You’re a Printer. Stop Denying It!

I’ve had it with printing companies masquerading as marketing solutions providers. Lately, when I go online to find out more about a particular firm, I have to dig deeper into a Website than just the home page (Mistake #1: obscure the truth about your services on the home page.) to find out what a company really does.

If the Web content is clear and direct, I shouldn’t have to scour the site to see if a company really is a “marketing solutions provider” as it claims—or a print manufacturer, which is more and more likely.

Who’s the cluck behind this movement, anyway? Do you really think that print customers, creatives and corporate marketing managers won’t eventually find out that you’re a manufacturer? Why are you hiding it, anyway?

You’re not ashamed of being a printer, are you?

In this business, if you have a manufacturing facility, you’re a printer.

If you have an equipment list on your site (well hidden, often), you’re a printer.

If terms like “prepress,” “commercial printing,” “1-to-1 communications,” “packaging” and “warehousing” are used here and there to describe some of your offerings, you’re a printer.

You can redo your Website, hire a writer (sorry, “content creator”) to scrub your site of traditional print company lingo, and pepper it liberally with cool new snapshots, but anyone who knows better will peel back the pixilated pages and see that you are, indeed, a printer.

You may be a printer who offers Web-to-print solutions to your customers. Or, a printer who is an expert in cross-media marketing solutions. Perhaps you have creatives on staff. Maybe you are one of those exceptional companies known for innovation, and for helping customers conceive of, create, produce and distribute real knock-yer-socks-off campaigns.

Just come out and say so, in plain English, on your Website…please! The obfuscation on so many sites is killing me. Eventually I realize that I’m visiting the Website of a printer who’s pretending to be otherwise.

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
Related Content
  • http://AdamRachwal Adam Rachwal

    Margie, I agree with you. Personally, I think the reason why printers are doing it is because they have been told over and over by sales & marketing managers that they have to sell added value and lo and behold the added value has become the masquerade.

  • http://G.Hurley G. Hurley

    I think your comments are valid but would add that there is a fundamental change going on in the print industry. Digital printing, one-to-one marketing, web campaigns, email blasts, e-stores (etc) can all be part of a progressive printers portfolio. Where at one point it was enough to be a printer, most printers today have to broaden their offerings to survive. Having said that, we should not be hiding the fact that we are printers – we should be spending more energy promoting print for it’s value as a great marketing vehicle.

  • http://MargieDana Margie Dana

    It’s a fact…the print industry is evolving – must evolve – and printers should add more value to their products & services. Print customers will respond positively to those printers who do. I myself am drawn to printers who understand the significance of new electronic media – including social media – because it indicates they’re not standing still.

    Hiding the fact on a web site that you’re a printer isn’t the right approach. I agree with you: we need to measure/analyze/promote the true value of print in a marketing campaign.

  • http://HarrisDeWese Harris DeWese

    Dear Margie:

    Congratulations for writing “You’re a Printer. Stop Denying It!” I am now officially announcing that I am sick of owners and managers who advertise their ability to sell “solutions”. In fact, I’m sick of the word “solutions”. Among other things, it implies the customer has a problem for which they need a solution. Salespeople who are pretentious, condescending or overbearing and try to sell solutions are apt to get their…. er attaches handed to them and shown the door. Done properly, talented salespeople can assist customers to become more profitable through either cost savings or revenue growth. But don’t tell buyers they have problems and that you have arrived to solve them. That’s insulting and may well insult their intelligence. It can only be done with great questioning, listening and suggestive selling.
    Margie, you hit a lot of self-satisfied folks with a 2X4. Good work!

  • http://ChuckGehman Chuck Gehman

    Absolutely wonderful piece, right on the money. The “marketing service provider”‘s website is confusing and obfuscating that printer is conflicted and confused about who and what they are, and who their customers are. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

  • http://RobertJohannes Robert Johannes

    Margie, sorry but your brother and sister buyers don’t think like you. Buyers don’t think, for the most part, in terms of looking at win/win relationships anymore. They are driven in today’s market by the accountants to maximize their ROI by beating their cost line down to its lowest possible level, taking it out of the hide of the masochistic printer willing or needing to do it.

