What ever happened to annual reports?

I remember back about fifteen years I had a neighbor who was big into the market. His mental health revolved around the health of his stock portfolio. This annoyed me, especially since his portfolio always hovered around a half a million dollars. But one spillover benefit of this preoccupation was his annual reports. He had them neatly arranged on his living room table – Apple, ATT, IBM, etc.

I loved picking up these “works of art,” admiring them … not the numbers but the printing. I loved knowing that I was looking at the top print jobs in the world. The eight color production, the varnish (flat and gloss), the spot UV – all combined to make the equivalent of a seventy-five dollar coffee table book. The annual report was the “this is what our company is all about in all its grandeur” corporate promo piece.

While I didn’t have a stock portfolio, I had a new special order 1995 red Mustang convertible. And everyone who stepped into my apartment knew it. My glossy Mustang car book was proudly displayed on my coffee table.

What happened?

What happen to the annual report on the coffee table, or the car book for that matter? They’ve been replaced by the internet and the flash ridden corporate website. After all you can get the same information on the web, right? But the problem is you can’t put the web on the coffee table. You can’t covertly show off to your friends – or the girl you just had over on that first date.

The printing industry has always been, and still is all about doing the best job at servicing your customer. Whatever they want to print – you and your firm strive to provide the best service, the best quality at a competitive price. But what if your customer doesn’t know want they SHOULD print.

In the rush to save costs and adopt all “the latest and greatest new thing,” the annual report became a casualty – an unnecessary waste of paper and ink. But with it, went an image of corporate credibility. That high quality self promotion piece gave you the impression that company represented inside was real, a company you would be proud of patronizing or even investing in.

In their myopic thinking, these major corporations didn’t see the benefit in having this physical presence in the living room of their fans – a presence that isn’t temporary like a web page refresh. It’s something print provides, something a website doesn’t.

All the rage in the industry these days is integrated media. A printing company needs to offer web services, social media, QR codes or anything else that pops into the communications vernacular. If we don’t get on this wave … there won’t be another.

And I’m as guilty anyone else in pushing this agenda.

While you may not be any good at QR codes or social media – one thing you’re good at is printing. It’s also something you want to do – it’s your expertise. So maybe that’s what you should do.

Now here’s my point.

Printing serves a lot of purposes. But so does new media. If you’re going to try to fight “tooth and nail” for the same business – for the same applications, you may win … or you may not. But there’s certain things print can do that social media and the internet can’t – like giving your customers a coffee table presence.

I’m not saying every printer should go out and retool their business plan to reserrect the annual report or car book. But what you have to do – is find those items in your repertoire that new media can’t compete against. And you probably have to go out and do some educating. You have to tell them what they SHOULD print. Your have to present new ideas to your customers – ideas that they may have lost in the pursuit of the new and trendy. Here’s an idea. Be different by being “old school.” But you have to show them why they should take a step back rather than two forward.

It’s all about the applications – and uses for print, uses they haven’t thought about, or forgot about. You no longer sell print! You sell annual reports, or car books, or custom baseball cards for their kids or even cool business cards with outlandish finishing. Being a printer you have an advantage because your customers and would be customers can feel your products. They can feel the difference between the flat varnish and UV coating and how they can use it to emphasize the things important to them.

I was fortunate to cut my teeth producing world-class commercial art and printing directories in the Twin Cities and Los Angeles. We used techniques that were off the charts provided by world-class vendors. I was in the mists of the coolest stuff our industry had to offer … and I loved it. And I wasn’t the only one. Ten years plus after some of my directories were published – I still see them floating around. And they look as cool as ever. I bet you can’t say that about a website.

Get out there and sell some cool stuff. But don’t sell printing. Printing isn’t cool anymore. But the stuff that you print … well, that can be really cool.


Check out my blog, “On the Road to Your Perfect World,” or follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg.


~ by Clay Forsberg on April 7, 2011.

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