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Spotlight: Sean Murray, president and CEO, Advocate Group


March 17, 2022
By PrintAction Staff

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Sean Murray is an enthusiastic ambassador of the printing industry. The 53-year-old, who lives in Pictou, N.S., urges companies to diversify and differentiate themselves from competition.

What is the state of the print industry today, in your opinion?

SM: The graphic arts and printing industries suffer from a complex identity crisis and are ripe for change. Our public relations challenges are fuelled by the traditionally hyper-competitive nature of our industry and misinformation spread by competitive sectors. I, however, challenge anyone to go through an hour of their day without encountering print.

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While we do not have a monopoly on communication, our products are important in communication and marketing. We do have some challenges, such as inflation, labour shortage, supply chain bottlenecks and chronic overcapacity.

What attracted you to the print industry?

SM: Family connection brought me to the industry, and I have stayed for the innovative challenges and the opportunity to make a difference. My grandfather was in community media. After a few years of third-party ownership, my father Bruce Murray became a shareholder and led Advocate’s diversification into print. I actually started doing handwork at the age of seven. After university, I came to work in the business for a short time before a planned law degree. I bought out my father’s partner a few years later. Print brought me to “centre ice” for almost every opportunity and innovation in our community and economy. I was welcomed into boardrooms and CEO offices to help provide solutions. When you work in print with a solutions-based approach, you experience all facets of the economy.

How can the industry attract more young people?

SM: I have to go back to our industry’s identity crisis. Our industry is so much more than our reputation. Traditionally people have been attracted to our industry through mentors or friends. The Canadian Printing Industries Scholarship Trust Fund is working with educational institutions and students across Canada to change that. We all need to do our part to demonstrate that the printing industry is offering jobs of the future. We lead with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With a printing career, you can be engaged, challenged and central to growing our economy while constantly learning—who wouldn’t want that! Let’s stop keeping it a secret!

In such a competitive landscape, how can printers win more sales?

SM: Differentiation is key. Success will not be gained by selling the same services and products as competitors. Companies must define their market and allow space for others to define theirs. The “race to the bottom” attitude in our industry was driven through me-to commoditization that was created due to overcapacity of similar equipment and service offerings. Yes, more consolidation is needed, and it will happen through M&A and natural selection, but there is room for each of us to thrive with unique solutions-based offerings. We each need to ask ourselves, what gap would be created if we closed our doors tomorrow. As leaders, we must guide our organizations to offer value that extends far past price.

What are some of the biggest opportunities in the print industry?

SM: Opportunity is everywhere, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created an inflection point for a reset. Through solutions selling rather than order taking, we can redefine print’s place in today’s communication mix. There is enormous potential with targeted, customized print, packaging, in-store marketing, and short-run products.

What do you think is the most exciting thing about print today?

SM: I find the entire value chain of print exciting. The thrill of meeting client goals does not get old. Perhaps one of the most exciting areas of growth is the convergence of traditional and digital media, and how we can leverage the best of both worlds, especially as print runs become shorter and targeted.

Murray’s responses were edited for length. For more Q&A Spotlight interviews, please visit www.printaction.com/profile

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of PrintAction.