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Dec 1, 1998 12:00 AM

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Few topics inspire more debate among print industry execs than sales compensation. If you've ever wondered how your scheme compares to others, you'll want to see the Printing Industries of America's 1997-1998 Survey of Sales Compensation. More than 500 firms participated in this survey, representing more than 1,600 sales representatives in the printing industry.

Figures for national, regional and state levels are given in actual dollar amounts. The report includes information on wages, compensation, health benefits, employee sources, commission policies, penalty payments, expense policies and more. Nearly 36 percent of industry sales professionals are paid straight commission only. Other common compensation formulas include: salary plus commission (24.7 percent), salary only (19.4 percent), salary plus commission plus bonus (7.5 percent), salary plus bonus (7.3 percent) and commission plus bonus (5.1 percent).

Almost six out of 10 sales professionals are paid, at least in part, by a salary--two years ago fewer than five in 10 could make this claim. The number compensated entirely by salary jumped from 12.8 percent to 19.4 percent, and the number of sales reps paid with salary plus commission increased from 20.3 to 24.7 percent.

More than eight out of 10 sales professionals receive commissions as part of their compensation packages. Of these, most receive commissions on sales rather than value-added. Approximately two-thirds receive commissions on sales and just over two in 10 receive commissions on value-added. The remaining 13 percent receive commissions based on other measures.

Considerable variation can be seen in the timing of payments. About one-third of sales representatives receive their commission when the job is paid for and 25 percent receive it when the job is in production. Twenty percent receive their commission when the job is billed--only two percent receive their commissions when the job is sold.

OSHA REFORMS(TWO DECADES LATER) Whoever said that time and tide wait for no man apparently was very unfamiliar with the deliberate, molasses-like pace of OSHA reform. But, for the first time in more than 20 years, Congress has mad --with presidential approval--significant changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

'This is a major victory for American workers and their employers,' says Wendy Lechner, Printing Industries of America (PIA) legislative director. 'PIA worked long and hard with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to create an OSHA that assists rather than threatens employers. While we have a long way to go, these two reforms get us a step closer.'

The OSHA Compliance Assistance Act of 1998 codifies OSHA's successful and popular consultation program operated by the states. Under the new law, businesses will have the opportunity to receive expert compliance advice--without the fear sometimes associated with OSHA inspections. The second bill prohibits OSHA from using the results of enforcement activities (e.g., inspections, citations or penalties) as performance measures for compliance officers and their supervisors. In the past, OSHA has evaluated the overall performance of its inspectors based on the number of citations and amount of fines levied on employers.

SUCCEEDING WITH VARIABLE PRINTING What makes an organization a likely candidate for variable printing? Speaking at Seybold San Francisco, Ric Campbell of the Oswego Group, a marketing service firm serving the consumer products, apparel and entertainment industries, suggested the following characteristics.

'A good candidate for variable data printing should have a large number of products,' maintains the exec. 'Second, the products should have a very short life cycle with short time-to-market development cycles. Finally, it helps to have a highly segmented market, for example, a company that sells to all strata of dealers--from a single mom-and-pop shop all the way through JC Penney's and Sears.'

How do you attract variable data clients? 'You need to specialize in vertical markets,' submits Campbell. 'You could look at virtually any market that has a lot of products in it--the financial market, the automotive market, the appliance market--they all have companies with hundreds and thousands of product codes that need to be put into marketing material. Also, you need to become an immediate expert in the customer's field. At our company, we hired people in the apparel industry that had at least 35 years experience as well as an understanding of sales and marketing challenges. You analyze your client's business--you find out what problems they're having in getting information out and you suggest solutions.'

Finally, says the exec, concentrate on workflow, rather than printing. 'You do not want to be a printer--printers work on very low margins,' relates Campbell. 'You want to be someone who integrates themselves very far down into the work stream. With one of our apparel customers, for example, we start in the planning production department and are involved in every step of the process through to the final garment tag.'

PAPER AND THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION Fraser Papers recently conducted a forum on the future of paper. Specifically, the paper company asked participants to discuss how digital media will shape the future of paper.

Noting that paper consumption has risen approximately eight percent over the last decade, Edna Kissman, vice chairman and chief knowledge officer of Burston-Marstellar Worldwide, cites the personal and portable qualities of paper as keys to this growth. Paper's popularity endures because of its 'touchability, its ability to carry type and illustrations,' maintains the exec. 'It also has a symbolic quality--for some situations, E-mail will suffice, but if you want to provide important information, you send a letter.'

Fraser's director of product development, Dick Clapp, adds that the easiest way to understand changes in paper usage is to think of data, message and image as three separate forms of communication. 'Paper has been used for a long time to transmit and store data,' observes Clapp. 'But digital media are obviously much better at transmitting high volumes of data quickly.' The paper expert identifies digital printing as a primary factor in the growth of paper demand. 'There have been double-digit increases in th e demand for the 81/2 x 11 and 11 x 17 cut sizes, and in papers for roll-fed printers. If you dig into those numbers, you find digital technologies enabling people to produce short runs of printed messages that were never practical before. You can reach niche markets and personalize to individuals.'

Improvements in digital printing will continue to fuel growth increases in paper consumption for at least the next 20 to 40 years, predicts Clapp. During the same period he foresees technical advances in paper production bringing premium paper choices to digital printing.

THIS SOY'S LIFE The National Soy Ink Information Center (Urbandale, IA), in cooperation with Battelle and Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF), is conducting a life-cycle inventory and impact assessment of soy-based printing inks. The study will evaluate the total environmental impact of using soy inks in sheet-fed printing systems.

'Soy ink has two clear-cut environmental advantages,' explains Jo Patterson, coordinator of the Urbandale, IA-based National Soy Ink Information Center. 'It decreases volatile organic compound emissions and, unlike petroleum oil, is a sustainable, nontoxic resource grown in the U.S. This study will document both environmental and performance benefits of soy ink in sheet-fed printing systems.'

The life-cycle impact assessment will identify specific processes--from material acquisition and manufacture, to use and disposal--in the total life-cycle of soy-based ink printing, which makes the greatest contribution to the overall environmental profile for the selected soy ink printing system. Results can be used to modify printing operations to further reduce any associated environmental impact for soy ink. 'This process definition will help printers make operational changes that result in significant environmental benefits and enhance both their image as well as soy ink's,' adds Patterson. For more information on the study, contact the National Soy Ink Information Center at (515) 251-8640.