Nothing 'Static' About PIA/GATF VDP Conference
PHOENIX—Somewhat akin to the early days of the California Gold Rush, there are endless growth opportunities in today's digital frontier. And the riches will go to those printers that can master variable data printing (VDP), database management and cross-media applications. There's no secret map to the gold, but shops that can provide these services—coupled with the ability to market, sell and then track the benefits of one-to-one marketing—will be the ones most likely to strike it rich.
That seems to be the general consensus of the more than 300 participants who attended the 2005 PIA/GATF Variable Data and Personalization Conference, held here last month. Organized by Jim Workman, PIA/GATF director of training programs, in conjunction with consultant Steven Schnoll, the three-day event was packed with featured presentations, printer panel discussions and peer networking opportunities, as well as ample time to visit booths hosted by the 20 or so vendor sponsors.
The topics explored ranged from building a business plan and managing a digital operation, to database issues, Web-to-print and personalization pricing models, sales incentive plans and project sales tracking. Keynote speeches were delivered by Frank Romano, professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and best-selling author and sales guru Anthony Parinello. Speakers and panelists, among others, included Jim Liszewski, Williamson Printing; Dean Hanisko, Great Lakes Integrated; Robin Williamson, Rapp Collins; and John Rafner, of Nice Lines Direct Mail.
Among the key points made in the various sessions is the need—when selling digital printing—to also engage the originator and the person who controls the budget, aside from traditional print buyer and marketing department contacts. And, as Parinello reinforced, don't be afraid to sell directly to the very important top officers (VITOs) within existing and prospective client organizations.
"Eight-five percent of VITOs in America used to be salespeople, so they love salespeople and love to be sold," Parinello pointed out. He also counseled the audience to ask customers for referrals. "Every one of your existing customers knows every one of your existing prospects," he said.
Other speakers emphasized the importance of selling digital printing to specific vertical markets. Tackle specific industries and then develop custom solutions for them. As for which ones to target, presenter Don McKenzie, of the Winterberry Group, indicated that the automotive, insurance, b-to-b, lodging and pharmaceutical industries seem to be very VDP-friendly.
But don't expect quick, profitable sales when selling variable data digital, pointed out sales trainer Bill Farquharson. The selling cycle can run twice as long as selling traditional printing. And, when showing samples of jobs during sales presentations, it's much easier for customers to visualize the benefits if the examples relate directly to their respective industries.
Once a prospect is sold, pricing should be based on value, not a simple markup of the cost, it was noted. The thinking is, "If you can increase sales so much for your customers through personalized printing and Web-to-print services, they won't care as much about the prices you charge." Another key component is that digital printers must be able to continually measure the results and convey that information to customers.
Willie Brennan, of Custom Print Now Solutions, discussed the intricacies of building a Web-to-print model. He has learned that the user interface must be very simple and should include an 800 number for users having problems.
Brennan also advised solution providers to negotiate who pays the upfront development costs and to try to build price reviews/increases into long-term (3-5 year) customer contracts. With more and better off-the-shelf software solutions now available, he believes it has become easier and less risky to get into the Web-to-print game.
In another session, PIA/GATF COO George Ryan revealed the results from a study to determine if digitally printed materials are less durable going through the postal stream. For the study, nearly 3,500 digitally printed postcards were processed through four different postal centers across the country and mailed to PIA/GATF's headquarters near Pittsburgh.
Ryan indicated 25 percent of the mailing had marking, tears or an ink-jet strip. Of the four postal centers, results showed Miami and New York City were the worst facilities, while Chicago and Los Angeles were the best. Mary Valdez, of the USPS branch in Phoenix, discussed automated mail handling. She pointed out that mail can go through various processing machinery as much as six times. Thus, she advised mailers to consider barcoding to bypass OCR and Label Making Letter Machine (LMLM) equipment.
Several panelists also revealed that variable data printing can generate more revenue through affiliated service offerings than the actual digital printing itself. One speaker said, "The press is just a tool to make money at the beginning and at the end of a job."
Database and mail list creation, manipulation and hygiene can be the most profitable work. As an IT function, it doesn't require extensive production machinery to accomplish and helps make clients more dependent on their service provider. As Romano noted in the closing session, "Then you're not just a service provider, you become an extension of their company."
Aside from a full agenda of educational sessions at the PIA/GATF VDP Conference, a sponsor fair enabled attendees to mingle with industry suppliers.
Leaving Las Vegas: ICE Becomes DICE
LAS VEGAS—Capping a successful Indigo Customer Exchange (ICE) annual conference held here last month at the Aladdin Resort Hotel, members met in a closed-door meeting to decide whether to change the organization's name and expand its membership to include non-HP Indigo digital press users.
By a four-to-one margin, they approved both a name change to DICE (Digital Imaging Customer Exchange) and to open the group's membership to users of various brand digital presses.
"It will take a bit of time to implement, but the bylaw changes basically allow the board to consider bringing in other digital printing platforms and creating separate technical forums to support those platforms," reports Michael Vinocur, ICE's executive director.
In an unusual twist, Kodak and Xerox stepped in as premium sponsors of the 2005 conference, following Hewlett-Packard's decision earlier this year to withdraw its support of ICE and to create a new organization for HP Indigo customers. Those two were joined at ICE by 25 other sponsors, consisting primarily of paper, variable data printing (VDP) and Web-based storefront software vendors.
