Printing Industries has a new CEO, Bill Healey, who says the Association will focus on enabling its members to thrive and exploit the new opportunities arising in the changing world in which we live
Bill Healey is no newcomer to starting afresh as head of a new body, so feels confident that as a print industry outsider he can quickly grasp the core issues facing today’s print business owners.
He says, “I make it a policy to listen first and talk later. I have already done a fair amount of listening, and have to say that as far as Printing Industries is concerned one of my primary roles will be to implement the strategies the Board has already set in motion under the previous CEO Philip Andersen.”
No rocking the boat for the sake of it then for Healey, rather he sees it as his task to steer the ship that he has been employed to captain on the course that has already been set. The vastly experienced administrator though will not be shying away from asserting the claims of the print industry, but his sights are set externally, on both seeking out and presenting new opportunities to the members, and standing up to those who would seek to impede print’s progress, either through ignorance, misinformation, misguided policy, or plain oversight.
Healey comes to the print industry as a real insider in the corridors of power, he has dealt with both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, and knows exactly where the levers of power are located within Canberra. Prior to his appointment as the voice of print he spent five year as CEO of the Australian Hoteliers Association, based in the nation’s capital. Hotels has its similarities with print, there are both large groups and a large percentage of individual businesses of all sizes, with the landscape changing in many ways.
Healey says, “Any industry association has three levels of operating: its contribution to and impact on the national economy, its own industry level, and with discrete businesses. Print is the same, and the role of the association is to work at all three levels to the benefit of the individual members and the industry as a whole.”
Beginning his career as a teacher he moved into leadership with a role in TAFE. His experience also includes 14 months as director general in the NSW department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation engaging with various ministers, and eight years with the Australian Retailers Association, five as its executive director. He also sent six years in NSW Premier’s Department when Nick Griener was in office, where he learnt the nitty gritty of government machinations.
His entry into print came after his contract at the Hotels Association came to an end. He says, “I knew Philip Andersen, and Peter Lane, so knew that the Association would be in reasonable shape. Then when I studied the Print 21documents (Ed: outlining the future direction of print) I came to recognise that print has a broader role within the visual communications world.”
In fact Healey first came into contact with print 25 years ago, as part of his Masters Degree he looked at print and its engagement with TAFE, and concluded that while the need for traditional craft skills would diminish rapidly the need for technical and conceptual skills in print would increase. He says, “That still stands true today. The industry has a significant standing in the economy, and is evolving rapidly. Manufacturing is no longer the sole point of the print industry, it needs to embrace a more dynamic position within the visual communication industry, and the Association has to lead in that repositioning.”
Part of that repositioning for Printing Industries is implementing the structural changes it decided upon at the beginning of the year, which Healey says will provide a more unified structure to enable enable the Association to service the needs of its members better. The Board of Printing Industries is also in the advanced stage of its corporate planning process.
Healey says, “This will point the way forward for the Association. It was evident from PrintEx that there is a recognition in the market that print is going through an evolution.
Print is of course a broad church, so it will not be a one size fits all scenario. There are many threats to print, but just as many opportunities, and our job is to highlight both, and present option to our members for dealing with both.
According to Healey print business owners large and small are well advised to think about positioning their businesses. He says, “Our role at the PIAA is to lead and support that process. Printing Industries is not just about employee relations, although that will always be an important part of our work, but today our job is to help print owners negotiate the route to success in the new digital economy, with serious thought and representation. I don’t see the digital economy pushing paper out of the picture, far from it, but we are now in a multi-channel communication environment, with the likes of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook all playing their part as well.”
Healey clearly has some insight into the changing environment as he says, “It seems to me the printer’s client has traditionally been at the end of the line, but now there needs to be a more aggressive approach. Printers need to engage far more closely with their customers, that is where the opportunities are to be found. If we can be proactive – helping customers see how print can help their businesses, rather that reactive just doing what the customer asks us to do, we will reap rewards. If we at the PIAA take a broader role in the repositioning of the industry that will provide opportunities, we will be offering programmes making that possible.”
