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December 2009
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Converge Connects the Cross-Media Dots

ORLANDO—It's hard to argue with the advice that a company should take steps in a downturn to come out a stronger player; committing dollars to actually do it is another matter. More than 150 "printers" and industry vendors recently did just that by attending the Printing Industries of America's 2009 Converge Conference.

"The next generation of print and communication services" was the tag line used for this year's conference. Attendees covered the whole spectrum of this transition, from working at shops that had yet to install their first digital press to firms that dropped the printer label from their names years ago.

One issue discussed was whether "marketing services" provider or "cross-media" firm was the better designation to adopt. The former is a misnomer unless a company has a marketing department and offers services such as data analytics, contended Scott Dubois, vice president, cross-media services and marketing, at Reynolds DeWalt in New Bedford, MA.

Robert Kraft, president and CEO of First Edge Solutions in Milwaukee, described his company as a communications provider. He said that a company's culture was more important than what it called itself.

"I'm an entrepreneur, not a printer," Kraft remarked. "We don't want to be predefined. We define ourselves based on an individual customer's needs."

First Edge focuses on producing personalized print communications that help clients make more money or cut costs by eliminating waste. Its chief executive said today's business world is about delivering measurable results to customers, not building relationships through golfing or expensive lunches.

Multiple speakers stressed the importance of providing measurable results, but keynoter Mark Stevens, CEO of the MSCO marketing firm, put it in the bluntest terms: "You shouldn't do it if you can't measure the results." That's hardly surprising advice seeing as it comes from the author of the bestseller, "Your Marketing Sucks."

The formula for success is C+A+M=PG, noted the marketing consultant. Capture customers continuously, then Amplify customer relationships and Maintain customers for life to achieve perpetual Profits and Growth. He also advised attendees to educate—not sell—customers.

Even as the industry advises marketers to become more customer centric with one-to-one, variable data communications, several speakers noted that too many print providers still don't take that approach in their own businesses.

"Become your customer. Make them the center of your world," urged Sue Hershkowitz-Coore of, a noted business speaker and sales trainer, in her keynote address. "Make the promotions you send to customers and prospects about them, not your company. Focus on what they need to become more successful."

How customer relationships are changing was also a topic raised during a panel discussion featuring three next-generation companies. Included were Andrew Hrywnak, president of Print Three in Concord, Ontario; Chris Tews, vice president of Graphix Products in West Chicago, IL; and Michael Marcian, director of marketing strategy at Corporate Press in Landover, MD.

The panelists were asked about offering creative services and the danger of being seen as a competitor by agency customers. Corporate Press has designers on staff, Print Three has a sister company that is a true ad agency and Graphix Products freelances out creative work.

All three agreed that care must be taken in maintaining these relationships, but said they've found agencies don't necessarily have the specialized expertise required for doing variable data printing and cross-media campaigns. Their advice was to position your company as a resource for ad agencies and to only pitch services that complement a given customer's in-house capabilities.

One of the hot topics at the conference was a bit surprising—wide-format digital printing. Multiple speakers and audience members worked for companies that have recently made significant investments, despite the economic downturn and the technology having been touted as an opportunity for years. Part of what's driving the current surge is UV ink-jet systems in a flatbed or hybrid configuration because of the productivity in printing directly on rigid substrates for applications such as POP displays.

High margins are the draw in adding wide-format capabilities…at least for now. In his session, Charles Lawson, president of PDQ Printing in Las Vegas, said working in the investment and business turnaround field led him to take over PDQ four years ago with the intention of selling it after building up the business. "But the margins turned out to be too good to sell it," he noted.

PDQ currently does around $10 million in sales with wide-format work being one of the biggest profit departments, Lawson reported. "It's not too late to get into the market. At least in Vegas, though, we are just starting to see deterioration of margins. I don't think the high margins will be around much longer."

—Mark Smith


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