Printers Make the Worst Marketers

Have you ever noticed how key words are added to the headlines when someone is selling a house or a car? Using lines such as “Builders Home” or “Mechanic Owned and Driven” seems to peak the interest of customers.

Well through the years, I have had some very close friends that were mechanics, builders or general contractors. They spent their day building, remodeling or repairing various projects for their customers. When they finally pulled into their driveway late each evening, it would be highly unlikely to then find them doing maintenance or repairs on their own vehicles or pulling the tools from the truck to knock off a few items on the wife’s “Honey Do List” around the house.

Instead, they were usually trying to unwind from their long and busy day sitting on the back deck with a beer in their hand or in front of the television with a plate full of dinner since they missed eating with the family earlier in the evening.

With that in mind…Would you want to buy a car from a mechanic or a home from a builder? Or better yet, printing from a printer that didn’t spend the time and effort to print its own promo piece?

Printers are, “The Worst Marketers!”

Your sales people spend their day knocking on doors, shaking hands and kissing babies, trying to bring in that order to keep the cylinders turning and contribute some income to help pay the light bills. But how many of them are trying to sell from an “Empty Wagon?” Yet you’re trying to convince those customers to print with you.

You have large amounts of capital allocated into a UV equipped monster with all of the bells and whistles, but the only R&D that you have done is on a customer’s job that you figured out—after the fact—you didn’t make any money because it was on press for three days.

Darren has worked in the printing industry for 30 years and spent more than 12 years at two of the nation's leading high-end commercial printers: Bradley Printing in Des Plaines, IL, and Williamson Printing Corp. in Dallas, TX. During that time, he operated conventional and UV 40˝ sheetfed presses and also successfully managed a $15-million pressroom equipment transition. Darren also was Lead Press Instructor for Heidelberg, where he directed specialty equipment startups and was involved in all aspects of the printing process by teaching both instructor and pressroom employees.

In addition, he served as a troubleshooter for various printing companies in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. As operations manager for a start-up specialty folding carton company, he played a key role in achieving more than $6 million in sales within two years. Currently Darren is president of D.G. Print Solutions, a consulting firm that supports printing companies of all sizes. He specializes in growth development planning, pressroom color management and pressroom training through specialty print applications.

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  • http://AlEddy Al Eddy

    Bit of a broad statement with no compelling arguement behind it. Is it possible you have only worked for and with printers who are terrible marketers? I’ve been in the industry for many decades and would argue that there are many printers today who are great marketers for themselves and their customers!

  • http://LarryBauer Larry Bauer

    I’ve been helping printers of all sizes market themselves for the past 20 years, and I would say that printers with good grasps of marketing (and a commitment to it) are the exception rather than the rule.

    I think in their heart of hearts that many printers really don’t believe in the power of marketing, even though they make their livings from it. Many are still operations oriented and their idea of a marketing program is a country club membership and season tickets for one of the local professional sports teams.

    The good news is that it’s easy to stand out if you’re a printer with any marketing saavy, because there is very little good marketing taking place within the industry as a whole.

  • http://ReneeSmith Renee Smith

    I feel fortunate to work with a company that does invest in its own marketing. I always have flyers, booklets, promotional items and bussiness cards to work with when I knock on doors and it works.

  • http://AnnWilson Ann Wilson

    I couldn’t agree with you more. And, if the printer does decide to do a promo piece they decide to design it in house…Please! They have little respect for the design community experts who are their customers. Marketing and promo pieces directed toward the design community and corporate marketing groups was critical. Maybe that’s why so many have not managed to survive…

  • http://DarrenGapen Darren Gapen


    I’m sorry, but I have to agree with Larry.

    I have spent a great deal of time at hundreds of printers across the United Sates as well as abroad and have seen and heard what many give their sales staff to fill their bags.

    Many have some nicely printed and finished pieces but they all have someone else’s name on them.

    In other words; it’s the printer’s customer’s projects.

    From listening to sales people from various levels, the general consensus is – they all have direct customers, which they are in front of constantly, that want to also see the printers name on some nicely orchestrated and executed material.

    It gives them the “Warm and Fuzzy” feeling they’re looking for.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have seen some great campaigns – from styrofoam coffee cups and plastic water bottles with the company logo all the way to small shelf dolls made up to look like the owner and president of the company. In fact, I have one displayed in my office.

    All of this, along with some terrific printing and finishing, adds up.

    Now that’s marketing!

  • http://KellyOldenburg Kelly Oldenburg


    Can I agree and disagree with you all at once? After reading your article and the various comments, I thought I would share my experience.
    I recently spent 4 years at a printing company that didn’t have a marketing piece when I joined the company. After having some sales employees (myself included!) voice a need for this, the company chose to develop a cd that now showcases the processes the company uses: from structural design, graphic design, sheeting, printing, die-cutting, gluing and then the shipping of product. The booklet that accompanies the cd is printed by our commercial print department and is done in house. Obviously, the actual cd and plastic case is manufactured elsewhere. Not only does the booklet showcase the various processes that an order goes through, but it also highlights some of the big names that the company has manufactured for, thus giving the customers the “warm and fuzzy feeling” that you were referring to in your response to Al. This cd has been very successful: its primary use is for prospects, but its also been used to show current customers new processes.
    Using both internal and external marketing seems to be the most beneficial way to develop an effective and efficient marketing piece. It’s always good to recognize your company’s strengths and weaknesses, and play off of both of them. So, should the answer to this debate be “a little bit of both?”

  • http://MaryBethSmith Mary Beth Smith

    Yes, we printers are notorious for not marketing our own services. Although I’m fortunate enough to be able to work in an environment where marketing is taken seriously, I cringe daily at some of the void I see in how many printers approach this.

    Interestingly enough, I find that one of the greatest challenges for printers is creating an actual marketing PLAN. It’s much more common to see a tactic or campaign, usually a direct mail piece, that is simply a stand-along promotion, rather than part of an overall strategy. There is a continual reluctance to invest time, thought, money and testing into aligning the “packaging” of the company with the expectations of the customer.

    Given the increasing sophistication of the emerging cross-media mix, this is simply not going to be enough to engage with the marketplace any longer..

    I’m doing my part to help, but I’m just one woman!

    Thanks for the post!

    Mary Beth Smith
    Dallas, TX

  • http://DarrenGapen Darren Gapen


    I would have to agree with you and I’m glad that you along with your colleagues in the sales group assisted in creating a marketing piece that would fit not only your needs but also the wants of customers as well.

    It is very important that a marketing campaign be thought about carefully and internal input is crucial to the success of the project.

    If your people can’t understand the direction and the offerings from within the bubble, how do you expect your potential clients to?

    The CD sounds like it was a huge success. Great job to all involved.