all need our help and information so they can create the best print possible for their clients, their company and their budgets.
Is this the single biggest problem for the print sector in your view?
I think it is a gigantic problem that has a long tail, unfortunately. We have a LOT of catching up to do with print customers. Not just on presses and ink, on paper and substrates, too. My theory on how the knowledge gap came to be starts with the end of Paper Spec Reps about eight or so years ago.
Before anyone gets nuts, SOME paper mills and merchants still support this position, but it’s not like it used to be. As an agency print buyer, I would get tons of paper swatch books and promotions from the paper people. Each was a literal love letter to print, highlighting what was possible to create on the paper stock being promoted. We learned about new techniques and saw creative examples that inspired us. Spec Rep day was like a holiday. I wrote my name in the sample books so the creatives couldn’t steal them. We decorated our offices with pages from the books and posters from promotions. I can’t stress enough how much we loved and relied on these visits for new ideas.
When the mills started closing and consolidating, the Paper Spec Rep position was cut, and so was the mass production of the swatch books and promotions – again by most, not all, mills and merchants. Buyers can still get swatch books and samples, it’s just not as easy as it was and that has contributed greatly to the customer knowledge gap, in my opinion.
Please tell us about Print Media Centr.
Print Media Centr provides Printspiration and resources to print and marketing professionals with some fun in the mix. That is my mission statement. What is also included in that is some serious community building and the development of community-based initiatives like Project Peacock, Girls Who Print, #PrintChat and International Print Day. Your readers can learn about each on my site, printmediacentr.com.
What led you to start Print Media Centr?
I didn’t actually. PMC was founded by Nigel Cliffe and Mark Davey from England, who found me through my LinkedIn Group, Print Production Professionals. I started the group after I lost a job to network with other print customers, creatives, printers and headhunters to find work. The group members didn’t know that was my motivation of course, and they started to use the group as a professional resource asking each other questions and for referrals. A big agency print customer sent me an email thanking me for starting the group and stated that it was like have 5,000 colleagues down the hall. I knew I was on to something at the point, and even though there was no Print Media Centr at that time, I decided to abandon my job search and focus on creating something that would be of value to the group.
Not long after that Nigel and Mark came along. They had a site with no audience, I had an audience with no site… voila! Print Media Centr was born.
That is the abridged version of course. I spent at least three years wondering how I would keep my lights on being a professional networker, and sometimes I didn’t. It was a big step for me as a print producer to come out from behind the curtain and become the face of PMC. Anyone who has ever worked in an agency or had contact with a print producer knows we prefer to be backstage than on stage. I had to get over myself quickly and start writing blogs, learning about and navigating the emergence of social media, and of course learning about the things the group cared about so I could deliver content and information for them through the site.
That is when it actually got interesting.
From this weird perch I occupy as the connection between everyone, I could see HUGE disconnects and gaps in the information and messaging that was being shared in the industry. The group was growing, and it opened more doors for me to help the people that were getting lost or left behind as the industry plowed forward. I declared myself the Intergalactic Ambassador to The Printerverse so I could help bridge some of those gaps and connect everyone with the people, products and services they may or may not know existed. I have always considered the PMC audience as my customers and I serve them by surrounding myself with VERY knowledgeable people and industry partners to deliver. I am not in the recommendation game, I am in the referral game. I can let people know things they may need are out there and help point them in the right direction, but that is as far as I go, and I don’t monetize this in any manner. I declared myself an Ambassador, which allows me to stay within diplomatic lines as much as possible so the audience trusts me, and I really think they do. That is something I am very proud of.
What are some of the disconnects you noticed?
Let me give you two that will be topical… inkjet and personalization.
If you are reading this and you have anything to do with production inkjet, do NOT assume anyone knows what that means, especially print customers. I spend more time explaining that the inkjet technology the industry is talking about is not in relation to desktop printers. I have personally watched hundreds of elite print customers try to rub off the ink from samples we have shown them through Project Peacock. This is a very misunderstood technology, and having a consumer product everyone knows as the assumption of what it is makes every conversation about it super important. If you are going to talk about it, make sure the first thing you do is say: “So with inkjet, and by the way I don’t mean your desktop printer, I mean a super-fast and versatile digital printing technology that can offer you a variety of unique ways to communicate and connect with customers through your marketing...”
Speaking of those unique ways, the push for personalization really shows how far apart the press makers, printers and print customers, are. Manufacturers sell presses based on value propositions and applications they can produce, the printers then try to sell print based on that. The problem here is a GIGANTIC cart before the horse, and the need for data and data management to execute.
Most of the personalization we see in the world is a gimmick. The meaningful uses are usually hidden unless you and your neighbors compare mail or coupon inserts for example. I visited a printer that showed me how they use data to make sure that the coupons I get are reflective of my shopping patterns and history. Until that moment I thought it was just luck that a lot of my products were in there each week… yes, that’s the truth and this wasn’t very long ago! I’m sharing this because if I DON’T KNOW, assume the print customer and/or marketing person you are talking to doesn’t either.
One last assumption you should make about personalization is that data is scary and print customers and creatives don’t want anything to do with 5000 versions of anything. I have met with more than 1200 of them through Project Peacock and I have never heard anything but gasps of horror when the subject of data or excel files came up. They like versions, but manageable ones. Three of something is just as exciting to get them interested in using digital technology more frequently and in more unique ways.
How does Project Peacock work?
Because of the disconnect I’ve been discussing, and not too much interest from the industry to bypass printers and educate print customers directly, I started Project Peacock to do it myself. Luckily, Canon Solutions America, Domtar Paper, Scodix and a company called Miralupa that does Augmented Reality saw value in my mission and jumped in to help.