    What we continue to see is a trend to removing yourself from the 87 other “me too!” printing companies, who I would add also deceive buyers many times by claiming capacities that are not theirs (ie. print brokers) or claim “joint ventures”.

    This is my 25th year in print and I miss the days of honest and constructive buyer relationships, but they just aren’t there anymore. So the only step for printers to take if they want to succeed is to try and get an audience with the c-level decision makers. The problem there is the “printing” in your name causes c-levels to pull out their organizational chart and refer you to the back of the line behind the other 87 “me toos”.

    There are printers. There are good printers. And there are great printers. There are also printers who make great relationship partners beyond just the segment of print that they do a great job in. And there are some printers who are great suppliers who just want to be great printers. I think you have to accept that the business needs of print and the distribution and management (yes there’s that nasty communication and marketing business titles) of print and non-print information is something that very capable integrated print companies can accomplish and help their clients make more money. Which in the end, is the name of the game.
    So, to use a new/old saying “Don’t judge a printer by his cover” so to speak. Yes, they may use a marketing or communications tag to try and break free from the others and the stigma placed on it. But you never want to put a nice new label on an empty box.unless you intend on filling it with what the label depicts.

  • http://RichSohanchyk Rich Sohanchyk

    Funny article. I started out in printing, segued into pre-press at a larger print shop. From there I went into advertising. Then I started my own graphic design firm. Someone complained that I should add printing to my name since there was no printer in town before me. Now 14 years later I am a communications company. I design and host websites, I design and print digital static and 1-to-1 marketing pieces in-house. I design and print 2C, 4C and beyond which I contract out. I am a communications company. Printing is just one of the services I offer. No disgrace or chicanery in marketing myself as a communications company. Quite frankly, unless your Donnelley, you’re not going to survive on ink alone.

  • http://SandyWaryan Sandy Waryan

    Margie – Well put! I don’t even have words to write on how exact your information is in this article.
    Thanks for writing the truth. Wish more people would stand up to the truth about where we are at with print these days.
    Can you write something about the low balling of price thats been going on in the last year too?

  • http://BobJohnson Bob Johnson

    Sorry Margie-You’re wrong. Those that want to stay branded as “printers” -good luck- because you’re always going to be perceived as such and not be able to find your way out of the purchasing dept. where you will be bidding on print jobs with 10 other vendors all with one end result–killing your profit margin. Only solutions providers will be able to find themselves in the office of a marketing director or a CFO selling the ideas and value added programs (warehousing and distribution, cross media programs, etc.) that will keep the press humming at a healthy profit margin. No one’s ashamed, but it’s time we all took our heads out of the sand. If you have been in this business for any length of time you know that print as we’ve known it is on life support. It’s time to re-brand ourselves and the industry and maybe, just maybe there is growth on the horizon.

  • http://MargieDana Margie Dana

    I think you miss my point – I don’t deny that printers must evolve and stop “just” taking orders for jobs.

    What I object to is the practice among some printing firms to try and hide the fact they are commercial printers, particularly on web sites.

    You can’t call yourself a marketing solutions provider only because you don’t want people to know you or see you as “just” a printer. You should not hide the fact that you manufacture print.

    It’s pretense I’m against, not growth.

  • http://TriFectaCreative TriFecta Creative

    I couldn’t agree more…too many organizations seem all too willing to stray away from their core competencies. I don’t know that the sky is completely falling. Not yet.

  • http://BobJohnson Bob Johnson

    You call it hiding,

    I call it re-branding. It’s perception not deception.

    If the web sites bother you that much ignore them…”buyers” aren’t the target audience anyway.

  • http://MargieDana Margie Dana

    Take a look at the short daily video on today (2/25).

    I don’t know the woman who’s speaking (Brittany Fenning), but she echoes what I think: printers defining themselves as marketing services providers create confusion among some creatives.

    By the way, I am enjoying this interesting conversation. I listen carefully!

  • http://BobJohnson Bob Johnson

    It’s confusing only to those who don’t or choose not to get it.

    Again these programs are not designed to be presented to the creatives and the buyers, no disrespect’s just that it’s not the selling audience.

    Margie, what is killing printers is that they are looked at as just that – “printers” – and some are. I’m sorry but solutions providers are NOT Printers.

