By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Peer affinity groups are available to members of the print community, offering opportunities to connect and network with one another as well as with vendors for a mutually beneficial relationship. These groups are important to the print industry with a variety of resources such as trade events, webinars, and online forums.
Getting Behind Peer Groups
Peer affinity groups within the print industry serve as a community for print professionals, vendors, and organizations to socialize and share education, tips, and methods.
The overall purpose of a peer affinity group lies in the truth that companies can learn and advance collectively, not just individually. Peter Van Teeseling, COO, Dscoop, believes an effective affinity group doesn’t just deliver education and content to members; it provides members the access and tools to openly share ideas and tactics with each other.
These groups offer a host of benefits to print providers, including webinars, videos, online training tools, inspiring success stories, business growth ideas, live events, and face-to-face networking opportunities.
“User groups help members with technical and business questions, give honest advice, and provide a friendly environment where people can learn from each other,” shares Todd Bigger, VP, software, Kodak Print Division. Most peer communities offer a space where print providers can deliver and share information, education, and tools to help members succeed in the graphic communications industry. “Now more than ever, the ability for people to come to a user community to ask questions and talk about common problems can be a competitive advantage.”
By bringing together individuals, the creation of new ideas prospers. Affinity groups in the print industry are often organized by manufacturers or suppliers and the group is structured around improving and developing ideas and collaboration around a specific product line. According to Thayer Long, president, APTech, these groups help print providers because it offers access to potential partners, mentors, investors, friendship, and camaraderie. “Print providers often use these affinity groups to test out new ideas and ultimately help one another innovate.”
Integral to the Community
Affinity groups are important to the print industry, especially those that provide industry trade events.
By nature, human beings are social creatures with a strong tendency to partner with others that share common interests. Print providers typically consist of hardworking teams with tight schedules that operate at a large or small diverse chain of workstations with little time to learn from or share with others, explains Dawn Olson, director, client business development, U.S. production & industrial print, U.K. Prokom Liason, Konica Minolta. “And when they do, at the dining tables in the break room for instance, they are learning and sharing with others in that same work environment.”
Peer affinity groups and especially industry trade events allow print providers to connect and network with one another. These events always share a common theme, whether in technology, equipment manufacturer, or industry. For example, the Prokom community and event lets anyone that uses Konica Minolta production equipment to experience a sense of togetherness. “To experience that wonderful sensation of being with a whole host of other people around the world, sharing that same set of business dreams and goals,” adds Olson. “Imagine the learning opportunities alone.”
Interest in virtual communities among print providers is strong and has been for at least 15 years. This interest continues to grow as more print providers experience the benefits of connecting with one another in the community.
Prior to this year, Bigger says he had seen a steady demand driven by the new challenges of software integration, connectivity, automation, security, and analytics. But as printers find ways to cut cost and strengthen businesses while recovering from COVID-19, he expects to see an increase in the use of peer groups such as Kodak GUA online events and forums. “Peer-to-peer support is a vital aspect of GUA and something our online platforms help facilitate all year round.”
Even before the current health and economic situation, the print industry underwent major changes and interest in peer groups rose. “Printers were already eager to band together to help find the right combination of services, technology, and marketing to differentiate themselves and succeed in their markets,” says Mike Herold, Director Global Marketing, Production Inkjet Technologies, Ricoh. For example, intimate, small group meetings give printers a chance to hear and be heard regarding today’s industry challenges. Now, in the face of even greater market disruption, Herold says these groups will be even more vital. “The meeting will have to go online for a while, but we project they’ll be well attended.”
According to Longer, interest grows as products become more complex and printers try to leverage the best solutions for their customers. As businesses grow, it isn’t unusual for them to have multiple products from a single vendor. “You become part of that community and these groups bring that community together,” he explains. “Many people are longing for that connection and these groups provide that.”
User Event Goals
The primary purpose of a user group event is to bring together a community or peer affinity group to meet in person. These events are often a great opportunity to network, learn, and discover.
User group events are about sharing knowledge and making connections, both of which help drive growth for participating print providers and the industry as a whole. “These events are an invaluable opportunity to develop a better understanding of where your business is today, where it’s going, and how it will get there, and that’s all driven around knowledge exchange,” explains Heather Poulin, Vice President, Commercial & Industrial Printing Marketing, Ricoh. While this occurs, print providers help partners do the same, resulting in deeper alliances and a stronger industry.
The best indicator of a live event’s value is whether a participant returned home better than when they left. For a print provider, this means more than just developing skills in digital print. According to Van Teeseling, it also means developing skills in themselves and their teams. “The exceptional speakers, deep-dive sessions, and hands-on labs and workshops are designed to shape the growth of everyone who touches print projects.”
During the planning stage of events, groups like Dscoop begin with feedback from the community. For example, the group discovers specific challenges slowing down businesses or about potential clients that need to understand the advantages of personalization. With those needs in mind, groups build an event that addresses those needs and goals with a 360-degree approach to training, education, and collaboration. “We aim to help every role—owners, managers, technical teams, sales representatives, marketing, human resources, and more,” offers Van Teeseling.
Responding to Change
Due to COVID-19, many trade events have been rescheduled or canceled, including those hosted by peer affinity groups. Organizations are handling this change by continuing to offer online resources and providing crisis help for members.
For example, Dscoop continues to stay connected, educated, and motivated despite its Edge Orlando event’s rescheduling. To help members, the organization offers its Dscoop Collaborative Forums where members post questions and answer questions on a range of topics, including ones related to COVID-19. “Whether our members are now working remotely or still at the business, they can plug into Dscoop to get the tactics, training, and tips they need. We’ll continue to work closely with HP, partners, and business management experts to deliver meaningful online education and support tools,” shares Teeseling.
The thINK conference, which targets Canon inkjet users, has transitioned to a live virtual event, which will happen in September. It will feature content from keynote speakers to deep-dive sessions and virtual workshops.
Konica Minolta also canceled its user event, which was scheduled for April 2020 in Miami, FL. However, within days of the emerging crisis, Konica Minolta posted a Crisis Management Toolkit containing production print business tools for surviving and a strategic positioning to help businesses stay strong and healthy until the crisis is contained. It also served to give Konica Minolta Prokom members advantages to use downtime wisely so they may hit the ground running when the issue resolves.
Additionally, within hours of the shelter-in-place mandates, Konica Minolta formed a sharing network established to let Prokom members all over the world find and communicate directly with other members to ensure no one in the community missed an SLA or other critical fulfillment obligation for lack of access to equipment or employees, shares Dawn Olson, director, client business development, U.S. production & industrial print, U.K. Prokom Liaison, Konica Minolta.
Talking shop within a peer group is a great way for print providers to become more knowledgeable about the printing industry. Industry peers can also learn a lot from each other, compare experiences, offer product recommendations and reviews, and business strategies.
In part two, we provide a roundup of industry associations and events. dps
Aug2020, DPS Magazine