Future sponsorships for the annual conference are still to be worked out, given Xerox's existing support for its Premier Partners program and Kodak's plans for what was the former Creo users group. One of the primary goals for the organization will also be to re-engage HP for its participation, according to Val DiGiacinto, of The Ace Group in New York City, who serves as ICE President.
Despite the uncertainty about premier sponsors for the 2006 event, the 240 attendees at this year's meeting—representing 85 printing companies—were pleased with what proved to be an informative and engaging program.
Frank Romano, professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology, provided the opening keynote. He chastised printers, in general, for doing such a poor job in promoting and explaining the value of VDP to customers. Although it's now been 12 years since Indigo and Xeikon introduced digital production color to the marketplace, he believes the industry seriously lacks a "cohesive marketing approach" and has been slow to invest in new technology. Some other observations Romano made:
* PRINT 05 showed that digital printing is not going to replace offset. They go hand in hand, and there will be more hybrid products that incorporate offset printed shells with variable data digital printing.
* Higher margins can be found in providing creative services, not just for digital printing output, because clients won't question the creative charges on an invoice. "No one ever goes out and gets three bids for creative," he says.
* Transactional printing is quickly going to evolve from largely pure statement printing to documents that will also incorporate promotional messages and offers.
* Maximum sheet size capabilities for color digital presses, Romano contends, must increase to enable continued market growth and new product applications.
* Like many traditional offset printing operations, digital facilities will employ devices from various manufacturers within their plants.
To reinforce Romano's contention that digital printers need to do a better job in marketing their services, Kodak and Xerox executives gave presentations on techniques and available resources for promoting digital printing businesses. Barb Pellow, chief marketing officer and vice president of Kodak's Graphic Communications Group, used actual examples to show how various printers are successfully leveraging public relations efforts, developing good Websites, hosting customer training events, taking advantage of speaking opportunities, and getting involved in groups and associations geared toward marketing professionals.
Likewise, Gina Testa, Xerox vice president, business development, highlighted her company's Profit Accelerator resources for digital printers. These include, among others, the ProfitQuick financial modeling tool and kits to assist printers with sales and marketing, including demonstrating the value of personalization, as well as educational primers and swatch and digital chip books that digital printers can provide to designers.
"Digital printing is ready for prime time. It has reached that tipping point," Testa said, noting digital color's compound annual growth rate of 20 percent vs. 2-3 percent growth for offset printing. She indicated that today's hot applications for digital output are promotional transactional printing, one-to-one marketing/cross-media publishing and digital books.
Web-to-print solutions will also be a key driver for future industry growth. Addressing this topic at the conference was a panel consisting of Steven Amiel, Strategic Content Imaging, Carlstadt, NJ; Kate Dunn, Digital Innovations Group, Richmond, VA; Wilhelm Soll, Digital Print GmbH, Garbsen, Germany; and Pete Sweers, of K/P Corp. in Seattle.
They advised the audience to make sure Web-based ordering is very user-friendly, to integrate and automate billing for smaller orders, to opt for off-the-shelf Web-to-print software over customized solutions, to provide 24/7 customer support and to have a disaster backup plan in place for the system.
Michael Panaggio, CEO of DME in Daytona Beach, FL, gave the closing presentation. His $100 million, 605-employee business relies on multiple channels—including digital (four Xerox iGen3s, four Kodak Digimasters, a Xerox DocuPrint and 10 laser printers) and offset printing, the Internet, phone rooms, database management, results tracking, and mailing and fulfillment services—to meet marketers' target marketing needs. DME's clientele ranges from automotive companies and financial advisors to professional sports teams.
Gaining Momentum in 2006
SAN FRANCISCO—Momentum in Print 2006, a three-day conference for print and design professionals, is being developed under the leadership of Adobe Systems. The event is slated to run January 22-24 at the San Francisco Marriott.
With the goal of providing an open forum to discuss technical issues and business concerns, the conference will feature roundtable and panel discussions, as well as hands-on training and tutorials. The stated intent is to give attendees a deeper understanding of the industry's changing dynamics and emerging solutions, in order to help them position their businesses for a more successful future and develop new ideas to increase revenues.
Topics of the more than 25 sessions will cover major print workflow issues (including proofing, color management and digital asset management) and opportunities for printers to expand their portfolios of services into areas such as Web and other creative services, including streaming video. Using variable data publishing to create direct mail pieces will be one of the highlights of the hands-on training, and tutorial topics will include how to resolve transparency issues.
Momentum in Print 2006 is being supported by industry and association sponsors. That list already includes companies such as Heidelberg, Xerox, EFI, Kodak, Océ, Printable Technologies, Pantone Inc., callas software, Helios, Rococo, RoboCatalog, Screen (USA), WAVE Corp. and MetaCommunications, as well as the CIP4, DDAP, IDEAlliance and IAPHC associations.
Early registration (prior to December 23) is being offered for $395, with the fee rising to $495 after that date. For more information, visit www.adobe.com.
Digital Printing Council Melding Into PIA/GATF
SEWICKLEY, PA—The Digital Printing Council (DPC), which has been operating as a premier program of PIA/GATF, is being transitioned into a core service offering of the association as of January. To celebrate its ongoing commitment to the market segment, PIA/GATF is declaring 2006 as the "Year of Digital Print."
A basic level of complimentary, opt-in services will be available to all members, with additional offerings available as an option. The full details of the benefits and levels of participation were still pending at the time of the announcement.
DPC has been providing its members and the broader printing industry with tools and publications designed to help firms be more productive and efficient, as well as generate more sales with new digital technologies.