Print Influencer: Michael Makin

by Dianna Brodine, PostPress
Michael Makin, CEO, Printing Industries of America

From an early job as a television reporter to his current role as the CEO of Printing Industries of America (PIA), communication platforms have formed the stepping stones in Michael Makin’s career path. His passion for print is evident, and his realistic assessment of the industry’s challenges and strengths place him in perfect position to advocate for the future of print.

How did you find the printing industry as a career?

It was a rather unconventional journey. I have my undergraduate degree in journalism and worked briefly as a television reporter before finding a position in corporate communications. I became somewhat of a specialist in media/public relations and from that avenue, I started my association management career, first as a lobbyist and then as president of the Canadian Printing Industry Association in 1995. I loved print from the very beginning and still love it to this day. In 2001, I was recruited to come to the US as COO of PIA, and I was fortunate in 2002 to be selected as CEO.

What has been the biggest fallout of the last several years of economic uncertainty?

Print always has been the barometer of the national economy. Communications and marketing are two of the first budget cuts that are made, so whenever an industry or economy is uncertain or if there’s downsizing of any import, there is a direct impact on the printing industry. Our industry is slower to come out of the economic downturn as well, so there’s a double whammy. When the economy finally starts to see growth, as we’re seeing right now in the US, it takes the print industry longer to get over that hump.

We continue to see that the print industry – which still is gigantic by every conventional indicator – is contracting. We are a mature industry, and we are seeing decreasing volumes. That is a direct impact of the mature nature of the US economy and the people who are choosing multiple communication channels to get their message out. Those channels do not always include print. However, we’re seeing a renaissance of print in the fact that major marketers are coming back. In today’s age of TiVo, DVRs and Do Not Call, print still is the most effective communication medium.

Were there opportunities hidden in the economic downturn?

I think there is a tremendous lesson to be learned about looking at the communications spectrum with a different prism. There are companies looking at communication solutions and realizing ink on paper isn’t the only solution. That’s hard when these companies are spending literally millions of dollars on capital expenditures to put ink on paper. But slowly, these companies are looking at loyalty programs and managing email campaigns. These are foreign concepts that take time and, for people trying to keep the lights on in the building, it’s a scary proposition.

As the way people communicate has changed, companies that have embraced change and are willing to look at things differently are better prepared for the future. We’re seeing success stories all over the US from companies that have diversified their portfolios with great success. It’s not easy, but we’ve seen the landscape littered with companies that have closed the doors because their business models have not adapted.

What is the biggest challenge moving forward for those in print-related industries?

Relevancy means demonstrating a true one-stop shop capability. Learning to adapt, embracing change and ensuring that a company remains relevant to its customers are the biggest challenges. That’s why many successful finishing companies have all the bells and whistles – they’re trying to be as diversified as possible to help their customers, who often are printers. Customers often don’t realize the breadth of service offerings, and finishing companies need to sing from the mountain-tops to make sure printers know what capabilities are available.

How will you influence printing and related services in 2015?

I fashion myself as a champion of print – a great promoter of our industry with a responsibility to demonstrate how significant our industry is to the economy. That’s multifaceted. It means taking on companies making ridiculous statements about print, such as “Print is dead” or “Print isn’t environmentally responsible.” Part of my role is to be the voice of print, and that means challenging those falsehoods. I also have the opportunity to appear before Senate committees, which benefits the entire industry as a whole. There are legislative challenges ahead, including patent legislation and, hopefully, postal reform.

In the end, though, I can best influence the print industry by providing our members with information. I want to ensure that our members are equipped with the intelligence they need to run their businesses successfully.

What do you see for the industry five years into the future?

If I’m to be completely straightforward, in terms of business volumes, the industry will continue to experience challenge. We will see many players fighting for a smaller piece of the pie – that’s the nature of mature industries. By 2020, we will see half the number of printers in the US, so there’s a challenge in terms of how the industry will evolve.

Those companies that can diversify into new opportunities such as cross-platform communications, mobile and wide format will see an absolutely brilliant future. It’s an exciting time for printing industry companies that are willing to see themselves as communication champions. I’m quite bullish on the future for those willing to make that change, partly because the PIA’s iLearning center is preparing to show companies just how to do that.

There are 20 courses online right now, focusing on sales, cross-channel communications, Lean operations and EHS regulations. This programming is applicable to any segment of the printing industry, and we’re making it accessible and affordable. The greatest differentiator between profit leaders and non-leading companies is the percentage of money spent on training. To excel in a changing world requires new skills, and we want to help our industry excel.