February 8, 2022

What We’ve Got Here is…Failure to Communicate.

What We’ve Got Here is…Failure to Communicate.

Over the New Year’s Day holiday, I concluded that I needed to refocus my priorities. The role of a trade association is to support and advocate for member companies, in our case, in the printing and graphic communications industry. We’ve helped companies across the western United States navigate the business world during the past few years. Whether representing the industry in state and local legislative bodies, providing medical and business insurance, recruiting, human resource services, helping with sales tax compliance, or answering technical printing issues, we’ve been here to help. Most recently, along with everyone else, we have been consumed by everything COVID. However, one issue has been neglected.

A few days ago, as I was going through my LinkedIn feed, I came across a post from Phil Kelly, President, and CEO at Salem One, Inc. in North Carolina. The post included a video of Phil standing on the side of the road. Over his shoulder was a billboard that read, “Print IS… Communication.” In his post, Phil thanked “the Printing Industries of the Carolinas and its Chairwoman, Lydia Morgan, for launching a first of its kind public promotion campaign for Print!”

When I saw Phil’s post, two things came to mind. First, I was upset with myself for dropping the ball on an initiative that I had begun discussing back in 2018. And second, here digital media was being used with traditional media to serve me a message that I needed to act on.

Perception, or the Lack Thereof

If you’ve been following me here on LinkedIn, you know I’m concerned about the negative perception of our industry among the general public. Or, more accurately, I’m concerned they have no perception of this incredible industry that impacts their lives daily. This perception, or lack thereof, directly affects the recruitment activities of college printing programs and the hiring abilities of printing companies, not to mention our ability to lobby for our industry.

Throughout 2018, I expressed my concerns and possible solutions in LinkedIn articles proclaiming that print is everywhere and touches every part of our lives. I wrote about The Printing Education DilemmaConnecting Current Students with the Jobs of the Future, and What is a Good Paying Job? Then, I got sidetracked by current events.

In 2019, local, state, and federal legislation affecting our industry caused me to divert time from developing a campaign to promote the industry. COVID-19 hit in 2020, and my focus was on the survival of our association and that of our membership. Now, as 2022 begins, it is time to return to a shortfall in our association’s service to the industry.

A Positive Image for Our Industry

PIASC will continue to be trade-focused, but we will begin work on promoting the significance of the printing and graphics industry to the general population. This promotion will not be a “one and done” effort, but rather it has to become an ongoing part of the association’s life. Our Mission Statement calls for us to promote “a positive image for our industry.” That “image” has to be seen and experienced by an audience beyond our membership. We have to find a way to cause the consumers of print, basically everyone, to realize that print is an integral part of their everyday reality.

When I think of the role of a trade association, I’m reminded of another association to which I belong. As a result of my background in public accounting, I am a long-time member of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA). The AICPA is the world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession.

You may not be familiar with the AICPA or CalCPA, but you’ve seen the results of their actions. Every year around tax time, you find TV commercials and other marketing materials urging you to work with a certified public accountant (CPA) to prepare your tax returns. These two trade associations sponsor these materials. You may also remember a PSA done with the AD Council and sponsored by the AICPA as part of a financial literacy campaign aimed at young adults. It was called, Feed the Pig. The goal was to encourage young people to save money.

Other trade groups like the California Milk Advisory Board, the Paper and Packaging Board, and others promote the use and benefits of their agricultural products. Working with the United States Department of Agriculture, these groups gather money from farmers in a shared industry, conduct research, then produce advertising materials to promote that industry. You’ve undoubtedly seen the “got milk” commercials from the California Milk Advisory Board and the “How Life Unfolds” commercials from the Paper and Packaging Board.

The truth is, there’s no way our regional association can afford a nationwide TV commercial campaign on the level of “got milk.” Still, there are other ways to promote our industry. This brings me back to the second thought that came to mind when I saw Phil’s post on LinkedIn; it was on a digital platform, highlighting an out-of-home (OOH) advertising piece while using video. This is a perfect example of how modern graphic communication works. Many of our member companies have creative teams designing award-winning marketing campaigns. These campaigns apply all forms of communication, from ink on paper to digital messaging across various delivery platforms.

After seeing Phil’s post, I connected with him to get more information about the billboard in his video. According to Phil, the billboard was due to the leadership of the Printing Industry of the Carolinas (PICA). The billboard was their attempt to promote the industry to the general public. PICA and its members wanted to capitalize on people’s emotional connection to print. Their goal was to help people understand the extent to which print touches every part of their lives.

Learning from the Best

When I think of memorable commercial spots, I’m reminded of the late-1970s Kodak film TV commercials. Those “Times Of Your Life” commercials connected emotionally with the consumer through touching visuals combined with emotional music.

The Paper and Packaging Board created another example that comes to mind. The “Letter to Dad serving in the Military” commercial told an emotional story in 30 seconds.

Clearly, in today’s visual society, the use of video will be part of our campaign. And while we can’t afford TV commercial spots, we can target our videos to the right audience through outlets like YouTube and other social media platforms.

The campaign is in its infancy, but I know it must deliver “a positive image for our industry.” For our association to create a campaign that will connect with the general public on an emotional level will require various forms of traditional print. We will also need enthusiastic and emotionally filled videos disseminated across multiple social media channels. And to tie all of these communication elements together, we’ll need a well-thought-out website.

In addition to these technical components, a quality promotional campaign will take organization, imagination, cooperation, and above all else, determination. I think we can all get some inspiration from a famous celebrity who understands the meaning of work.

It’s a Dirty Job, but…

We’re not the only trade association trying to create “a positive image for our industry.” Most of the skilled trades are experiencing the same problems. There’s a shortage of machinists, carpenters, plumbers, and other industries where people work with their hands. Someone who understands the dire situation faced by the skilled trades once had a “dirty job” himself. In fact, he’s had several dirty jobs.

American television host, writer, narrator, producer, actor, and spokesman Mike Rowe, the reality TV show Dirty Jobs host, understands the meaning of hard work. After working on that TV show, Rowe realized that things were out of balance in our society. To help bring things back into balance, Rowe created the mikeroweWORKS Foundation.

Rowe believes that the skilled trades, as a whole, have a PR problem. According to the Mike Rowe Works website, the problem stems from pop culture glorifying “the “corner office job” while unintentionally belittling the jobs that helped build the corner office. As a result, our society has devalued any other path to success and happiness.”

To help politicians understand the gravity of the situation, Rowe has testified before Congress on more than one occasion. During his testimony in 2017, he talked about his “mission to help close the skills gap by challenging the stigmas and stereotypes that discourage people from pursuing the millions of available jobs.”

I encourage you to listen to his testimony.


Creating “a positive image for our industry” will not be easy. I agree with Mike Rowe; we have a serious PR problem, yet who better than the printing and graphic communications industry to help with a PR problem. That’s what we’ve done for thousands of companies. It is high time that we do it for ourselves!

Understanding and accepting that this is a PR problem, we must target our marketing materials to our target audience, the general public. More specifically, we need to stop preaching to the choir and target parents and young people to help them understand the power of Print.

We may not have the money of the California Milk Advisory Board or the backing of a celebrity, but we have the skills and abilities to create a promotional campaign. That campaign will inform the public about the printing industry’s impact on their lives, including available career opportunities in the printing and graphic communications industry.

By the way, if anyone has a connection with Mike Rowe, let me know.

About the Author

Printing Industries Association, Inc. is devoted to helping our members succeed…and there are many ways that we do so. Need group medical insurance? We’ve got dozens of plans to choose from, and a designated local customer service rep to handle your account. Have questions about human resources issues, sales tax or compliance? We’ve got the answers.

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