Printer vs. Marketing Service Provider – Be What You Are

Thanks to Jeffery Jones, who raised the issue of making the transition from print service provider (PSP) to marketing service provider (MSP) in response to my plea for ideas for blog posts. Well, Jeff, here goes nothing.

I think printers should be printers. I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to reinvent yourself as a marketing service provider and run the risk of alienating potential customers who are marketers. I know I am probably very unpopular right now, having said that, and I expect a lot of you out there will disagree. That’s OK.

Very simply, just be who you are. Don’t let anyone else tell you who you are supposed to be, or what you HAVE to do in order to stay alive today. Bollocks!

I am a big believer in trusting your instincts. If your gut tells you to just put your head down and be the best damn printer you can be, and you work hard every day to take good care of your customers and land new business on a regular basis, who can say that you are wrong? I won’t. I’ll tell you to keep doing what you’re doing.

Now, if there is something wrong with your business—like sales are down or you know you need to add some digital equipment—that is another story. But, again, trust your gut. Don’t become something you are not just because some analyst tells you to.

Now, having said all that, I DO believe you should learn as much about marketing as you can.

  • Understand what the challenges are that your customers face.
  • Understand what they are trying to accomplish.
  • Learn great questions to ask to show that you are interested in helping them achieve their goals.
  • Read marketing blogs.
  • Read a book or two on marketing.
  • Attend some seminars so you can understand the vocabulary.
  • Do your research on your customers so you already know what they do and what they are GOING to do (like launching a new product at a trade show in three months), so you can be ahead of the curve and ahead of your competition.

You need to be more than an order taker, and your conversations need to have more substance than, “Do you buy print? I sell print!” You need to bring creativity and insight to the table. You need to be different than your competition. Knowledge is power.

Related Content
  • Dustin Ritter

    Completely agree. Sell your true capabilities and strengths. Expand on your capabilities and strenghs, and then sell that too. It’s a very poor impression when you say your something your not to a marketer.

  • Dave Pilcher

    I also agree. We have focused on putting the best technology into our prepress, press, bindery and mailing departments. . . but not offering marketing services – just high quality print services for a very economical price.

    You hit the nail on the head about being knowledgeable about your customers’ needs and marketplace. You need to be a resource, not just an order taker. Bring value to the table and, in turn, you will better serve your customers while doing what you do best.

  • Drum

    Kelly, I agree as well. I am proud to be a printer. Printing is an entirely different animal than marketing. What makes us arrogant enough to think that we have better solutions than seasoned marketers?
    With that said. we owe it to ourselves to be the best marketers we can be, if for no other reason than to drive our own businesses. And if we develop some expertise along the way, so much the better.

  • Dan Halmar

    Sounds right on. From what I read out there, both customers and suppliers/providers are getting burned by this re-invention that isn’t genuine. Thanks Kelly, for the defense of bread & butter basics and honesty. At the end of the day, it must win more respect.

  • Bird’s Eye View


    The "Cross-Media" software vendors that are pitching their goods to the print industry can’t be liking you much at the moment. You may want to keep a lower profile for the balance of the Holiday Season. Keep up your spot-on analysis in 2012.

  • Ted


    Interesting article. Being a retired printing account executive having worked in the industry over 40 years, and watched all of the technological changes, the answer seems to me simple. Train your sales staffs to think on there feet, one client may need to just purchase printing and another may need both advertising and marketing advice. Many times I would wind up marrying all three together in order to secure an account.

  • Steve Counts

    Kelly, your topic is a tough one. The reason it is even being discussed is because printers are having problems with revenue. Here is the deal, change is required or Einstein’s definition of an idiot comes into play.
    What surprises me are the people who know they have a problem and do nothing. It comes down to bringing value to the people who buy from you. We are not printers, we are problem solvers, printing just happens to be our vehicle for solving problems at the moment.

  • JimmyPage

    we are a mail house , and a printer, and a list/data provider, we just added some new digital presses, so we are an MSP to some customers and a PSP and or mailer only to others, and we are also a data house only to some other cusotmers, and some customers we are ALL of the above , and we do them ALL very well , and we do them ALL every day, yet we are NOT just a printer or just a mailer or just a data list provider. we ARE Direct One Inc and sales are exploding for us year over year … very good article …

  • printstories
  • printstories