Ross PrintMarketing : Blazing the Campaign TrailJune 2011 By Erik Cagle
For all of those in the printing industry who roll their eyes every time a company distances itself from its printing roots by using the nom de guerre "marketing services provider," well, Eric Ross will vehemently argue that customers aren't really buying printing—they're in hot pursuit of the results generated and fostered by printing.
Ross has a point and, in the case of Ross PrintMarketing, the printing element is not as important as the overall campaign. The value proposition offered by the Denver-based firm is as a purveyor of marketing tools, some of which are print-based (such as direct mail), and others that are data-driven (including response rate and ROI analysis).
Printing is never the final destination for Ross' clients, but merely a means to an end—or rather, a continuation. According to Ross, founder and president of the company, direct mail is primarily a customer retention device for its franchise-based clients with mass market television budgets.
Frankly, Ross himself probably isn't that big a fan of the "marketing services provider" moniker because he sees a bevy of companies that lay claim to such status, but fall short in executing the vision. But that's not Ross' battle; his main concern is in ensuring that his 32-year-old firm continues to deliver on the commitments that have convinced some original customers to stick with the company over the long haul.
"Clients can tell the difference," he says, of those firms that are marketers as opposed to the pretenders. "When my marketing team initiates the selling process, we begin with campaign development. We're not trying to fit customers into some kind of template. We start out with the clients' marketing needs. In the case of direct mail, I'm putting together a three-, six- or 12-month direct mail marketing campaign. The results of each campaign must be measurable and accretive to the client's business.
"We really are a marketing partner first, and the fact that we control the manufacturing makes us an extremely powerful partner in that we can keep our promises. We do everything under one roof; we are the point of responsibility. So, when a client gives us a campaign and it needs to be 'in-home' at a certain date, we are the agency.
"At the end of a campaign, we produce a response rate and ROI analysis for clients. They can see exactly how many products were sold, how many dollars were generated, what the response rates were, what the return on investments are. That's how people judge Ross PrintMarketing."
While the company began life as Ross Printing, Eric Ross himself entered the workforce with a marketing degree, and that soon became his point of differentiation among printers. He has built the firm to the $10 million sales plateau, backed by roughly 60 employees and a 40,000-square-foot facility. Ross considers his company to be a mid-sized performer, a standout amongst a backdrop of print and marketing purveyors that boast 100 or more workers on the high side and less than 20 at the lower end of the spectrum.
Ross PrintMarketing manufactures point-of-purchase items such as counter handouts, flyers and menus, along with distributed products including door hangers, freestanding inserts and coupon booklets. But its bread-and-butter offering is direct mail, all of which serves the franchise niche.
Ross would be quick to point out that his company isn't selling printing; it's peddling pizza and sandwiches, fitness programs, automotive services, health care and casual dining experiences."All of those things are what the (end user) is buying," he notes. "Print is just the tool, the vehicle."
But, what pointed Ross toward the franchise route? He says it all goes back to the concept of a medium-sized company being able to focus and target a specific market. In going after franchises with as many as 1,000 locations, the company was able to quickly attain its desired mass without locking horns with much larger concerns like Valassis.
"I can take the targeted segment of a particular franchise group and utilize the talents and capabilities of Ross PrintMarketing in a very specific area," its president explains. "Over time, we became a very dominant player in the markets that we chose."
While the printed product helps customers drive end users toward their respective businesses, the data manipulation and interpretation by Ross PrintMarketing provides the driving directions, so to speak. That store-level data provided by clients is used to help identify consumer buying patterns. The ROI analysis and response rates provided to customers are generated from customized programs devised by Ross' adept team of programmers.
The company has also aggressively enhanced its sheetfed press arsenal in recent years. An eight-color, 29˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 hybrid sheetfed press with a CutStar roll sheeter and Prinect Inpress Control system was installed in 2008; in fact, it was the first installation in North America for that model. Ross PrintMarketing followed suit in 2010 with the acquisition of a four-color, 20˝ Speedmaster SM 52 equipped with Heidelberg's Anicolor inking unit technology that enables short runs. Ross also has Xerox Nuvera and iGen digital solutions.
"We deal in runs of hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions—significantly-sized projects," Ross points out. "We had a Harris M-110 with GMI color controls, but it wasn't enough. The marketplace was changing, and it now demands more and more different four-color images. We're still printing in the millions, but it might be 100,000 of this, 50,000 of that. So we needed a production platform that produced low waste and could do quick turnarounds from job to job.
Best of All Worlds
"The whole concept of the Speedmaster XL 75 came from wanting the efficiencies of a web press, but needing the Inpress color controls, the fast makereadies and the efficiencies that sheetfed technology gave us," Ross adds. "The XL 75 was the perfect balance for that.
"We also opted for the CutStar sheeter, which gave us the ability to buy paper more economically as roll stock. As we went from the web press, where it took about 2,000 cutoffs of paper to reach perfect color and register, the XL 75 achieves it after just 200 sheets."
Ross PrintMarketing took that philosophy to another level with the acquisition of the SM 52 with Anicolor, which only takes 20 sheets to attain optimal color and registration. "It's a powerful machine and Heidelberg has been a phenomenal partner," he notes.
As for future investments, custom programming will get plenty of attention in the short term. Ross also believes Android tablet technology could provide a powerful path to enhancing data collection and manipulation for marketing purposes. His goal for this year is to bring in 25 percent more new contracts compared to 2010.
What it all boils down to, from Ross PrintMarketing's point of view, is being a marketing partner for its clientele—a single-source provider for concept-to-mailbox direct mail solutions. But, don't interpret that to mean he views printing as a poor stepchild.
"Manufacturing matters," Ross concludes. "We wouldn't exist as a marketing company just to become some variation of an agency. The fact that we're a marketing company, with the strength of a manufacturing company, provides some really unique benefits to our customers." PI