At the Argos Inspiration Days 2018, Richard Askam gave a FANTASTIC speech using an Island to illustrate the obstacles in the printing industry. It was entertaining, educating, and a great inspiration to end first Day’s Inspiration Day.

All good. Hello. Hello. Can you hear me?


Yes. Look at all the lovely smiling faces. I’m the only thing that stood between you and a free bar. So, no pressure on me whatsoever. Thank you. Thank you for coming at the end of the day. We thought we’d invite you all to come and sort of sit at the front and hopefully get a little bit of inspiration. A bit of motivation. Possibly some perspiration. Who knows? I was asked actually, just before I came on, what I was going to talk about and I still don’t really know, because I’m a little bit of a strange one in this room today.

First and foremost, it’s a little bit odd being an Englishman in Brussels, but I guess I maybe going to turn the lights off when we leave. Thank you. A big thank you to Tony and Argos for inviting me to come all the way from the French Alps this morning. I start with an apology for the way I’m dressed. At 3:00 a.m. I started my journey here today from 3,000 meters above the French Alps where yesterday I was skiing and tomorrow I will be doing the same. I jumped on a train. That train took four hours to get me to Geneva, and then a plane that dropped me to Brussels, and then an Uber that got me here and here I am. So, the world moves in mysterious ways. In about an hour, I’m going to repeat that journey backwards, and get home, and hope nobody missed me. So, apologies for the fact that I appear to be dressed like some kind of mountaineer.

Secondly, I need a favor from you, because it is my niece’s 18th birthday today. I made her a promise, because I couldn’t be there for her birthday, was that I would take a photograph of all of you saying happy birthday to her, and send it to her as if she was winning some kind of popularity contest. Is that okay if I indulge her to that? So, what I’m going to ask you to do, is when I say one, two, three, you all stand up and say Martha. Okay. Yep. Right. Let’s try it. Video. Yeah. Video. Right. After three. One. Two. Three.


Perfect. Thank you very much indeed. That gets me off the hook for at least another year.

And then, finally, I suppose we ought to talk about Print. I’m a bit strange, because I’m not actually from the Print industry. I’m from one of those wonderful industries that still everybody regards as some kind of mystical experience, which is the wine business. I grew up in the wine business. My family were in it for 30 years before me. What it turns out, was that I was actually in the storytelling industry, and I didn’t realize it. In order to sell wine to people, you have to sell them the story first. Ultimately, if you were just selling the wine, it’s alcohol suspended in liquid. That’s nowhere near as sexy as the story about the slopes that the grapes were grown on, and the guy that brought the grapes down, and the name of the donkey, and the lady that pressed the grapes, and so on and so forth. So, I actually spent 30 years of my working life training to do the very thing that I do now, which is public speaking. Not actually knowing that, that’s what I was doing.

What I do now, as a consequence of all of those things and all of those experiences, is tell stories. So, I was asked to come here to come here today and tell a little bit of a story about the print industry. Where it is, where it was and potentially where it’s going. One or two of you that I have spoken to already today, I’ve highlighted the fact that really what I do for a living is go around the world and give my opinion to people. The reason that I do that is because I’m not allowed to do it at home. So, I try to spread the gospel according to Richard around the world. I spend a lot of time talking at events like this.

Every one is different. Every one has a different feeling. Every one has a different objective. Everybody has a different feeling of what success looks like. I only have one vision of what success looks like from business perspective, from a life perspective. It’s how many people have stood around the hole in the ground when they are putting you in it, because ultimately they are the people that you’ve made an impact on. Everything else in life is noise. The money is just a way of keeping score. We pursue our working lives voraciously, but ultimately it’s the people that matter.

The thing that is getting lost in the word that we now live in and, for those of you with children out there that are communicating with each other via their thumbs, we are losing the most basic thing that we were born with which is the ability to talk to each other. The lost art of conversation. It’s the one thing that print allows people and brands and retailers to do, which is to engage with each other.

