Trade Associations in the New World

 

 

As we firmly ensconce ourselves in the new millennium, we must remember that while we need to look forward to the advancements on the horizon, it is equally important to look to the past and see how far the graphics industry has come. Since the heyday of the trade associations such as the Printing Industries of Metropolitan New York (PIMNY) and the Typographers Association of New York (TANY), the industry has changed drastically. No longer are associations segregated as they were back then. The typographers, pressmen, managers and bindery workers who had their own clubs have found a new home in a one size fits all type of association. Is this progress or a problem? It all depends on who you ask.

 

Back in the Day…

“I really do miss having the participation of people who are in the same business,” said Robert Wislosky of Newark Trade, formerly known as Newark Trade Typographers. “It was nice to be able to go into a meeting and discuss issues that were unique to your particular trade. With the larger associations, which are more diverse, you don’t have that.”

 

Wislosky refers to the conglomeration of the old trade associations, such as the Association of Graphic Communication (AGC), Printing Industries of America (PIA), and so on. A member of AGC, Wislosky feels that today’s way of gaining information, education and even business tips may be more efficient but it lacks the personal touch. Many smaller companies rely on the internet to gain access to organizations or information rather than going out to meetings and seminars. This trend seems to affect every type of organization, not just the printing industry trade associations. People are busy and can’t always make the time to attend a monthly dinner meeting or sit around to discuss business.

 

“Probably the most important part of belonging to a trade association is talking to other people, finding out about market trends, successes, etc.” said Wislosky. George Robbins, printing veteran and advisory board member of the AGC, concurs. “Once upon a time, the association was a gathering of various interests. But it has changed tremendously.” While a concern of the individual association was to interact with other groups, their main focus was to educate and support their core membership through meetings, seminars, and a wide variety of other services. Robbins agrees that combining associations was destined to happen but regrets that a lot of the support services have disappeared.

 

Some of the groups that were very popular in the New York area before the introduction of non-union shops and national corporations were the Young Printing Executives, a service oriented group formed in the 1940s; The Metropolitan Lithographers Association; The Type Directors Club; The New Jersey Typographers Association; and the list goes on. Some of the groups, such as the Young Printing Executives encompassed more than one area of the industry and assisted in such sticky tasks as negotiating union contracts, offered assistance in credit and collections, and offered guidelines on pricing for customers.

 

Progress Not Perfection

“When you go back to the early seventies, the clubs and associations were very active,” said Gregg Van Wert, retiring CEO of the NAPL. “For example, if you’d go to a Craftsmen’s dinner meeting, there would be over 100 people there. And after they meeting, they would stay and socialize. Over the years, clubs started consolidating or became defunct due to declining membership. The people who made these clubs so successful were starting to retire and the younger people often had family obligations. It was difficult to stay in the city for a meeting or go home from work and be able to get back to one [a dinner meeting].”

 

The decline in membership, as well as advances such as desktop publishing, forced some of the smaller associations to consolidate. The NAPL, as well as some of the other larger associations had already been focused on segmented groups within the industry and continue to provide services to their diverse membership. “I think that the organizations who have survived are the ones who serve their members well – especially now when they’re needed most,” said Van Wert. “An organization is about member needs, not growing the organization. If you service the members, the organization will take care of itself.”

 

And so they have. Through the years, the all encompassing trade associations have learned to fill big shoes. “The people who did this work did it so passionately,” said Van Wert. New York was the printing center of the country for many, many years.” Obviously, technological advances changed the face of the industry, creating new needs and challenges. “The associations have done a great job in meeting those needs,” said Van Wert.

 

While it’s easy to slip into nostalgia and look at the past with rose colored glasses, we must remember that the future of the industry, as tenuous as it may seem, relies upon the associations and their membership. The more the members of the industry band together, whether it be typesetters, press operators, managers or anyone else you might see at the company picnic, the stronger the industry will become. And in today’s economy, we need all the help we can get.