PIAA-GASAA merger is part of consolidation trend

It’s no easy task for a speaker to make an impression at the National Print Awards. Whether drowned out by one of “the noisy tables” or trying to reach an audience fatigued by dozens of awards presentations, many an industry spokesperson has shouted futilely into the abyss from the stage at the NPAs. 

But one speech at the 2009 awards should be remembered better than most. Heidelberg managing director Andy Vels Jensen took to the stage to deliver a monologue that was equal parts self-deprecation, caustic wit and industry insight. The need for greater unity among the industry associations was a key point. 

At the time, Vels Jensen said: “Maybe we need to moan more, some may say less. However, the key has to be that we moan in concert so as to be truly heard.” He called for a single organisation “represent-ing the total industry and backed by all 100,000-plus industry members”.

Fast-forward three years to the NPAs 2012. Bill Healey, in his first awards presentation as the new chief executive of the Printing Industries Association of Australia (PIAA), stood on the same stage as Vels Jensen and told the guests in the Palladium Ballroom of Crown Casino about the impending merger between the peak body and its fellow (some might say ‘rival’) trade organisation, the Graphic Arts Services Association of Australia (GASAA). 

The tie-up was first mooted in March and while not a fait accompli, it recently passed a milestone as applications were filed with Fair Work Australia. Once over that hurdle, it will go to a vote of GASAA members, after which it will proceed.

So three years after his NPAs speech, what did Vels Jensen think of Healey’s bombshell? Ironically, he wasn’t even there, and Vels Jensen downplays the impact his 2009 call to action had on the recent deal between PIAA and GASAA. 

“I cannot take any credit whatsoever for this change and improvement nor did I have any involvement; I wasn’t even around at the NPAs last year when Bill Healey announced it,” says Vels Jensen.

“Having said that, Heidelberg is pleased to see this change and we fully support the idea and congratulate the efforts made by individuals from both organisations who are making this happen,” he adds.

As the local head of a company that has undergone its own, drastic restructuring in the past few years, Vels Jensen is well acquainted with making difficult but necessary decisions. On this, he quotes Winston Churchill: “To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.”

Ask Vels Jensen why he sees a pressing desire for trade associations to merge, and he ticks off a number of reasons. 

“The market has contracted tremendously over the past three to four years. Profitability levels have dropped off equally so. There are fewer players – suppliers and customers. Print as a way in which to convey messages, educate and sell products, is under pressure. The world has changed, countries are changing, and even going bankrupt, and we are in the midst of a major consumer evolution and change in buying behaviours, affecting retail and the way we purchase products.

“All of which would lead to the need for one united, consistent and fact-based voice from industry, and you don’t get that from two, three or even six organisations trying to further the same causes,”he says.

This consolidation also means “there is less money to go around and members of our industry cannot support a multitude of organisations, in terms of money, time and efforts”, adds Vels Jensen.

He says the “industry as a whole will be stronger” due to the PIAA-GASAA merger, “but I don’t think we are there yet by this change alone. Hopefully this is the start of more change to come.”

The three drivers

The issues at hand can be summarised under three headings: the number of printing companies and vendors is shrinking, so trade bodies must follow suit; margins are under pressure, so it is harder to justify association fees; and the unprecedented pressures on print as a medium require a new level of action, which is best delivered by one organisation or at least by having different bodies pulling in the same direction.

The ravages of the GFC and rise of online communications have brought this issue to a head, but these forces aren’t exactly new. Why is this merger happening now?

One change has been in personnel. Bill Healey replaced long-term PIAA boss Phillip Andersen last year. Healey brought with him a wealth of experience running these kinds of organisations, including eight years at the Australia Retailers Association and five years at the Australian Hotels Association. He has a background in trying to amalgamate trade bodies, and has been part of both successful and “disappointing” transformations. He understands the practicalities – and pitfalls – in mergers of this type. 

But while there’s no doubt his experience has been put to good use, Healey shies away from taking too much credit for the GASAA deal. He stresses that this proposed merger is being driven by the needs of members, not the associations’ executives. 

“People like [former GASAA president] David Leach and [GASAA executive officer] Garry Knespal were ready to talk. We also have a joint board member in Paul Richardson. The one thing I heard when I came into this role was there needed to be some rationalisation and the first step was clearly GASAA and PIAA. All that has occurred is what people have asked for. Ultimately, common sense prevailed.”

The combined entity will bring numerous benefits, adds Healey. “It will give us a broader base to advocate on behalf of the industry, to lobby government and remove a sense of fragmentation, which is always an issue for governments.”