That’s where I come at the print industry from, is utilizing print to engage with people. To start a conversation. Most of what I’ve done in my working life has been to do with personalization. I was actually very fortunate to be at the start of the personalization curve because I created the Share a Coke campaign online in 2014 in the UK and Island. That was quite a useful trick to be able to talk about. Everybody’s bored to death with it now of course. It’s actually become a curse. Ultimately, anybody in from Coca Cola at all? Good, because I’m about to slag off the whole campaign.

Ultimately, for me, it was a marketing fail because they created a situation where people could be pissed off at the fact that they couldn’t find a bottle with their name on it. When we came along in 2014, we solved that problem by taking it online. Brilliant solution, except they didn’t tell anybody. So, everybody holds this campaign up in the spotlight of glory but, actually, I don’t think it was anywhere near as good as it could have been, or should have been. What it’s done is created a bit of a blocker for what people think digital print is for. They think it’s just for putting your name on stuff.

All of that is quite important. It’s quite important to all of us. How many people as a child went to the seaside to find a key ring that had got their name on it? That notion that somebody knows who you are is hugely important. That’s at the root of what personalization actually means, but it’s got very little to do with your name and everything to do with the fact that I know that you’ve spent some time and thought and effort on finding me something. Why do we watch people open the presents that we’ve bought them? Why do we want to see the look on their face? We know what it is. We bought it. And yet, as human beings, we like that emotive connection that that gift giving moment brings. If you could bottle that and sell it to brands on print, that’s exactly what they’re looking for as well. All they want to do now is start a conversation.

I’m sadly old enough to remember the world pre-internet, which is a little bit worrying for me personally. The thing that’s changed in our working lives is the internet. What that’s done is changed the necessity of brands and retailers to think about who you are as individuals. Previously, they didn’t really need to know. They didn’t really care. They just needed to know where you shopped, and then they had their relationship with the retailer. But now, they’ve recognized the value of you as individuals. Things like personalization, customization and localization allow you to feel connected to them in a way that previously you didn’t even know was possible and they didn’t even know was necessary. That’s been the biggest change point in the last 20 years.

The internet does a lot of things, but ultimately we’re still only using it for two things. Playing games and watching porn. 98% of the internet isn’t utilized. So, imagine what it could be like if it worked properly. Imagine what the print industry could be like if it worked cohesively. The thing I always find quite difficult when I come to these events and talk to people at these events is the one biggest problem that you all have. It’s the same thing. History. You are all fighting history the way that we always did it. That’s the biggest curse upon any business, well, that’s the way we’ve always done it, is the innovation block.

So, my job, as I see it as a speaker, is to try and get you see things slightly differently. There is no perfect. I don’t believe in perfect. I never have, but I do believe in better. If you can go to these events and come away with one thing that makes your business better, then that’s what success looks like. Is that fair to say? It’s just an open mind thing. I read a lovely quote recently that your mind is like a parachute. It works best when it’s open. That’s the thing to take way for any given day if you can learn one thing to help improve your business.

So, I started to think about how I can sort of draw this for you, because it all very well for me to stand here chattering along, but everybody likes a visual. So, I thought I would come up with a story, seeing as I’m allegedly a storyteller. What we came up with was The Adventures on Print island. That’s where you all live. Everybody is on Print Island. Everybody is talking to everybody on Print Island. The problem is, nobody is talking anybody that’s not on Print Island. Phrases said earlier on today that the print industry is very good at talking to itself. It is. Fantastic. I love it. The difficulty is when you’re not talking to anybody else. You talked about mind the gap.

I’ve written quite a lot about this over the last year and a half and called it the believability gap, because on one side you have the print industry that has capability and over here you have the brands and the retailers with believability. In the middle is a gap. When you have a gap, people inject doubt. The people over here that don’t understand print have got nobody to talk to about it. The people over here that sell print don’t usually sell print, they get bought from.

My advice to you is don’t wait to be bought from because that conversation will always start with the same question, how much will it be if we do this? Any conversation that starts with, how much will it be, is all about price from the very, very beginning. I would rather that conversation start with you saying, look what we can do. That’s very different.

