Marketing Services: To Be or Not to Be –Michelson
The concept of printing companies evolving into marketing service providers (MSPs) has been heralded as the key to survival and prosperity in an evolving landscape where the demand for various printed products is being permanently displaced. Chalk it up to buyer/seller direct Internet connectivity and, most recently, the onslaught of ever-smarter smart phones, e-reader and tablet devices. If printers just ran their businesses by what they read in mainstream media, they might be inclined to shut down their presses and padlock their front doors. But, we well-know that there will always be a need for printed products—certainly throughout our lifetimes. The problem, painful as it may be, is that the size of our industry has fallen out of equilibrium with the demand for print. There are still too many graphic arts establishments fighting it out for a piece of the pie.
So, then, how do you ensure that your company perseveres through this proverbial thinning of the herd? For some, expanding into marketing services makes sense, even though the definition of what services/products an MSP actually provides varies. They believe clients want a single-source provider to implement their marketing needs, which include a mix of Websites and online portals, creative services, e-mail campaigns, social media and, hopefully, printing. Our cover profile company, the Allegra Network—which, at press time, also purchased some assets of Signs By Tomorrow, a 162-unit franchise—certainly believes that printers can successfully transition into MSPs. Allegra has invested heavily in a Marketing Resource Center and training programs to help its franchisees provide marketing services to local small- and medium size businesses.
But, one size does not fit all, in my opinion. It surely won't work for a printer-turned-MSP, which counts on advertising and creative agencies for a sizable portion of its revenues. They're not likely going to funnel any business to a company that they feel is invading on their turf. Kelly Mallozzi, a sales consultant and popular blogger at www.PIworld.com, recently wrote an insightful piece on the subject. Don't try to change your business into something it's really not, she advises, unless you're willing to go all the way and become a marketing agency.
Mallozzi contends that it's more paramount for printing company owners and their salespeople to become experts at marketing concepts, so they can recommend intelligent solutions that solve their customers' problems. This, naturally, also entails discussing how printing fits into the grand scheme of things. But, I believe, it might also mean suggesting solutions beyond the scope of your product and service mix. Build the value-added services that make sense in your particular situation, but don't be adverse to partnering with creative and marketing agencies and freelancers. In the end, it's really all about marketing yourself.
Mark T. Michelson