Communications vs. Delivery: The printing industry’s distorted view of itself.

My computer went down this last Sunday … virus ridden.  So, I had an opportunity to pull myself away from the internet for five days … for the most part.  Out came my pad, mechanical pencil and crayons, and from it came … clarity.

I’ve been following and commenting on a long running discussion in a Digital Printing group on LinkedIn called, “The Future,” as in the future of printing.  The discussion has taken place over several weeks and encompassed over a hundred comments.  The comments range from nostalgia of the old letterpress days to the convergence of social media and the effects it has on the industry.

The consensus seems to be, that competition from the internet and such, is here to stay, duh – and the industry needs to deal with it.  Also the industry should no longer be called printing … but communications.  “We provide all things – communications.”  Now I see the benefit in this re-branding, but I have still have problems with it.  But I hadn’t been able to figure out why.

Then came the paper, pencil and crayons.  I figured it out.

The printing industry can say all it wants that it is in the communications business.  But unless it’s providing content – it’s not.  Unless your firm has access, whether it be in-house (which I don’t condone) or through an alliance (which I do), to content providers it’s really just a “delivery provider.”

Now by content I mean;  strategy, copywriting, graphic design, illustration and original computer programming.  Isn’t the job of a communications provider to take their client’s message, present and deliver it in a way and at a time that will create the maximum return for their client?   And that’s not just printing and posting on the internet.

And for all of you folks who provide prepress and layout services, please relax.  These services are invaluable and provide the value added, the value that can be your firm’s lifeblood – but you’re still taking somebody else’s content and putting in a form to be delivered, whether via print or electronically.

Now some of you actually do provide content, and because of that … you should call yourself a communications firm.  But for those that don’t, you’re a delivery firm.  And be proud of it. Not every firm in our industry needs to be out there creating original material.  God only knows, there’s enough starving artists, designers and copywriters paying their bills by waiting tables.

What I’m trying to get across here is this is the marketing implications.   If we we’re out there trying to market ourselves as something we really aren’t then:

  • First;   our prospective clients are going to have unrealized expectations.  And because of that the relationship will not start off in the manner you probably want – right.
  • Second;   if you do decide to take on tasks you’re not set up for, making it up on the fly – you probably won’t make any money on it anyway.
  • And third;  you’re not going to take advantage of potential markets – if you come across as being in competition with them – i.e. agencies, marketing firms and designers, etc.

There’s a lot of transition going on in the business of marketing  and printing right now.  No longer are roles easily defined.  The lines are blurred.

Maybe what our industry needs is a collective set of bifocals.   We need to see the industry as a whole and where it’s going, but at the same time we need to see up close to see where we actually fit in.

Once our vision comes into focus, so can our marketing.  Turn off your computer, find your kid’s crayons … and grab your own clarity.


If you like what you read … please Tweet and follow me on Twitter @variable_edge.


~ by Clay Forsberg on August 27, 2010.

3 Responses to “Communications vs. Delivery: The printing industry’s distorted view of itself.”

  1. Clay …your blog IS being read. Nice to hear you did not go through withdrawals with no net conductivity! Point are well taken and I would add that content creation and working with customers to do the “heavy lifting” of creating a vision and strategy and being able to communicate clearly to a targeted audience is harder than most people in the industry think! You are right that the transition to a marketing service provider is focused on creating the content NOT delivering it. However the is still lots of opportunity to support clients in more efficient deliver mechanisms such cross media and even the management of distributed print on demand programs. Seeing these “delivery” services takes more vision from “the industry” to listen to their customers and provide them a vehicle to deliver the content wherever, whenever and and in whatever language they desire.

  2. Jeannette,

    Excellent description … “a conduit to help its customers communicate.” That’s what comments are about – to improve upon the starting point.

  3. First time to your blog Clay – I like it!

    You provide convincing matter to what to call the print industry as it evolves.

    I prefer to consider the industry as a conduit to help its customers communicate, but not do the communications itself.

    I agree it is also about forming alliances or partnerships, engaging expertise. One stop shop, does not necessarily provide true expertise and can dilute some aspects.

    Enjoyed, thanks,

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