In that gap … Anybody in from an agency? Can’t really see. I’m guessing not. In that gap sits the agencies that inform the brands. My advice to the print industry for a long time now has been to behave like an agency. Talk like an agency. Talk to the brands in the language that they understand and the tone of voice that the appreciate about what you can do, because at the moment, the agency sits in the middle not knowing that because you’re not telling them. When the brands ask the question, what’s available, the agencies don’t know the answer so they tell them something that they do know, which isn’t want you can do, it’s what they know. That’s the difference. Does that make sense?

So, my view has always been, if you behave a little bit more like the people that they wish to have the conversation with, they’ll have it with you, and then that gap closes. Then all of those possibilities that you are beautifully innovating become possible.

So, I started to look at Print Island as bit of a sort of a home for the print industry. I’d look at some of the places on it and some of the references on it and see if we could use that to sort of highlight what we’re trying to do. I’m going to, excuse me, jump down here.

So, we’ll start with Digital Cove at the bottom right here, which is really, as you can see, the biggest inlet on the island and probably the biggest opportunity. Right in the mouth of the harbor, the Good Ship Share a Coke, has parked itself and partially sunk. Nothing is getting in and nothing is getting out because everybody believes that digital print is all about putting your name on something. Yet, rather interestingly, your name is the least personal bit about you. I spend my life introducing myself as Rich. Most people know me as Rich. So, if you sent me something that said Richard on it, I’d know that you don’t even know me. You found my name, but you found nothing personal about me.

The Coca Cola campaign, to a certain extent, did just that. All those people that couldn’t find a bottle were actually more annoyed than they were amused. When we did the online campaign in 2014, there were 550,000 names in the database. Do you know the only one name that Coca Cola wouldn’t let be in the database? Anybody?


Pepsi. We have a winner. Cyril was in there, I’m afraid. Even Adolf was in there. God bless him. There were more bothered about the name Pepsi than anything else. That was their information behind their marketing structure. It wasn’t to please you, it was to not be pissed off by their competitors. The other thing they bothered about quite a lot was we had 16 meetings about the color red, just to make sure that we got the labels right.

So, ultimately this global successful campaign has parked itself in the entrance to Digital Cove and kind of stopped everything. So, despite the fact that you’re capable of doing so much more, the world believes that that’s what it’s for. So, my challenge to you is to get sail past that. Take a little dinghy. Go out for a ride out here. Get past the Good Ship Share a Coke and tell people. Tell people what you’re capable of. Don’t just tell yourselves, because you know. You’re very good at that, but tell the world. That’s where this link now to the creative industry needs to come from. What we need to do is to encourage them to let the tail wag the dog rather than the other way around.

I said to Matthew earlier on, if we could challenge students to break the print industry with innovation, let’s see what it would look like. What’s the worst that could happen? All right. We break some of the print industry. So, on here, you’ll see quite a few things. I don’t know whether you can see them clearly. There’s the myth that print is dead, which is quite interesting. You’ve got cannon. I got you on there Matthew especially. Obviously, your guns are pointing away from Xerox, which I think is a useful thing. Although, I need to change Xerox Town now of course to Fuji Town, but we’ll deal with that another day.

There’s a number of other things on here. Labels Lagoon at the top. That’s very easy to access, actually. Labels Lagoon. People always say, why is digital print work well with labels? Because it’s the easiest. I did it. If I can do it, anybody can do it. Printing something, peeling something off and sticking something on. It’s kind of like child’s play. That’s still where it is. Phrases point to about 3% of the industry is only digital. 90% of that 3% is labels because it’s easy.