    If you call a prospect and ask for a meeting it’s… ” I’ve already got plenty of Printers that do that work for me and so on.

    Ah…but if you can respond with…”Yes, but I’m not selling just print”…and now your saying something.

    Because in the end we’re not…we’re selling programs and ideas that produce print. if I’m able to sell Cross Media and Variable data and on-line warehousing and distribution to a global Fortune 1000 and my competition sells only sheetfed…how are we the same–we’re not-

    Yes in the end we are both producing print-but I’m selling my client a different and very often more cost effective way to get there beyond their price is x my price is y.

    That’s why the solutions approach is often lost on the buyer–and the sell is b-level executives..

    They understand ROI–not just the lowest unit price.

    Call a Vice President of Global Procurement or a VP of Marketing and tell him or her your a “Printer”. See if you get in…

    Call him or her with the solutions approach message-and see what happens–

    Maybe the Headline to your next article should be:

    Up-grade your capabilities and image-and stop picking from the bottom of the tree.

  • http://BrianRegan Brian Regan

    Maybe the solution is a blending of the two points of view.

    Bob – You say that Printers must change and adapt to survive.

    Margie – Don’t hide what you really are.

    Perhaps the printer does a better job explaining its story. Websites in the past shared basic information about a firm like a sign. These days its a good idea to “Tell you story” on your website. So tell your story. “We started out as printers and as things changed, we adapted. The reason for our success has always been in our ability to adapt to changes and provide our customers with what they needed…etc”

    Use your history and be proud of your printing past and share it. You still print, but you have expanded your service offerings. Don’t hide your past or your capability to print, just be honest and share that you also have these other expertise in-house or accessible.

  • http://TommyMelendez Tommy Melendez

    Margie are you kidding?

    We are, in this present day more than just printers. Old days I agree, how many, what paper, colors!

    Now we ask our clients, what are your exceptions? What are your target audience?

    Pushing our clients from the typical static mailings to variable printing with personal url’s

    So am I still a printer?
    Your dam right i am, but with the ability to provide a successful marketing plan to all our clients.

  • http://Margie Margie

    Well, this topic certainly is of interest. A buyer in our PBI LinkedIn Group raised the same issue — and within a short time we have a lively discussion going on there.

    I don’t disagree that modern printers (with vision) are evolving, adding creative services that are way more than ink on paper.

    I just don’t think an out and out name change is the way to go, especially if the credentials for offering marketing services aren’t there.

  • http://GeorgeBean George Bean

    Tell your so called “solution providers” to stop drinking their own industry’s Kool-Aid and support the reality that they are in deed PRINTERS FIRST!

    Followed by inserting “salesmanship” into the equation by telling your current and future customers what other services you provide.

    Come on. Stand up and insert the “P” word back into what we do best. PRINT!

  • http://AaronHale Aaron Hale

    Margie: I have a lot of respect for you and your tenure in this industry, but I must disagree with you.

    When I was out there selling VDP and cross-media services for a commercial printer, I hit the wall several times in sales engagements because of the trust-perception of the buyer. They weren’t willing to risk a $50k cross media campaign expenditure with a company that had Printer in it’s branding. I overcame a few of those barriers with differed margin pilots, but in the end the re-branding was really the only thing to do.

    A study that I did for my previous employer ( a well known research company) about pricing strategies for multi-channel services yellded that overall, those service providers that used the MSP moniker were getting 34% more revenue for the exact same service as those who were dubbed PSPs or Printers.

    I think Brian Regan has a good compromise, in that there is definitely merit in incorporating your print background in your history. It should also be comforting to the buyer that because they do printing that they could indeed be saving some money on that segment of the service.

  • http://bob bob

    This is funny. I think it is quite a narrow-minded approach.

    As a former printer, now solutions provider, we maintain relationships with customers who now give us 30% profit, instead of -5% on printing alone. So yea we hide the “printing” pretty deep. Print buyers have beat us down to where everyone is low balling work just to keep the lights on. So as many have said, we must change or close shop. No option.

    If you browse our site looking for cheap printing, please just keep on movin.

