Printer, or Marketing Services Provider? —MichelsonApril 2010
A RECENT blog on PIworld.com by Margie Dana, founder of Print Buyers International, set off a firestorm of responses from printers... er, marketing services providers (MSPs). You can read her blog post and a few of the online responses on page 16 in this issue or, better yet, check out all of the comments at PIworld.com by clicking on the "Blogs" tab. Although Dana primarily expressed her displeasure with commercial printer Websites which try to hide the fact that their core competency is manufacturing printed products, the discussion opened up a broader issue. Is identifying oneself as a printer something to be ashamed of—a dirty word that relegates your company to competing for work based solely on price? Conversely, does positioning your firm as a MSP get you past traditional print buyer "gatekeepers" and, hence, the opportunity to discuss overall marketing strategies and solutions, not just print pricing, with corporate-level decision makers?
It's hard to make a blanket statement regarding the printer vs. MSP debate, since product offerings, client bases and local markets can vary widely. That said, masquerading as something you're not doesn't pay. And, to me, a printer doesn't meet the marketing services provider definition. Of course, many printers do now offer value-added, cross-media services such as variable data printing, database management, e-mail campaigns and analytics, personalized URLs (PURLs), Website design and the like.
Scott Dubois, of Reynolds DeWalt in New Bedford, MA, weighed in on the subject with some enlightening commentary. "I wish the so-called 'experts' would stop pushing MSP onto printers. There are such things as Marketing Services Providers, but they don't own presses. They have fully staffed departments (not one person wearing multiple hats), which include Market Research, Product Development, Performance Analytics and Trending, and Marketplace Strategy. Do you know of any printers like this? I don't know of one," he wrote. "Printers used to think their equipment defined them; now they think it is their 'services.' Silly them—buy a digital press, sign up for MindFire and then add digital printing, variable data and PURLs to a capabilities list. None of it matters any more than 40˝ offset printing if you don't explain (marketing) strategy and how you use it. Where I work, we consider ourselves a cross-media communications firm. It implies nothing we don't do and everything we do. It also lets us define a unique strategy for every client (what a concept)," Dubois concluded.