Count converters are scratching their heads. Flexo is scratching their heads. I’m speaking next week to a bunch of corrugated converters about how we can turn boxes into products. We can. How many of you have children? That when you bought the big present at Christmas, they put the present at one side and played with the box. It already exists as a product. It’s just not seen as a product. I’ve actually seen a wonderful box that when you open it up and cut it around and post it up, it becomes a fort, but like Fort Cannon. There’s a marketing idea for you Matthew. You can have that one for free. So, your guns at the moment are point over Flexo Woods into the Creative Agency Mountains, because we see them as the enemy. Why? They should be our friend. Ultimately, that’s who we should be talking to, because they are the people that are informing the brands beyond them, and the retailers beyond them, of the products that are available that we wish to buy. Then that riddle about, is print dead, ends. Of course not. How can it be?

So, you see the point. The industry as a whole is all living on this island. It’s great. It’s lovely weather, it’s nice beaches, but does that mean you have to relax? What does that mean? Some of you maybe build a raft. Going to sail over to the neighboring island and see what it looks like. I know this your goal and I know this what you are striving to do. I’m in no way belittling your attempt to do that, but when you see yourselves as an industry, and you’re no different as an industry to the motor industry, to any manufacturing industry that sees itself internally, makes it harder to see itself externally as a consequence. Even though individually you are all wonderfully bright, attractive human beings, as an industry it becomes quite closetive. That’s why I thought an island was actually the best metaphor to use to describe it.

What else have we got on here. Brand Mountain. Probably the hardest one to climb, because I guess it started quite high. Digital print started. The bar was high. Coca Cola. Unilever. Nutella. Ferraro. You know, some major, major multi-global brands there. That’s kind of become a bit of a sticking point, because everybody wants to know how to access them. Actually, they’re the least interesting of the lot. Mainly because they’ve got no budget. Mainly because they don’t really know what it’s for. So, if you drop down a layer of brand into what makes up 80% of everybody else’s GDP, they’re the brands that wish to grow. Not the brands that wish to not put Pepsi in their database. They’re not protectionists. They are actually out there to grow. They’re the ones I recommend you talking to.

So, actually those Brand Mountains, nevermind the tall peaks, what about the little hills? They are much easier to climb. You could actually stroll up those much easier. That would be my goal for you. To take what you are good at and tell it to people who want to know and understand what it is that you are trying to tell them. Behave like the creative agencies that live over here in the mountains. I don’t quite know why I’ve put the cannon pointing at those, but I’ll change that. It’s all in the edit.

We’ve got 3D Print up here of course, with the skull and crossbones. Let’s be honest. It’s not really commercial yet. It’s a bit like English wine. I come from the wine industry as I said earlier on. For years now, the English wine industry has been saying yeah, we can make great wine. I take issue with that. They can make wine. Great? They can’t make enough of it. So, the economies or scale don’t exist. So, a not great wine becomes three times the price of a great one. That isn’t the best commercial model in the world.

3D could still do lots of things. Let’s be honest. It’s amazing, but it’s not commercial. So, let’s not focus on it. We don’t need to have the next thing before we’ve done the first thing. A good chef should never put all of his recipes in the first book, because what’s he going to do for the next 10 years? So, we don’t need to innovate beyond what’s necessary. We have a general public that are still happy to receive a jar of Nutella with their name on it. That still gets them going. We don’t have to give them the death star. My advice to you again is, just slow down on the pace of innovation and focus on selling what’s good to the consumers. Let them build the story for you. You are almost writing the next book before anybody has read the first one, which is a nice idea.

Everybody wants to grow and everybody wants to innovate. It’s what our DNA is. It’s why we’re here. We are all, in our own way, entrepreneurs. I’ve never really liked that word though. I found myself at odds with it. My dad was described as an entrepreneur. I’ve never quite liked the word so I looked at it in the literal sense. I’m guessing there are some French speakers in the room. So, I’m hoping you will agree with me. The word entre means between. The word preneur means taker. So if you were an entrepreneur, you area between taker. As an Englishman, I have no idea what that means I’m afraid. What it describes is you people in the room. People that are prepared to jump off a cliff and try and build a plane on the way down. That’s what we like doing. It’s the innovation that drives us. Just for a second, just before the plane crashes, just before, just stop to think about whether that innovation is actually commercially viable, whether you are making English wine. You don’t need to yet. There’s no need to yet.

