Printers as Media Advisors

Like everyone else in this field, I’m wondering what the printing industry will look like in 10 years. Heck, I’m thinking it will be quite a bit different in 2015. I’m getting whiplash watching one new media tool after another change the face of doing business — and turning print on its inky head.

My first thought is always, “What does this mean for print?”

Several weeks ago, The Boston Globe reported that Apple’s value had shot past Microsoft’s. One statement in particular stopped me cold:

“The rapidly rising value attached to Apple by investors also heralds an important cultural shift: Consumer tastes have overtaken the needs of business as the leading force shaping technology.

It’s something I’d sensed — and here it was in print! (For the record, I like my newspapers the analog way.) As consumers’ tastes for all-things-digital expand, print’s function shifts. We know print volumes are down, and they may be down to stay. That’s the glass-half-empty view.

Here’s a glass-half-full view. I see growth for printing companies that appreciate the power of multi-channel marketing and realize that customers, including consumers, have a wide range of preferences for getting information. These printing companies don’t simply appreciate the power of multi media; they, like me, get an actual buzz from the opportunities they create.

Some printing companies are already pulling ahead of the pack — you surely know some (or are one) yourself. They offer customers a broader range of services than just printing (not that there’s anything wrong with that). A few services come to mind, including data analytics, creative strategy, mobile apps, mail management, social media integration, pURLs, email campaigns, cross-media campaigns and intelligent bar codes. Even the websites of these printers look different. Start paying attention and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a cause for rejoicing.

Long regarded as a print buyer expert and trade writer, Margie Dana launched her new business in 2013 as a marketing communications strategist with a specialty in printing and print buying. Now she’s on a mission to help clients build customer communities through carefully crafted content.

You may know Margie as the producer of the annual Print & Media Conference. Although she’s exited the event production business, she’s still publishing her Print Tips newsletter. She looks forward to helping companies create and style all of their content so their potential customers sit up and take notice. For details and to sign up for her Print Tips and new marketing blog, visit or e-mail Margie at
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  • http://LisaBickford Lisa Bickford

    Margie: First off, let me tell you that I love reading your stuff. I am a subscriber to your newsletter, and I often include links to your articles or tips in my newsletter. This article, however, has me confused. As a small print shop owner not quite sure of my identity anymore, I took it to heart when I read an article you wrote a few months ago stating that you were tired of printers calling themselves “marketing services professionals.” I am paraphrasing and my memory is not exactly what it used to be, but I believe you wrote that you were wondering where the good ol’ printer’s were, and that you didn’t like how the waters were getting muddied by printers reinventing themselves. Can you provide some clarification?

  • http://MargieDana Margie Dana


    Thanks for your comment and kind words. I’m sorry for the confusion but will attempt to make my point clear now…

    My earlier blog post, “You’re a Printer. Stop Denying It,” was a response to landing on a few printers’ websites and being confused by what I saw – it was like they had every reference to “printing” or “manufacturing” surgically removed. I saw bloated copy filled with jargon about being marketing agencies, and had to dig deep to see that, at their core, they were/are print manufacturers still.

    It’s the charade I object to.

    In this current piece, I am sharing an idea that I’ve discussed with others recently and which seems to “have legs;” ie, will some printing firms evolve into media companies, where print is just one of the media they offer customers? Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but growing into companies that master many media, not just print, seems natural. Printers and creative/ad agencies seem to be ‘blending together” already. I am having a harder and harder time discerning what a company really does when i get to a web site. Maybe a certain type of firm will always remain a print manufacturer, and maybe the next generation – the media advisors – will source print in several locations. Just a random thought. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

    Hope this helps.

  • http://NigelCliffe Nigel Cliffe

    This debate is probably the debate of this decade. What should print ‘do’ to become hip? What new word should best describe our evolving industry? Media is a great word, as it describes the channels for communication, but do we expect printers to become radio broadcasters? I think not.

    But we should not worry folks, it will evolve, and the underlying definition, or understanding of what print means, will evolve with it.

    Let me site an example. When did you last use the word website? In my world I have already begun to drop it from my vocabulary. A website is a very singular thing. In marketing parlance you would consider it very Web 1.0. It is static. Web presence, participation and interaction however, is where ‘webonics’ is going. Web 3.0 is on the horizon.

    Is anyone out there having a discussion about a website being the wrong expression? I bet you not. Why, simply because it is accepted that all things ‘interweb’ is a fundamentally changing beast. No one is worried about it.

    This is true of the word ‘print.’

    As for the role of a printer, well this hasn’t changed much either. In the recent past, for one it meant putting ink on paper for marketing collateral, leaflets, brochures and the like. For another it meant producing single color statements. For another, printing billboard posters with dots the size of golf balls. Each would see themselves as printers, but hardly define their respective capabilities in the same breath.

    And so it will remain. Some printers will evolve web-to-print offerings, creating value in an ecom workflow. Others will manage brand and artwork changes. Many will add email campaign capabilities in alternative communication channels. Some will develop linked strategies combing technologies to maximize print when combined with on-line marketing. The possibilities are endless.

    But one thing is certain. Print is most certainly alive. Let’s come to terms with the changing definition of the word, and stand proud by it.

  • http://TimRolfsen Tim Rolfsen

    Clearly there is enthusiasm for engaging customers in new ways that not only drive additional revenue, but assist in transitioning the current business model. Each printer or graphic arts professional must decide for themselves, though, if this is the right path. They must also have the right resources in place to seamlessly execute cross-media campaigns and provide follow-up.

    Printers are typically behind the curve, way behind, compared to several already established and professional cross-media companies that are formidable competitors and thought leaders. At the end of the day, most printers I speak with have only cursory knowledge of what goes into a great cross-media campaign from a technical side let alone creative.

    When clients can be convinced that the printer is capable of crossing over to the creative side and can develop strategy, graphics and extend the brand, then they may be viable. IMO, there will need to be a consolidation of creative groups into printing firms or visa versa, to affect this change. Until then, most of us remain conduits for executing someone else’s strategy using our digital presses and in-house data capabilities.

  • http://KateDunn Kate Dunn

    Print was always a form of communication. Going back 20 years ago Xerox used to say there were four uses of print – to educate, to entertain, to support a transaction and to sell something. Had the printing industry focused on what they were doing not how they were doing it, they may have been more open to the opportunities that digital technology presented besides digital print engines. I still hear regularly from printing companies who are afraid to talk about the permanent declines in print volume for fear of terrifying the people who work there.

    The fact is that there are things better communicated digitally and there are things that people prefer to see in print like your preference for a printed newspaper. And there are many things that are best communicated using multiple channels that work together to achieve the objective.

    Providing value in the form of helping customers use their channels wisely offers some in the printing industry an alternative or supplement to manufacturing printing but it requires an entirely different type of intellectual capital that is business and marketing oriented.

    Agencies too, have their challenges. But they have one thing that the printing industry has not had – a history of paying for advanced creative minds. Investment the right types of technology for the kind of business you are in is critical for success but it’s not all. There are 100s of digital presses out there operating at low capacity because no one – the printer, nor the customer – could figure how to put them to good use. The technology is critical but someone has to figure out what to say to get a recipient to respond. Agencies at least have a history of paying for that type of intellectual power.