Healey draws parallels with print from his time at the Retailers Association, he says, “The dot com revolution was in its early days a decade ago, and some retailers back then, and even now, think of it as an aberration. But the fact is that for retailers a shop is just a platform for them to sell goods, and the internet is another platform to fulfill exactly the same purpose, to enable the selling of goods. So if retails stopped seeing themselves as shopkeepers – after all a shop itself does not make money – but as providers of goods utilising whatever platform is best for their various customers, then they would have no problem embracing the internet, in fact would be eager to do so, and those that did so first would reap the richest rewards and put themselves in pole position. It is the same with print; owners and managers of print businesses are in the visual communications industry, and one of the platforms is print, but their real value is not printing a brochure but helping their clients communicate with their intended audience, and taking print jobs is just one element of that. Partnering with their customers to understand and deliver the desired end is a much better way to go.
“Customer databases are now a key factor in business and some printers are combining these with print to create a powerful business and marketing tool.
The majority of Healey’s members are of course offset printers, and will continue to be so. Healey believes that part of the Association’s role is to provide a forum where members can share their ideas. He says, “Obviously no-one is going to give away their inner secrets, but in terms of opportunity there is much to be gained from sharing knowledge. That may be someone sharing how instilling a customer focused approach to their business has worked, how various markets react to their propositions, how they are getting on in implementing an IT professional into their business, how new solutions such as cloud computing have helped or not.”
Healey says there are four basic functions of an industry Association: help its members increase their revenues, help them cut costs, help them manage according to the current regulatory environment, and find and keep good people. However he says, “All industry associations, and the Printing Industries is no exception, have to work within limited resources, so prioritising becomes a key issue.” Healey’s biggest priority to begin with is to bed down the new structural change, and to finalise the formulation of the new strategic blueprint. He says, “This will map the way forward and place us in that position where we can help lead the print industry into the future.”
Value in pressing economic times is also a key issue, with Healey keen to stress that Printing Industries is acutely aware it needs to be perceived as delivering value for the fees printers pay. He says, “Of course membership is an insurance policy for printers, particularly in regard to workplace relations, but membership of the PIAA needs to deliver much more than that, and certainly in the areas I have been talking about.”
Part of Healey’s job will be to represent print to the powers that be, and with his long background in government relations he is well suited to the role. He has been a member of numerous government working parties at commonwealth and federal level, and is recognised as an effective lobbyist in Canberra. He says, “Engaging with politicians is a key part of the role, and with print in the firing line in many cases, including everyone from environmentalists to some book retailers who want to scrap the existing parallel importing system it is crucial that Printing Industries delivers a strong, cohesive and well directed voice. One of my strengths is the ability to speak where it matters to the people who matter in a way they can understand, and will impact on their policy making decisions in favour of local print, because they will clearly see the value of that to the national economy.”
Healey knows that it is easy to get sidetracked in the political jungle, he says, “You have to pick your battles and know how to win.” Helping to change the misconceptions about the environmental damage print causes will be one of the key battlegrounds for him in Canberra.
Healey is aware that there is a general feeling that print has way too many associations, and has been involved in amalgamation of various bodies in his previous roles. He says, “It has to be to the benefit of both parties with their interests taken into account, but in theory consolidation is beneficial, particularly if it enables a more cohesive picture to be presented.”
Print is an industry that is one of the top ten Australian manufacturing sectors, although until recently it had a profile that belied its size and importance. Healey says, “I will be continuing the excellent work of Philip Andersen and his team to highlight the importance of print, which in contrast to some of the more high profile industries, those with a high concentration of jobs in a small area, has received very little government funding. I believe there should be financial incentives for printers to evolve their businesses into modern operations serving the new economy, because those businesses will deliver jobs and economic growth.”
It is no easy task to lead a significant industry through a period of significant change, with the aim of more gain than pain. Healey shows appetite for the role though, and with his insider knowledge of Canberra and vast experience leading member organisations he seems well set for the role.