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Carl Gerhardt

Business Sense & Sensibility

By Carl Gerhardt

About Carl

Carl Gerhardt is the chairman of Alliance Franchise Brands LLC, the parent company of Allegra Network LLC and Sign & Graphics Operations LCC, and a world leader in marketing, visual and graphics communications, linking more than 600 locations in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. The company’s Marketing & Print Division, headquartered in Plymouth, MI, is comprised of Allegra, American Speedy Printing, Insty-Prints, Speedy Printing and Zippy Print brands of marketing, printing, mailing and Web services providers. Its Sign & Graphics Division, headquartered in Columbia, MD, is comprised of Image360, Signs By Tomorrow and Signs Now brands of sign and graphics communications providers.

Carl and his wife, Judy, owned and operated their own successful Allegra franchise for nearly 20 years before selling the $2.3 million operation in 2003. He is a PrintImage International/NAQP Honorary Lifetime Member and was inducted into NAPL’s prestigious Soderstrom Society in 2010 in recognition of his contribution to the industry.


Where’s the Common Sense in Marketing Services Debate?

Margie Dana recently wrote an interesting Printing Impressions blog titled, “Printers...a.k.a. Marketing Services Providers, Beware.” It outlined the conflicts that can arise among printers, marketing agencies and print buyers when it comes to marketing services. I was amazed to read a comment about a printer that made the transition, only to then alienate important agency customers and lose that business.
I have to ask the question, Where is the common sense of upper management or the owner when considering entering the marketing services arena? Why would you go after this type of work in direct competition with agencies if they are a critical part of your business? Not a very good strategic plan. It should be no surprise that marketing agencies and even corporate print buyers would not look favorably on printers becoming something other than “just printers.”

In general, buyers view print as a commodity and want to drive the price down as low as possible for their clients. If a printer has cultivated a substantial amount of business with agencies, it would be well advised to stay away from that market unless the selling is done transparently and not in conflict with its agency clients.

The same may be true of corporate print buyers. To go around them and directly to the corporate marketing department would be risky at best.
You’re better off looking for ways to work with, rather than against, an agency client. An inroad with existing agency clients or prospects is to fill gaps in their “marketing technology solutions” portfolios.

A printer entering into marketing services can assume the role of “delivery technology specialist” and supplement the strategic and creative services of the agency with Web-to-print and online document management solutions or e-mail distribution services. This enables the use of variable and relevant data to improve the performance of the recommendations agencies make to their clients. Many agencies don’t choose to have these technical resources on staff, but need to offer those services.

It’s a big world out there, and management must take a common sense and strategic approach if they want to enter the marketing services arena. In my world, we focus on small businesses and do not often run into agencies or print buyers. Agencies have long abandoned small businesses that rarely have the budgets to pay at the level agencies require, so generally there is no conflict.

Moreover, we are finding success developing new customers with high value-added services. The pros tell us that for every $1 spent on print there is $5 spent getting it ready for print. Equally important is that we can get some of the dollars for work that never goes the print route, but instead goes to other forms of media.
When targeting larger corporate clients, one would be wise to have a strategic understanding of the client’s organizational structure with regard to how it buys print vs. marketing services. Many times, there is a love-hate relationship between marketing departments and corporate buying departments. Understanding how this works at a customer or prospect may very well dictate if one should go “direct” to a marketing department vs. working through the buyer.

It is equally important is to understand that companies that are large enough to have marketing departments, and perhaps even a CMO, may require a different approach than smaller companies. You could end up in the same conflict with marketing professionals as you would with agencies or print buyers.

Finally, the “beware” warning that agencies and print buyers do not look favorably (to put it mildly) upon printers becoming marketing services providers does not necessarily mean it’s a bad plan to enter this market. It simply means it should be done strategically and with a big dose of common sense.

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