There’s nothing unusual about the mooted combination of PIAA and GASAA. There is an overwhelming trend of associations aligning more closely. Among the printing industry’s trade bodies there’s enough acronyms to fill a Scrabble bag, so the need for cohesion is a no-brainer. 

There are associations for printers. Associations for magazines. Associations for newspapers. Associations for direct marketing, billboards and packaging – the list goes on. If the wellbeing of this industry were to be gauged by the number of trade bodies servicing it, an onlooker would assume printed communications were in rude health. But no one is giving this sector a clean bill of heath. Printing is diag-nosed with an acute case of overcapacity. The prescription is consolidation. 

Part of a trend

Across the huge sweep of bodies servicing the greater graphic communications industries (see box), there has been a veritable conflagration of convergence and consolidation. In the magazine publishing sector, the two major associations began to work much more collaboratively last year. Magazine Publishers of Australia (MPA), which comprises the three powerhouses of ACP, Pacific and NewsLifeMedia (formerly News Magazines), became a member of Publishers Australia (PA), which covers niche and specialist publishers (such as ProPrint’s owner, Haymarket Media). The first joint venture was Magazine Week 2011, which culminated in the Excellence Awards. The conference and ceremony will take place again this November. 

Similar winds of change have swept through the newspaper sector. As a result of a number of years of negotiations, the four major bodies representing newspapers finally came under one umbrella this year. The Newspaper Works is the parent for the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association (PANPA), the Publishers’ Advertising Advisory Bureau (PAAB) and the Publishers National Environmental Bureau (PNEB).

Newspaper Works chief executive Tony Hale says the merger was motivated by a need to “unite the efforts with common goals in mind, rather than fragmented”.

He has a few words of advice for other associations going down this path. Hale says associations need to “really understand what functions they serve, what people get from them, and structure [the merger] so the services they are providing can be provided and enhanced under a single organisation. That takes a lot of effort.”

There are parallels here for the PIAA and GASAA deal. The significant overlap make for some obvious synergies, such as environmental certifications. PIAA has its Sustainable Green Print badge, and GASAA has Truly Green, which will be absorbed into SGP. But GASAA has a unique selling point in Truly Colour, its ISO 12647 certification, and this will be added to the arsenal of the combined entity.

GASAA’s Knespal explains that one of the biggest benefits his organisation will bring to the table is its profile among digital printers, as well as creative and advertising types in agency-land.

“Our focus will be at the digital print and creative side of the industry and broadening the appeal for the association to that market. We will be there to assist traditional printers move into the digital space and digital printers move in to added value services and encourage creative to look at the amalgamated group in a different light,” says Knespal.

“PIAA are looking at a repositioning exercise and they also need to reflect on their offering,” he adds.

Healey echoes this sentiment. Beyond the GASAA tie-up, the peak association is undergoing some major soul searching, from mulling its branding to considering its fee structure. This is a continuation of work done under previous chief executive Philip Andersen, who spearheaded the move to a national body, removing some of the costs and inefficiencies resulting from the state-based structure. 

Healey says the PIAA has already responded to the constrained economic times through cost-cutting of its own. “There has been rationalisation of staff, conservative control of salaries and expenses. I have monitored expenditure last year to make sure we came in with a healthy surplus, although admittedly that was on the back of PrintEx.”

Through the Sydney trade show and Melbourne fair PacPrint, the PIAA has close ties with another trade body, the Graphic Arts Merchants Association of Australia (GAMAA), which represents the supplier community. The two bodies jointly organise the biennial exhibitions. Last year, the PrintEx organisers jumped on the consolidation bandwagon by joining up with another trade show, Visual Impact Image Expo, organised by the Visual Impact Suppliers Association (VISA). 

Karen Goldsmith, executive director of GAMAA, agrees there are a lot of associa-tions with similar aims and constituencies, “and that is why these questions come up about how many we need in the industry and whether we can do things smarter by partnering or merging”.

When it comes to the co-location of trade shows, she says: “There is such a convergence of industries. With the consolidation of suppliers and printers, there is finite market and it has been declining… It is difficult for people to get time off the floor and get to a show. We want to make it worthwhile.”

Value for money, whether for trade show visitors or association members, is a big driver here. Value is a driver of the GASAA and PIAA merger, though members should not expect to suddenly see a drop in fees.

Paid-up PIAA members will get access to GASAA services. GASAA members, who may pay significantly less, will continue to get access to GASAA services, such as HR advice, but will need to join the PIAA fee structure to get the benefits from that association. The companies that should see the greatest immediate savings are those that are members of both. 

