Diversification Opportunities -- Getting Creative, By Design
By Erik Cagle
Early on it was apparent to LAgraphico that, when it came to the creative and conceptual link in the print production chain, burning the midnight oil was best left to Midnight Oil Creative.
The Burbank, CA-based sheetfed printer, with roots tracing back 25 years to L.A. Filmco and A&L Graphico, was founded by Al Shapiro—who started out as a print broker—and his wife Liz. He migrated into color separation services and gradually added sheetfed presses to service the needs of the entertainment, advertising and promotional businesses.
"We do a lot of work for Hollywood movie studios," states Peter Szillies, vice president of sales and marketing, who boasts a lengthy resumé in the creative advertising world. "As a full-service provider we deliver a complete campaign, in all of its different forms, to our clients.
"We had partnerships with creative entities and used them as subcontractors," he adds. "But, over a period of time, it became clear that we had to capture clients early on. This provides the opportunity to offer them integrated services and also to overcome being viewed as just a common print producer. There's always the different world between printing—putting ink on paper—and what the creative community comes up with."
Burning the Midnight Oil
The result was Midnight Oil Creative, a standalone company under the LAgraphico umbrella. This solution offers creative concepts for the entertainment industry and various other corporate clients, as well as creative production for creative directors and departments of agencies to deliver their concepts into a print production environment.
Szillies has watched as other printers have ventured into the creative world, only to be unable to bridge the mentality from the manufacturing standpoint to creative—effectively trying to use a "lunch pail" mentality in an environment more suited to paint and canvass.
"By entering the creative arena, we can offer clients a more elegant solution," Szillies explains. "Now that we have a comprehensive creative entity, we can—right from the beginning—consult with them to show which direction a creative project should take to most effectively integrate into the back end. That's our value-added proposition."
LAgraphico can now avoid the pitfalls of poor integration. When the printer settled into its new facility more than six months ago, Midnight Oil Creative was situated in a separate part of the building, detached from the print component. Midnight Oil began slowly, with one creative director and one graphic designer. There are now five full-time employees at Midnight Oil, a figure that occasionally swells to 10. The entire team is a collection of outside hired guns: conceptually gifted artists. The financial outlay was less than the purchase of a basic sheetfed press, Szillies points out.
"It is certainly something that—if done in a precise, logical, progressive fashion—can be accomplished without a major financial commitment," he says. "In the great scheme of things, it is not that big of deal for a printer to establish the physical requirements for a creative entity."
The integration and resulting workflow have created a trickle-down effect for LAgraphico. The client is secured at the conceptual level and is thus more inclined to keep the project with LAgraphico all the way through to product realization. A degree of redundancy is also eliminated because LAgraphico streamlines the process and shortens the turnaround time with the final product in mind.
"If a campaign for a video release of a particular movie can hit the streets three days earlier than under normal circumstances, this presents incredible financial benefit to the client," he says. "That's the sales and marketing aspect of it. LAgraphico, as a printer, certainly has benefited from it."
In its offerings, Midnight Oil provides a twofold solution: 1). marketing itself as a creative operation for clients such as corporate entities; and 2). as a support function for customers, such as advertising agencies, that bring the concept into the mix from the start.
Learning New Tricks
|Members of Triangle Printers' Creative Services department (from left, Ben Schneider, Monica Grier and, far right, Larry Michalski) go over a project with their client.|
As it embarks on its 50th anniversary, Triangle Printers, of Skokie, IL, is dispelling the adage about old dogs and new tricks. Its seven-year-old Creative Services department provides one-stop shopping with services that include graphic design, copywriting and photography for jobs ranging from a single-color sales sheet to a seven-color, 200-page catalog.
Clients like Triangle's one-stop philosophy, which eliminates multiple vendors, partly because many communications and marketing staffs are just too busy to take on additional projects. Fast turnaround is the desired by-product.
"We actually had a client who came to us and indicated that he was outsourcing creative services," notes Harvey Saltzman, president of Triangle Printers. "He said that he would supply us with quite a lot of creative work if we offered that service. So (our new offering) was really client driven."
The department started out with one person, which quickly transitioned into a staff of four—all outside hires trained on graphic design software. Monica Grier, formerly an assistant creative director, was recently promoted to creative services manager.
"We developed a new workflow to streamline the creative services department," Grier remarks. "Today there are set procedures that have helped increase productivity while making the entire process more client friendly."
Along the way, the department realized the importance of clearly defining its role with clients. "One thing we came across was that some people ask you to provide input without paying for it," Saltzman says. "They would seek our input on speculative projects, and we figured out those people weren't sincere about paying for them. So we don't offer speculative services anymore."
Like LAgraphico, Creative Services at Triangle Printers is self-contained. Offering the services en masse has procured more work for the printer, which relies on freelancers occasionally for copywriting and illustration services. Creative Services was profitable in its first year and, as in the case with its California counterpart, Triangle Printers found the financial commitment to be less than that of a new press, sans the concern of filling capacity.
"As you increase the range of services offered, you better the odds of knocking out the competition," Grier remarks. "If the other guy doesn't have it, clients will come to you."
Saltzman admonishes his colleagues to hire only highly competent and experienced talent. He seeks out creative people with degrees in art or design.
Szillies notes that embracing the creative ideology has been a slow process for the print community. As a member of one industry association, he was surprised and somewhat disturbed to find a general lack of insight during a session on the subject.
"From an industry survival standpoint, offering creative services is absolutely necessary," he says. "What became apparent early on with our discussions to 'go upstream,' was that printers didn't realize what they didn't know about the creative aspect. They often went into it with a very enthusiastic, but fundamentally uninformed, attitude."