So, what else have we got on here? I think we’ve probably covered all the bases. HP Town is growing. Xerox Town. I’m starting to sell Saki from what I can gather. Heidelberger over there. There’s some big names on the island. Corrugated Railway going up the middle there. Is it a railway to nowhere? Who knows? I don’t know. I mean, genuinely, I spend my life just challenging the opinion, not actually making one. I have no knowledge, technical or otherwise, of how print machines even work. I just like to know that they do. What I do know, is how it is commercially received. What I do know, that the people that live up here in Brand Mountains are desperate, desperate for the innovation that you are all doing. We as consumers buy that sort of stuff. We like that sort of stuff. It’s been well and truly documented that we will pay up to three times more for a customized product. Actually, we are prepared to wait for it.

The notion or phrase that I put forward earlier one that it’s not all about the internet is absolutely true. What it’s all about is the experience. That emotive moment when you get that gift and you watch somebody unwrap it. I was fortunate enough to be at the start of personalization with champagne. Coming from the wine industry, I found myself a little bit like the print industry, with a product that had become commoditized. How do you add value back into something that was commoditized? What I didn’t realize I was doing for 20 years of my life was giving away my margin, because the wine business turned out to be a knowledge based business, not a product based business. The value was all in the knowledge. Once people have learned …

Let’s have a test. Stand up for me. Let’s get some energy in the room. Everybody stand up. Quick test for you. I’m going to stand up here so I can see you. Stay standing if you drink wine. Stay standing if you drink wine. Okay. Stay standing if you consider yourself to be an expert in wine. Oh. Nearly. One. So, I’ll rephrase the question. I won’t make you stand up again because judging by the way that you did it last time, you’ve already been on the wine. So, I’m going to move on from that. Do you know what you like? Yes? You know what you like? You can only ever be an expert of your own palette. Everything else is opinion. So, I know what I like. In fact, my friends still get me to choose the wine in restaurants. It’s hilarious. I get to choose my wine every time and then they all split the bill. It’s perfect.

But that opinion, is just yours. When I started to give that knowledge away, what I didn’t realize was I was a road in the margin in my own business. So, I had to come to a situation where I had to add value back into it. What we chose to do was personalize labels.

I went to see my favorite champagne grower. A lovely little Frenchman, about that big, called Renard Barnier. I wanted to buy his champagne with no front labels on so that I could customize the front. I don’t know whether you know or not, but legally the only thing that you need on a bottle of wine is on the back label. Everything else on the front is design. That’s where I find myself in the print industry. So, I went to see Renard. I said, Renard, I need to take the front label off your bottles of champagne so that I can produce a personalized label. He looked at me like a man that had just been shot and said, but these are my children. You take my label, you take my life. I said, I need to buy 100,000 bottles. He said, no problem. We take the label off. I am a commercial guy. I’m an entrepreneur.

That was where it started for us ten years ago. Ten years ago, with personalized bottles of champagne, that became the bedrock of the product that led me to the door of Coca Cola. That allowed me to Share a Coke campaign. That ultimately put me here today. So, you could argue there’s a linear effect between destroying the margin in one business and creating it in another. I’m sure you would all agree with me that basic print is a commodity. Yes? It’s bought on price and price alone. Digital print. Why would you commoditize it? Why would you repeat the problem of the past? Why would you start a conversation that says, how much is this? The opportunity is to take that and make that the champagne of the future. Does that make sense?

I’m just conscious of the time, because I know some of you are looking at me thinking the bar is open Rich. Get on with it. So, I’m going to leave you with, well probably not thoughts actually. To just focus not on how you an innovate more, but how you can sell what you have already innovated and leave more for next year, or the year after. I’m assuming you not all in this for just one week. There’s lifetimes of innovation to be had, but you don’t have to do them all in the same year, and you certainly don’t have to not stop and sell them along the way. That would be pointless. You may wonder, you may not, where the idea of Print Island came from. I guess it’s probably a lifetime in the wine industry that made me think this stuff just comes out my head. Thanks for having me. See you all at the bar.

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