What the members think

One such company is Docmaster, a small digital printer based in Brookvale, Sydney. For managing director Gordon Lang, talk of the merger of PIAA and GASAA didn’t come a moment too soon. 

“We’re a member of both and have been for many years. Earlier this year, I turned around and decided it was ridiculous having two memberships, so threatened to resign. That’s when they told me the merger was going ahead, so I stayed.”

Lang is no stranger to the need for unified voice. Until May this year, he was president of the Sydney Northern Beaches branch of the Surf Life Saving Club. Lang saw how the Surf Life Savers were coordinating their efforts and figured it would not be too much to expect a similar degree of joined-up thinking from the printing associations. 

Lang fully supports the PIAA and GASAA marriage, but warns they need to get the fit right. For instance, he isn’t thrilled at the prospect that they will continue to be run from two distinct locations. “I can’t see how they are going to save costs if they keep the cost structures as two separate organisations.”

He speaks with some authority. Before becoming the head of Docmaster, Lang spent more than five years heading up Deutsche Post in this region. “When I was with DP, we bought two mailing businesses in Australia. They [Deutsche Post] wanted to run them separately and I told them: ‘You’re mad, you should run them together’.”

Another advocate of the PIAA-GASAA combination is David Leach, chief executive of Look Print, a large-format printer based in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt. As a business, Look Print is only a member of GASAA, although this hasn’t always been the case. It resigned its membership of PIAA “about four years ago”, says Leach.

“We had been a longstanding member, but we felt strongly that at that stage, we were not getting the value that we specifically needed from PIAA.”

Leach intends that Look Print will become a fully paid-up member of the combined entity (as long as the merger goes ahead). And he has more involvement than just value for money. In fact, as a GASAA board member and its immediate past president, Leach has been actively involved in bringing the two parties to the negotiating table. 

He says that the merger is not about the efforts of any one individual, but a reflection of the larger changes facing the industry. While he agrees that Bill Healey “is an incredibly beneficial person for PIAA to have on board”, the consolidation of trade bodies was not driven by Healey’s appointment but was an “inevitable” reflection of this current climate.

“This is not about Bill or Garry – it is about the membership,” says Leach. 

“It doesn’t matter what industry we are in: every company has to get more customer focused. It isn’t about serving the needs of the association but the members, and making sure the association’s offerings maintain a fluid relevance to the changing needs of the members.”

How it will help

What the members need are answers to some of the most vexing questions they have ever faced. Print as a medium is under intense scrutiny. The challenges are fierce. In this climate, it is essential that separate organisations link arms to face down any threats. Trade association veteran Bill Healey explains that there is a deeper change taking place across the association sphere. 

“People say no one is getting involved in clubs and committees any more,” he says. But rather than see this as a cause for alarm, Healey welcomes the change that is occurring underneath this trend. He sees the future as one where the campaign at hand is the modus operandi. “There is a view you should be issues based, not structural based.”

It is with this in mind that he point to Two Sides, the global movement to dispel myths about print’s environmental credentials and provide evidence of its relevance as a communications medium (see guest column, p16). 

“Two Sides is a forum to get people in the room,” says Healey. The print and paper campaign has already started making in-roads with Publishers Australia and the Australian Direct Marking Association. Perhaps more than a single association, what the industry needs is a single banner under which to rally together, to bring power in numbers and fight for print’s place in a fast-changing communications landscape. Whatever the approach, there’s little disagreement that more unity is paramount. To again quote Winston Churchill: “Solitary trees,
if they grow at all, grow strong.” 





Printing Industries Association of Australia

Peak association for businesses in print, packaging and visual communication 

Members 1,600

Established 1887 (as the NSW Master Printers Association)

Chief executive Bill Healey, CEO

President Susan Heaney, Heaneys Performers in Print

Annual fees Subject to negotiation. From $435 for sole traders and micro-firms to tens of thousands for big multi-site groups 


Graphic Arts Services Association of Australia

Trade association for companies providing creative, multimedia, digital pre-press, data and print management services

Members 150

Established 1908 (as the Master Process Engravers Association)

Executive officer Garry Knespal

President Theo Pettaras, Digitalpress

Annual fees $600-$1,950


Graphic Arts Merchants Association of Australia

Represents leading supply companies to the printing and graphic media industry, such as Heidelberg, Fujifilm and DIC

Members 31

Established 1969

Executive director Karen Goldsmith

President Ian Martin, Ferag

Annual fees $600


Label and Tag Manufacturers Association of Australia

Trade association for label converters and suppliers to the sector, including producers like Impresstik and Labelmakers Group and suppliers such as Avery Dennison and Currie Group 