Project Peacock started in 2017 as visits to the conference rooms of agencies, brands and corporations with in-house marketing departments. We invaded a city and for three days presented a show-and-tell of new possibilities with print, paper and marketing technology. We met with over 800 customers before a very BIG insurance company got in touch to have us come over. I explained that we were booked for 2018 and could come in 2019. They offered to pay me to come over. I declined because that isn’t the model, but this mega brand was willing to pay me to show them print samples and that was just crazy to me. I thought it was over, but then all hell started breaking loose in my email and texts. The VP of Production at this company used his influence to have at least one of his printers with Canon technology put pressure on Canon to put pressure on me to visit them, like ASAP. Of course we did, I mean it’s the best story ever to prove my disconnection point, but that was also the moment I realized the in-house visits weren’t enough.
Project Peacock is now manifested through Peeks and Print Fairs. Peeks is a video series highlighting new print applications for print customers and new technology for printers. For these I work with Morten Reitoft from Inkish.TV. He brings a wealth of industry knowledge and creativity to the table, plus he knows how the presses and pretty much everything else works. Our Yin and Yang compliment very well here. We have produced 12 videos so far and are in the process of scheduling more to film.
Project Peacock Print Fair is a traveling pop-up event that launched in NYC on March 14, 2019. We have since been to Dallas on June 27, and are heading to Chicago on August 1, Los Angeles on September 12, and Toronto on November 8th. In 2020 we are planning to hit Miami, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Portland in the US, and due to popular demand, Mexico City and London are also on the agenda for 2020. I will see if I can work some magic to hold a Project Peacock at drupa in 2020 as well, but honesty that already is the best show-and-tell for print in the world so we shall see.
One thing I do want to mention are results from Project Peacock I think your readers will be interested in. The first question we were asked during our first agency visit in a room filled with ad agency buyers from a gigantic global agency was: “Can I have a list of vendors who can help me do that?” That was completely unexpected and shocking, but it happened every single place we went. Disconnect!
The other interesting thing is that we have driven digital print projects and dollars to printers from Peacock attendees in every city to date. Many agency attendees have also followed up with me for more resources, samples, contact info and general information they don’t have access to. I created a sample ordering mechanism for Peacock, and they are taking advantage of it!
The point to all of this is the best way to influence these print customers is to give them cool tools to play with and then leave them alone to create. Don’t sell, tell a bit of a story of why this application or technology is relevant to the person standing in front of you, and show, show, show. Then step away and let it marinate.
Would you call yourself an influencer?
That is not how I define myself. I am a disrupter as much as I am a connector. I am able to get things done in an unconventional way because the audience backs me, they are the true influencers. They read the blogs, they engage in my group and through social media, they watch the videos, they come to Print Fair and they apply the information, Printspiration and resources I provide into their world to manifest it into something tangible.
That said, being the Intergalactic Ambassador does open some cool doors. I have worked with the PRINT show (formerly GRAPH EXPO) for many years providing free education on the show floor for attendees with my Intergalactic Alliance Partners. I have the privilege of representing the people at trade shows and events around the world, and presenting sessions at them. I am invited to speak to students at colleges, at industry events and company meetings. I travel with Team HP when I am lucky enough to be invited, and through my work with them at drupa 2016 and Interpack 2017 in Germany I developed a relationship with Sabine Geldermann and Messe Düsseldorf that resulted in the first Printerverse at drupa! For 11 days, we will present free education and broadcast it live from Hall 7a and the fairgrounds. I still cannot believe that is going to happen… but it’s happening!!! I will also make my first trip to Australia this year to attend PrintEX, present sessions and have some fun with Pat McGrew and the awesome Aussies who rally behind International Print Day every year and wake up super early to attend our weekly #PrintChat on Wednesdays at 4PM ET.
I notice that you also run a Podcast, please tell us more…
Thanks for noticing! I launched Podcasts From The Printerverse last year and to date the episodes have been downloaded more than 60,000 times from 122 countries. Podcasts, about print. I think they are popular because I keep them as real and conversational as possible. I try to help listeners learn about the people behind the products and services they are interested in, and the vision of the company they are investing their future in. Margins are tight and every dollar counts. Time is limited and podcasts are a fantastic way to learn on the go since they are super portable and playable through most every device. I often start listening on my computer, pick it back up from my phone as I walk to my car, play it over Bluetooth there, back to the phone as I grocery shop or walk to a plane – you can download and listen on the plane, too. Makes it very convenient for on-demand education pretty much anywhere you are.
When I started my podcast there were not many of any significance around, and the medium was new to the industry. Without the support of Ricoh USA and the Association of Print Technologies – APTech (formerly NPES) I wouldn’t have one episode in my channel, and as of today there are more than 250. They stepped up to sponsor these programs about print for everyone in 2018 and 2019, and I am eternally grateful for their partnership.
So what is your ultimate aim with Print Media Centr?
THAT is a great question. I recorded a podcast with Shuchi Sakar from HP and she made me realize that I needed an end game so I could navigate with purpose towards it. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, sweating over this question. For now, I have decided to focus on growing Project Peacock in the US and internationally, and providing 11 days of quality programming from the Printerverse at drupa 2020 with the largest Intergalactic Alliance the world has ever seen. Let’s talk again after that!
For more information on Print Media Centr, check out the website.
There is no doubting Deborah’s commitment to her cause and we wish her continued success with her Project Peacock Tour.