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.

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.

Related Content
  • PrintStrategist

    While I generally agree with you, I wouldn’t throw the print owner completely under the bus. At least give him or her credit for recognizing that the status quo was not going to work. If anything, my guess would be that the company did not gather enough cusotmer information before making the change. And as you pointed out, if they had approached their major agency clients with the idea of filling gaps, the company might have been more successful in making the transition.

  • margiedana


    I totally agree with your perspective and advice on this whole MSP issue. You lay out the issues of not using common sense when (as a printer) you decide to become a marketing service provider and go after any and all business. Great advice, I hope your blog post is widely read.

    And you’re so right – there is often a love/hate relationship between corporate marketing depts and the print buying group. It needed to be pointed out.


  • Not so fast


    I guess I would also agree with you, but about something else…"buyers view print as a commodity and want to drive the price down as low as possible for their clients". This comment is exactly why SMART printers are trying to innovate and be more than they currently are. I don’t understand the bashing of companies trying to evolve and serve the market with a better service offering. Ask Blockbuster how not innovating did for them! Maybe the inability to challenge the status quo by the industry is the more evident issue here. The company trying to make the leap to MSP, though they didn’t have a good strategic plan, is making an effort which is more than most of the industry is doing. IMO, your attitude to accept being just a printer is an industry plague and is probably the biggest reason for it’s continued struggles.