  • http://ScottDubois Scott Dubois

    Wow, so this article provokes a lot of debate. Both sides have great thoughts but there are some things worth looking at:

    1) I wish the so called “experts” would stop pushing MSP onto printers. There are such things as Marketing Service Providers, but they don’t own presses. They have fully staffed departments (not one person wearing multiple hats) which include Market Research, Product Development, Performance Analytics and Trending, and Marketplace Strategy. Do you know of any printers like this? I don’t know of one.

    2) Printers used to think their equipment defined them, now they think it is the “services”. Silly them, buy a digital press, signup for Mindfire and then add Digital Printing, Variable Data, and PURLs to a capabilities list. None of it matters any more than 40″ offset printing if you don’t explain strategy and how you use it.

    3) PURL….Really? Printers take an approach where they have started to commoditize this just like printing. So many charge “per record”. This is silly, this implies you have no value. Build a product/campaign and sell a bundle…. trust me you’ll be more profitable.

    4) Most are scared and don’t want to let go. Best case and point, go to their website and you can find an equipment list.

    So what’s in a name? Where I work, we consider ourselves a cross-media communications firm. It implies nothing we don’t do and everything we do. It also let’s us define a unique strategy for every client (what a concept).

    Sorry for being late to the discussion, but thought I would weigh in.

  • http://RobertJohannes Robert Johannes

    If I am just a printer, I am out of business. Period. It no longer is enough to be a really great craft company. The operating budgets of the world have dictated that the the great evil of printing is to be squeezed for every last dime, so that the corporate jets can still be used and next quarters SEC filing is better than the last.

  • http://Margie Margie


    I think you/your firm ‘got it right.’ And I agree with you that firms looking for marketing services providers look for market research, analytics, strategy, and so on.

    I read earlier this week that Brown Printing is reorganizing itself and working towards becoming a premiere media solutions provider for its customers. That makes much more sense to me, for what it’s worth. Frankly, the “solutions provider” phrase has worn out its welcome. Time to retire it. I like Cross Communications very much, BTW.


  • http://BobJohnson Bob Johnson

    So Margie, is Brown in Denial as your article suggests.

    Or is it now all OK with you as long as we don’t call ourselves solutions providers.

    The tone of your response to Scott sounds like you finally get it.

  • http://MargieDana Margie Dana

    Hi, Bob,

    Brown isn’t in denial, no. Printers as media solutions providers makes sense because moving forward/outward from one medium (print) to many (social, mobile, email, etc) is a natural progression in my mind. I think that customers, be they marketing directors, agencies, print production pros or graphic designers will recognize this, too – and expect/accept it. A printer who develops expertise in new media – especially when the media work well with print campaigns and the printer can develop the entire campaign for his customers, well, it’s evolution and I’m all for it.

    It is the popular phrase “marketing solutions provider” that I object to, for the reasons that Scott Dubois so eloquently spelled out (see his point #1).

    Scott spoke of cross-media communications: that’s how his firm describes itself. I happen to know his firm, and they truly are known for helping their customers use multiple media in their marketing campaigns. They also make it clear on their site that yes, they print, too.

    I wrote the blog entry because I’ve landed on web sites of printers who practically scrub their sites clean of commercial printing references/terms and inserted the MSP phrase in liberal doses.

    I am all for printers expanding their roles, their products, and their services – all of us in this industry must do so (myself included).

    Thanks again for weighing in.


  • http://Greg Greg

    Bob’s a pompous idiot who doesn’t realize he actually works at a printer, as he’s too busy noodling with the b-level guys at lunch when all the real action is back on the purchasing pads of the buyers back at HQ. If someone would take the time to show him how to read a P&L he’d see that 98% of the revenue is still coming from the press and that meagar 2% is oozing from the wounds we call “Marketing Solutions”. The problem is some printers don’t know how to be profitable, and some do.

    “Marketing Solutions Provider” is the proverbial lipstick on the pig. Bob, say “Oink!”

  • http://BobJohnson Bob Johnson

    You’re all over the place on this.

    Let’s agree to disagree.

    Thanks for the lively exchange.


  • http://JB JB

    Face it – this is print’s mid-life crisis. There are two ways to deal with it: take a close internal look and make meaningful change, or go out and buy a Ferrari, a toupee, or breast implants to create an attractive distraction. The MSPs in name only are destined to fail.

