Dr. Joe Webb is president of Strategies for Management, Inc., a consulting firm based in Wake Forest, North Carolina, which specializes in helping businesses understand the future. The industry knows him best as the director of WhatTheyThink’s Economics and Research Center and as the author of “Disrupting the Future.” Dr. Joe started his career in the industrial imaging industry more than 30 years ago. His experiences within an ever-changing industry give Dr. Joe a unique perspective when it comes to challenges faced by those in the printing industry.
What drew you to the printing industry as a career?
Comic books. My mother took me on a tour of DC Comics in New York City fifty years ago. I met artists, inkers, colorists, got my first explanation of CMYK and saw what they used as proofs at that time. I think it was the cover of The Flash. That I was getting to see the cover of a comic book three or four months before it was on the newsstand was pretty amazing. I was hooked. Purely by happenstance, my first job was with Agfa’s graphic systems division. It seemed like destiny. There’s a great line in the movie “I Love You to Death” where the husband whispers to his wife, who’s plotting to kill him, “We was doomed to be together.” I think that’s me and printing.
What will be the biggest challenge for those in print-related industries in the next few years?
Industries? Let’s talk about people and resources. Where will the entrepreneurs in our business go next? Will it be content creation? Specialty printed goods like signage and displays? Media management? The biggest challenge is where to go next because there are so many choices. Our industry was good at knowing how to print, and now we have to be focused on why to print because communications are managed and judged from a return on investment perspective. That ROI measure varies from company to company and manager to manager. So, we have to be smart and flexible and we have to be able to bring great ideas to our clients.
What changes do you see taking place within the industry?
The industry always is changing; that’s not a new prescription. The purpose of sales is to create change in a client to something that you provide. Our industry went from lead type to phototypesetting to desktop publishing and now we’re programming for websites and mobile devices. We went from letterpress to offset to digital printing. There are so many examples where we’ve changed. Now the question is not how we change our technology, but how we change our management processes to be part of a very dynamic communications business. Technological change used to make print more attractive and less costly, like the shift we made from camera-based prepress to digital prepress. Now we have to move from a traditional job shop management process to something that aggressively interacts with a much different marketplace.
How have you been working to influence the printing industry? How will you continue to influence the industry in 2016?
In 2015, my co-authors Wayne Peterson and Professor Chris Bondy of RIT introduced the industry to our management assessment and process development program, “UnSquaring the Wheel.” We had our first workshop at Graph Expo, and our book now is available from RIT Press. The feedback has been great for both. It’s a very different way of looking at our business, from people to marketing to technology and finance and the way we work with other media. “UnSquaring The Wheel” will be “rolled out” in 2016 as a series of in-person workshops and also for online training resources starting in 2017.
In the coming year, I hope my commentary and other writings keep encouraging print business entrepreneurs to see the marketplace differently and creatively. I’ve been called the industry’s iconoclast and contrarian, and I wear those names well. But, I do so only because it’s my job to look for incongruities in the marketplace. I try to encourage people to be constantly curious and keep moving forward. The change is so rampant that if you miss one, don’t worry, you’ll get another chance at the next one. But, you have to press forward to create those opportunities because no one will create them for you.
What do you see for the industry five years into the future?
I’m really interested in how younger managers and owners are building businesses now. Their companies are growing because they have a hands-on understanding of media. They are not bogged down by ideas like “everyone needs print,” which hasn’t been true for the last 15 years. They fight for customers with ideas and strategies for how to help clients reach their objectives. The industry may be kind of flat, but some of these companies are really exceptional. These are the types of companies that can grow well above the rest of the industry, and I’m excited to see that growth in the next few years.