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Vertis Communications — 21st Century Marketing

October 2007 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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THE WORLD of direct marketing is volatile, always changing and always moving. By nature, marketing is a beast built for evolution, where trends are king and the next movement is just a consumer research study away.

It stands to reason that those businesses who wish to convert information regarding the wants and needs of the consumer public to their economic advantage need to align themselves with the most savvy of marketing concerns. And any conversation dealing with marketing, advertising, printing and mailing is incomplete without a healthy mention of Vertis Communications.

Speaking of a company constantly on the go, Vertis Communications mirrors the industries it serves. The Baltimore-based behemoth has seen its name change twice in the last seven years; once known as Big Flower, the moniker switched to Vertis (the middle part of ‘advertisement’) in 2000, then to its current handle in 2006 to more accurately reflect its role as a marketing partner.

The shingles in front of Vertis Communications’ 100 nationwide locations aren’t the only difference in the company. Take a peek at what has transpired in the last two years alone.

During 2006:

• USA Direct of York, PA, was acquired.

• Ten Océ VarioStream digital printing systems were installed at the Bristol, PA, plant.

• Vertis Communications beefed up its direct marketing campaign solutions with the release of the ¡Alcance! Hispanic tools.

• The Vertis OnDemand Web portal was introduced, enabling print-on-demand fulfillment of direct mail and marketing communications.

• Variable data digital color capabilities were bolstered at two facilities.

• Michael DuBose assumed the role of chairman and CEO in December following Dean Durbin’s resignation.

And 2007 hasn’t exactly been quiet, either, with a few headlines to date:

• Barry Kohn is named chief financial officer.

• The company invests $33 million in capital expenditures through June, a figure that will reach $55 million by year’s end.

• A new premedia facility is opened in St. Louis, while a direct marketing plant in Chalfont, PA, embarks on an expansion project.

• The company unveils MailTrail, its direct mail tracking program.

• At press time, Vertis Communications was putting the finishing touches on its merger with American Color Graphics (ACG) of Brentwood, TN. ACG posted revenues of $445 million in its latest fiscal year, and the union would create a company with just shy of $2 billion in sales.

Results-Driven Processes

It’s a tall order to fully absorb the depth of products and services offered by Vertis Communications. Understanding its objective—finding the most efficient, cost-effective and results-driven processes to deliver a client’s message—is far easier.

“If you look at Vertis overall, we have tremendous expertise and product offerings,” DuBose says. “Our strategy is to make us as efficient as possible by improving our processes, as well as reducing variability. It’s all about understanding customers’ expectations and striving to exceed them. This means helping them get their message across to their clients in the most effective manner possible.”

Vertis Communications’ offerings are broken into five disciplines: advertising inserts, direct marketing, print media placement, marketing services and out-of-home project management. The following is a brief sample of the services within each area.

Ad inserts: Vertis offers a variety of standard and specialty formats that serve the retail, consumer services, consumer and commercial products industries, with demographic and geographic versioning.

Direct marketing: In-line web and digital printing solutions are offered for the mailing community, along with laser lettershop capabilities. A strength of Vertis Communications is its integrated direct marketing program, which utilizes customer targeting, list management, format optimization, production, mail planning and fulfillment to derive cost efficiencies and to maximize response.

Of course, what would marketing be without getting into the psychology of the end user? Vertis Communications offers its customers data analytics that map out ideal prospects by examining current client profiles.

The onset of postal reform didn’t arrive in time to stop considerable rate increases for the mailing community this past spring, but DuBose is extremely confident in the channel’s ability to produce economical results.

“We’re working with customers reactively, but mostly proactively, to find better ways of getting their message to market,” he says. “We still see direct mail and other forms of direct marketing as extremely effective tools for marketers to reach their audience. With the new postal rates, we’re encouraging clients to change their product design and approach to take advantage of the beneficial change in rates. Also, we’re helping them create alternative and higher impact, more focused products.

“In some cases, there are alternatives to conventional direct mail, such as e-mail or Internet advertising, and we’re helping customers understand what we can do for them in those areas, as well—all in the interest of having a more efficient, lower cost impact on their advertising messages.”

Premedia: Vertis enhances clients’ production cycle time and quality through color science expertise, customizable project management systems and automated digital workflow solutions for print advertising, direct marketing, packaging and other applications.

Print media placement: Vertis uses proprietary media management software, Advertising Event Management System (AEMS), with its media planning databases and advanced analytics, to help clients maximize their media spending.

Marketing services: Vertis Communications brings together consumer research, creative services, enterprise marketing solutions (including Vertis OnDemand Web-to-print) and Hispanic marketing to help customers better identify and pursue their target audience.

Out-of-home project management: Printing capabilities, including large format, grand format and point-of-purchase (POP) advertising production capabilities, are offered. Building wraps, billboards and transit wraps are just a few of the applications.

Moving Beyond Print

“There’s a lot of exciting things happening in terms of new products we’re offering, new capabilities from electronic media,” DuBose adds. “We’re trying to focus the energy of the company on helping our customers be successful, and that involves a significant expansion of our current product offering—not only variations of the existing print products, but also moving beyond print.”

In helping customers be successful, Vertis Communications is also looking beyond its product and service dossier. The company’s lean and continuous improvement group was created to focus on streamlining and improving processes via lean manufacturing and Six Sigma concepts. To that end, Vertis hired Jim Buike as its vice president of lean and continuous improvement in February of this year.

“Our program entails a number of skilled people that we’ve brought on board—black belts and master belts—who have extensive training,” Buike says. “The methodology we use to get down to the root cause and solve problems is DMAIC—define, measure, analyze, improve, control—which is based around using lean tools, as well as Six Sigma methodology.

“In each one of the groups, one of the strategic issues is how to drill down to actionable projects. The black belts that we’ve hired in each one of the regions and major facilities are driving those projects down to results.”

In terms of driving results in Vertis’ ledger, the pending deal to merge with ACG enhances the company’s geographic footprint and expands upon its existing platform, while bolstering premedia and printing capacity. Future acquisitions will likely be geared toward an expansion of products and services.

Aside from the ACG deal, Kohn, the new CFO, notes that a good chunk of the company’s investment went into creating a separate mail sortation area within the Chalfont facility, as well as an HVAC system for a more climate controlled environment. For the inserts business, shop floor computer controls/data gathering are being rolled out for each press.

“We’re pretty optimistic about that system and how it fits into lean activities, as well as process control and quality improvement on the shop floor,” Kohn says. “We’re also investing in maintaining and improving capacity; a significant amount is earmarked toward press rebuilds. And we’ve invested a fair amount of money in our computer infrastructure, both in our execution programs and network, and in some cases to support new customer programs.”

DuBose sees 2007 as a transformation year for Vertis Communications, and believes the company will leverage its platform of operational excellence toward profitable growth in the future. While the executive team is fairly new, DuBose is well aware of the talents his employee base brings to the table.

“We’ve got some tremendous people throughout the company,” DuBose concludes. “In my career, I’ve never seen such a group of people so committed to supporting the company and the customer. We just need to better leverage that heart of those employees, across our various platforms, and provide solutions that will help our customers be successful. I think that’s a tremendous opportunity for Vertis.” PI
 

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