  • http://Jeff Jeff

    What an exchange. Have to agree with Margie from my experience, for my company, but I do think that printers can provide some good solutions to smaller companies and individuals. Printers need to understand Marketing so they can fulfill the Marketing needs for a Fortune 500 Company like mine. However, there are smaller organizations, and individuals without professional marketing departments or experience, and they may benefit from ancillary services print providers are offering. You cannot be all things to all people.

    Printers need to offer what each buyer needs and not “get past their level of expertise”. As it is said in show business, “Know your audience.” I need Printers. I have good printers and not all of my Printers have the same capabilities. We pick and choose the best, most experienced printers for the project. Oh, and be courteous when posting, Ad Hominem arguments only make us all look bad.

  • http://RichardRodriguez Richard Rodriguez

    Many of us drive by car dealers and see “preowned vehicles” advertised. We all know these are “used cars” but this marketing strategy worked and therefore stuck. Now printers are calling themselves marketing solutions providers. Is it really that different from the used car industry strategy? They adapted to the change in perception of their industry. Printers are in desperate need of a perception change as well. We are seen as destroying forests, polluting our environment and being an outdated industry. If stating I’m a MSP changes that perception I’ll take the masquerading comment as a compliment.

  • http://RussGimson Russ Gimson

    Spot on Margie. I am in total agreement with your comments. Not acknowledging your core competency as a manufacturer is probably the worst thing you can do to win the confidence of customers. There are so many great agencies out there that I have worked with- who are really the ‘Marketing Service Providers” that posing as one is silly. The real impact a printer can have is how to positively affect their customers in other ways aside from low prices. Yes this is a starting point but if you can’t articulate the big picture to them, then it will also be the end point. I disagree with some of the critic’s statements that the positive printer-customer relationship is no more, it just has to be found at a higher level. If you understand their business and yours then you can show them a significantly bigger impact to help them compete in their marketplace. I will bet a significant sum that most of the naysayers here cannot do that.

  • http://MargieDana Margie Dana


    Thanks much for your comment. I am totally in favor of printers offering deeper & expanded value to their customers, and I know many printers who do (and are appreciated for it). Calling themselves MSPs is not a solution. I just don’t buy it.

  • http://CathyLawrimore Cathy Lawrimore

    Interesting comments. Thanks for the good read.

  • http://SarahAdams Sarah Adams

    No printer I know is “ashamed” to be one.

    I think the bottom line is that the wrenching change the print industry’s been driven to by 1. demographics and 2. technology mean that what’s really happening is that everyone in the business identity/branding/marketing chain is simply scrambling to find their place in a world of iPods, iPads & Palms.

    As an “ancillary services” provider (even lower on the “print” food chain) to print, advertising & marketing companies, I’d say we all just need to:

    Lighten up!

    Let’s all commit to using technology to leverage an interdisciplinary and collaborative process, get good at it and thrive, or be left out of dealing with some of the best talent out there. No matter the name.

  • http://BB BB

    I tend to agree with Bob here, but I see Margie’s side. The truth is that most printers will always be printers and the MSP moniker won’t change that. Until printers can learn to develop and sell strategies and monetize it, they will always be selling tactics. Hence, the commoditization of the industry and most everything it touches ie. purls, W2P, etc.

    What I would say to Margie is that since you have a forum that touches so many buyers, can you tell them to stop BS’ing print reps with the “we don’t buy based just on price” line? In a sense, you’re doing the same and hiding behind the truth, which is that you’re there to buy whatever we have for as cheap as you possibly can. You really don’t care about value and I know your boss doesn’t look at your expenditures and asks you about how much value you got for it. It just might keep printers from trying to hide who they really are and leave the real MSPs having conversations where it counts…MARKETING!

  • http://HeidiTolliver-Nigro Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    I think there is one really important point that is missing in all of this. It’s one that simplifies the situation considerably.

    Printers are expanding their service offerings, but in most cases, they are still printers. Unless, as one poster pointed out, they are going after small businesses without any marketing capabilities at all. In this case, even modest marketing experience is better than what the customer already has, so they do, in fact, function as a marketing partner.

