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Monday, February 18, 2013

GETTING OUT AND MEETING THE PEOPLE THAT COUNT

The formula for success in publishing is rather simple. Find a magazine in an industry on the verge of a technological revolution in a business you love (that involves a great deal of luck), and convince a company to hire you. Build and create a staff that evolves into a family, produce the best damn product possible, market it to both readers and advertisers and show that you're passionate about making them successful. One more thing, spend time in the field, meeting your customers and your readers. In 1980 and 1981, the U.S. economy  was in a recession with inflation high and other economic indicators  flat, leading to what was called "stagflation". In both of those years Graphic Arts Monthly sales and profits grew more than 12% each year. GAM was only one of three magazines of Technical Publishing's 25  to demonstrate growth in that period. The other two were Datamation, read by MIS and EDP executives, and Industrial Research & Development. I had deep respect for  their publishers, Jim Morris and Tim Burkholder.

Because I was the only publisher in the company who had started his career as an editor (the others had come from the sales side), I initiated a column, Publisher's Perspective. Not one to mince words, I told it like it was. GAM did two readership studies that year, and the first in May indicated that my column was the best read page in the magazine. As a result , I began to get invitations to speak to a number of local Printing Industry of America local affiliates, as well as craftsmen and litho clubs. There was no fee for my appearances because I combined them with sales calls. Besides, it was a great way of promoting GAM, and at the same time, meeting industry executives. My only request was a guaranteed audience of at least 100.

Two of those talks stand out in my memory. Jim Tepper of Printing Industry of New England (PINE) invited me to Boston to speak at the group's monthly meeting. I was the after dinner attraction and was surprised to find more than 250 printing people on hand. I was even more impressed when I sat at the dais and found that  the speaker scheduled for the next meeting was famed Boston Celtic coach Red Auerbach. In front of each attendee was a flyer with a picture of Red smoking a cigar, which he usually lit when a victory was in hand.. In my mind I thought about the only  things we had in common were that we were short, plump and Jewish. After I had finished my discussion on the state of the industry, I received a modest applause. One of the others on the dais handed me a cigar and I lit it. A member of the audience approached me with that flyer of next month's speaker. He asked, "Can I have your autograph?' I laughed. He thought I was Red Auerbach.

Another invitation came from John Berthlesen, who headed Suttle Printing in Madison, Wisconsin. (Today the company, after a  merger, is Suttle-Strauss.) I accepted since I had a trip scheduled to our Chicago office anyway. What I didn't expect was a massive snowstorm raging across the Midwest. Not to be deterred, I boarded a shuttle to Madison, hoping that meeting was not cancelled. The last time I had visited Madison was to cover the 1955 Ohio State-Wisconsin game, and the weather was clear. The flight was rough, and as we flew through the blizzard, the few passengers on the plane seemed to be as white-knuckled as I was. But we landed safely, and I looked out the window and stared at nearly two feet of snow on the ground. As we deplaned (I wore no boots), I spotted a group of three, including John, waiting at the bottom of the gangplank. They were a welcome sight. I gingerly stepped through the snow, aware that I was a couple of hoursf later than my scheduled arrival. My first words were, "Did you have to cancel?" John chuckles and said, "Are you kidding? This is Wisconsin." It took us another 30 minutes to drive to the meeting. I couldn't believe it. There were close to 300 printers anxiously waiting to hear what I had to say.

In November, 1980 My wife and I attended our first NPES meeting. It was at The Cloisters in Sea Island, Georgia, a great golf community at the time. The vendor's association was not what I expected. It had less than 40 members Most brought along wives. As an ice breaker at the opening cocktail party, President Regis Delmontagne, who had assumed the position in 1976,came up with a great gimmick. Each attendee was given a pack of nine trading cards. Each had nine  pictures of  a specific board member. The object was to inrrtoduce yourself to the other attendees and exchange cards to collect a full set of the nine members. There was a catch. Only one of the packs had ten cards. The tenth was the chairman of NPES. I think it was Bill McClintock of 3M. Among those in attendance were Jerry Reinitz and Sy Weinstein from Royal Zenith, Bill Sherman of Kodak, Wenell Smith and Harold Geggenheimer from Baldwin Technology Jerry Nathe,, then with LogE,  Larry Warter of Fuji, Ed Lemanski with Rockwell, Lloyd Butler and Jack Pruitt of Harris Corp.'s printing press division, and Hans Peetz-Larsen who headed Heidelberg USA. Several companies sent older employees as kind of a "thank you for your service in the past" perk. Others sent top executives. (Within two years the attendance ballooned to over 150 after the formation of The Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC) in 1982, but that's a story for a future blog. If you remember or have anecdotes about any of the people at that first NPES annual meeting email mrvinocur@gmail.com.