Patrick Johnson – VP Director of Production, Link9

By Patrick Johnson

“Am I crazy to do this?!” I wasn’t 10 minutes into writing this post when I started to have second thoughts. 

2020 was nobody’s favorite year—to put it mildly. And when I looked at it through the lens of a print production manager…well, let’s just say it was a challenge to stay positive. Where was the silver lining to a dumpster fire like 2020?

But as I thought about it, I started to see that things weren’t all bad. There were bright spots, and many ways that our industry (and my fellow production managers) had risen above the challenges of 2020.

1. We realized we can work from anywhere. On March 11, 2020, my partner and I flew down from NJ to Florida to check in on our investment property. Just 4 days later, the entire country (and most of the world!) collectively shut down, so it became clear that I was going to be there for a while. 

Luckily, I brought my work laptop and charger with me! I recall my boss saying, “I don’t care if you’re on a beach in Mexico, as long as you have a signal and the ability to work!” Who knows when we’ll be able to get back in the office together, but until that day, our credo is people over places. That means making sure folks are supported and able to perform no matter where they are.

2. We learned how to pivot. Before this year, I was aware of this buzzword but who knew I would be using it a hundred times a week?! Many in our industry had to perform quick, strategic shifts in what they offer and how they work. So many print vendors needed to evaluate how they could overcome these challenges and offer something sustainable. Our printers and vendors quickly pivoted to the need for PPE and separation stations – converting their print machinery into a manufacturing plant – which I think was one of the most creative and socially responsible pivots in this past year. #hatteraspress #sandyalexander

3. We embraced digital to enhance print. In the socially distanced world of 2020, we needed to help our clients rethink the focus of their advertising budgets. Many of the typical tactics, like collateral for sales reps and print materials for conferences and events, were useless thanks to the quarantine. Luckily, my company had the resources in place to offer digital options that helped save our clients’ advertising dollars. 

But digital is only one part of the story. Even in this time of COVID, there is still a need for the traditional print production department. This situation made us re-evaluate where print is going and inspired us to strategize with our printers in more creative ways. We partnered with Video in Print vendors #Vpak #videoinprint to pitch to our agency creatives the ability to embed video content into print brochures or direct mail. A perfect way to supplement the content that would be typically gained at a conference! 

We also partnered with Universal Mailing Service to offer road shows to our agencies. These programs helped demonstrate the benefits of direct mail, and engaging clients in ways that would a) connect the digital arm of the campaign to print in a true omnichannel marketing experience; and b) help reinforce the brand in lieu of a face-to-face sales rep encounter. #directmail

4. We improved as we improvised. A key challenge this year was that we could no longer provide some key production agency offerings. At my company, for instance, we needed to find a way to replicate our in-house ORIS proofing capability #CGSORIS #Epson, before making a decision to outsource this to our printers. I learned about Remote Director Proof Check and looked at it as an option where soft proofing can be implemented into our organization. 

We also explored replicating our comp studio services (such as prototyping print mechanicals for QC process prior to prepress) and found an interesting opportunity with Creative Edge Software #ic3dsuite. Through their 3D software, you can create digital prototypes to be reviewed on screen. It’s used widely in the packaging industry, and we’re looking at ways to make it fulfill our needs.

Proofing art also drove me to take a fresh look at the way we are handling color management and ICC profiles #Idealliance. I learned about a new offering from Pantone called Pantone Connect which integrates all Pantone colors into the design file itself. Considering how many Pantone Colors are missing from the Pantone Swatch Libraries in Adobe Creative Cloud, this could be a great solution to the problem. #Pantone


These are just a few of the encouraging things I saw in 2020. Looking back, my greatest learning is that print production managers/producers are a gold mine. We have a wealth of knowledge and customer service experience. We get things done and know how to solve problems. And far from letting 2020 break us down, this year prepared us for greater opportunity in 2021