    But if the printer will be going after larger clients who DO have their own marketing capabilities, then in order to call themselves “marketing services providers,” they need to have — as one of their core competencies — marketing.

    If you do not have the skills and resources of a marketing firm as a core competency, then you aren’t a marketing services provider. You are a marketing SUPPORT SERVICES provider, but that’s too long to say.

    I think that printers can legitimately transition to being MSPs, but that transition has to be radical and fundamental. It has to be at the core competency level and be reflected at every level of the company, from senior management to sales to CSRs.

    The confusion and frustration is coming from the fact that printers are simply changing their names without changing core competencies. As someone posted, you cannot add a digital press and some 1:1 software and call yourself a MSP. You have to overhaul, not just your branding, but your entire focus, strategy, and core competency to support it.

    The problem is that, in most cases, this is not happening. Printers are simply changing their names without doing the heavy lifting it takes to actually become what it is they are claiming. That is creating real challenges for the few who actually do.

  • http://DavidScott David Scott

    This is very interesting and thought provoking. We are working to move up to the next level. I believe cross-media provider is the best solution for us. While I don’t consider myself a marketing person, we can provide some marketing insight; especially since we partnered with Mindfire. Their willingness to help is exceptional.

  • http://RickGodsey Rick Godsey

    I think most printers really don’t like being printers, especially when most are not making much, if any money. And most would like to have a more “glamorous” marketing services provider company with bigger margins.

    One company cannot truly be both. Manufacturing requires maximizing efficiencies and reducing touch points so that they can be profitable in the commodity world of commercial printing. An MSP requires more touch points and lots of hand holding. You cannot be a low cost manufacturer of customized marketing services with high touches.

    However, I think you can have a branded print manufacturer and a branded marketing company that work together seamlessly under one roof to the betterment of both parties.

    And I certainly would not rule it out for one company to figure out how to do both. Apple Computer is now Apple as they sell a lot more than just computers. Today, the Wall Street Journal announced that H-P is getting into the smartphone market. Printing and Marketing are both about communications. Someone will figure out how to do it well; if they already haven’t.

    So, if you are printer and just want to be printer, you better be darn efficient at it and be the low cost provider.

  • http://WebEditor Web Editor

    Thad Kubis, NAK integrated Marketing Inc., proposed adopting the term “chain of communications providers” in an extensive reply that has been published as its own Speak Your Piece post at

  • Shane G

    There is no masquerading about it. You need to relax and realize we live in 2011. No longer can one company (for the most part) offer one service and expect to survive in today’s economy. The fact of the matter is, there are some print companies that are really good at developing marketing strategies. Marketers have a problem with this because they can’t charge clients exorbitant amounts of money like back in the hay day of ad/marketing agencies. Marketers need to change with the times. Printers are realizing that ink and toner on paper just won’t cut it anymore, marketers need to step up along with them or close shop.

  • Quinnie C

    We are a printing company: We are actually on the other hand, we are telling everyone that we are a high quality offset printer, and bloody proud of it. But there are people tend to go to "service provider" who sound nicer but print nothing. Print to be proud, I say.

  • NoumenonD

    "Print is dead." Three words companies with boatloads of capital tied up in hulking machines that do nothing but put ink on paper are inwardly terrified are true. I’ve worked for and with printers, and I’ve seen their success and failures. I agree, the one’s that are making it are honest with themselves, and their clientele, about who they are. Diversification is a hedge against weakening sectors of the print marketplace. "On Demand" printing means smaller runs, and idle presses make owners very nervous.
    Creative packaging of services is one thing, but the clients you want to be doing business with will figure out if your company is masquerading as something they aren’t. Kudos for the call out.

  • NateHammondDGO

    Now can we please have an article ****ing about print *BROKERS* masquerading around as print solution providers? C’mon now, you’re one guy at a desk sourcing jobs. Do you even know what offset print smells like?

    One comment I have to make: A printer only needs to implement a suite of whitelabeled SaaS solutions and they can do everything inhouse.

    A marketing agency that does not do printing inhouse would have to buy a fleet of presses in order to offer the complete solution "under one roof".

    So think about it; Who’s really position best to become that "complete solution"?