Members 85

Established 1991

President John Leathart, Pegasus Print

Annual fees $550 incl GST


Network of In-house Print Professionals Australasia

Represents CRDs and in-plant rooms of companies in the education, finance and government sectors, such as Macquarie University Lighthouse Press and Manningham City Council

Members 180 (incl NZ)

Established 1993

President Karen Birch

Annual fees $180 plus GST


Outdoor Media Association

Peak body for Australian outdoor media sector. Members include Eye, APN Outdoor, Magnify Media and Cactus Imaging

Members 34

Established 1939

Chief executive Charmaine Moldrich

President Richard Herring, APN Outdoor

Annual fees Varies depending on company type and size, from $2,266 for media display firms under $300,000 revenue to $ 6,798 for asset owners


Publishers Australia

Trade body for specialist magazine and digital publishers. Also has “associate members” such as Webstar and Geon

Members 130 publishers, 20 suppliers

Established 1964 (as Australian Association of Business & Specialist Publishers)

General manager Matthew Green

President Geoff Hird, Westwick Farrow

Annual fees Sliding scale from $250 for individuals to $5,830 for publishers with
15 or more brands. Associate members pay $825 or $1650, depending on head count 


Magazine Publishers of Australia

Represents the three major magazine publishers ACP, Pacific Magazines and NewsLifeMedia (formerly News Magazines)

Members 3

Established 1995

President Nick Chan, Pacific Magazines

Annual fees Undisclosed 

The Newspaper Works

Industry body for Australian newspaper publishers. Incorporates the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association (PANPA), the Publishers’ Advertising Advisory Bureau (PAAB) and the Publishers National Environmental Bureau (PNEB) 

Members 4 (Fairfax, News Limited, APN and West Australian Newspapers) 

Established The Newspaper Works: 2006, PAAB: 1972; PANPA: 1969; PNEB: 1991

Chief executive Tony Hale

President Greg Hywood, Fairfax

Annual fees Undisclosed


Australian Direct Marketing Association

Comprises users and suppliers of direct marketing, including agencies such as BMF and MediaCom, data firms such as Axciom, printers such as Blue Star DM and mail houses such as Active Mail and iGroup

Members 615

Established 1966

Chief executive Jodie Sangster

President Karen Ganschow, Westpac

Annual fees Sliding scale from $1,600 to $26,150, based on turnover


Visual Impact Suppliers Association

The association for suppliers to the signage and related industries, mostly equipment suppliers such as HP, Océ and Agfa

Members 30+

Established 1995

General manager Peter Harper

President Mark Tailby, Graphic Art Mart

Annual fees $500 plus $1,000 joining fee  


Australian Catalogues Association

Comprises suppliers, producers and distributors of catalogues, such as AIW Printing, PMP, Sappi and Wellcom

Members 21 

Established 1992

Chief executive Ken Bishop

President David Webster, Salmat

Annual fees Undisclosed


Screenprinting & Graphic Imaging Association of Australia

Represents screen printers and large-format printers, as well as niche and specialty sectors. Members include printers like ColorCorp and Allprint Graphics and suppliers like Fujifilm, DIC and Halifax Vogel

Members 70

Established 1958

Executive officer Petrina Smith

President Clem Johnson, Reid Industrial 

Fees From $240 for individuals and $455 for companies


Point of Purchase Advertising International

Global association for retail marketing sector, with members including producers like Active Display Group and STI Lilyfield and brands like Nestlé and GlaxoSmithKline

Members 110 Australia, 1,700 worldwide 

Established 1994

General manager Karen Spear

President Debbie Schubert, Pepsico

Annual fees $2,250 + GST


The Packaging Council of Australia

National association of raw material suppliers, packaging manufacturers, retailers and packaging designers. Members include Amcor, Heidelberg, Tetra Pak and Platypus Graphics

Number of members 65

Established 1978

Chief executive Gavin Williams

President David Martin, Avery Dennison

Annual fees Undisclosed. Varies according to turnover and member type


Lithographic Institute of Australia

Professional body of individuals in printing and graphics communications. Branches in Qld, NSW, Vic, SA and WA

Members 500+ Australia-wide

Established 1963 (as Australian Litho Club)

Office bearers Federal president: Bernie Hockings, Qld president: Donna McGuire; NSW president: David Wells; Vic president: Lindsay Banks; SA president: Roger Harrington; WA president: Mick Ciavarella

Annual fees Individual are $35. Special rates for apprentices and corporate members

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