Marketing Service Providers : How Can We Help You?
When an idea takes hold in the printing industry, it becomes difficult to shake. Before you know it, a catch phrase is born. In the last 15 years alone, we've been bombarded with a few admonitions.
Diversify into ancillary products and services, like mailing and fulfillment. Change your company name, but just make sure you remove the word “printing” from it. Add wide-format output services. Digital printing will replace offset, so lose the big iron.
Then there was NAPL chief economist Andy Paparozzi's warning shot heard round the world at the onset of the Great Recession: A rising tide will not lift all boats. He was correct, as evidenced by the great number of SS Minnows that have come apart and now sit in the bottom of the printing ocean, awaiting their liquidation auction.
The crippling recessions of 2001 and 2007-2010 cleared the field considerably. The Internet revolution threw some staggering punches, as well, knocking loose market share like teeth. So, as the industry slowly emerges from its prolonged funk, some pundits are advising printers to expand their horizons into becoming the nebulously named marketing service provider (MSP).
The name, in itself, is a disaster. There are a host of services that could fall under the heading, and some observers scoff at the level of expertise most printers actually have in areas such as marketing strategies and advertising campaigns. Until some universally recognized (or at least widely accepted) certification service steps forward to determine who gets a nicely embossed and suitable- for-framing MSP gold seal, these capabilities—and determining who should stake claim to their mastery—are going to remain contentious.
Point of Engagement
Finding consensus here is difficult, but suffice to say that even those who scoff at the thought of printers referring to themselves as MSPs will all agree that, at some point along the marketing hierarchy, is a level for printers to become engaged with clients seeking assistance with their campaigns. The conversation can no longer start with "what do you need printed?" And, while it may be nice that you know how to do an e-mail blast and you have your own Facebook account, think long and hard before you don the MSP cowboy hat and bellow "lookee here."
Late last year, CCI/CoakleyTech of Hartland, WI, opened a full-service marketing and communications division called CCI Communications Group. According to Chris Illman, president and CEO of CCI/CoakleyTech, the move came in response to clients wanting the printer to integrate more marketing services into the firm’s core offering. CCI Communications Group was developed as an “and” strategy instead of an “or” proposition; CCI/CoakleyTech will continue dishing out its transactional and data-driven printing.
CCI/CoakleyTech hired Tim Kubina, former owner of Avicom Marketing and Communications, to lead this offering and quickly stocked the division with a dozen or so experienced employees. Illman is having the new division focus on campaign management and measurement, and Web portals. “Basically, it’s how we support companies that have complex sales chains: sell through dealers, distributors, agents and franchises,” Illman explains.
“Those marketing people need a lot of help and support in campaign effectiveness and marketing portals. These portals—literature distribution, personalized print-on-demand, marketing campaigns, direct mail campaigns, digital asset management—help them disseminate their information to their stakeholders.”
CCI Communications Group provides project management, consulting and creative services aimed at areas such as printing and digital advertising, video, event management, online marketing, promotional merchandise, media relations, social media and direct marketing. Though the sample size is small, Illman has received much positive feedback from the new initiatives.
Illman believes there are marketing opportunities for most printers, pointing out that many clients in the past four to five years have cut back drastically in their marketing departments, and they're now searching for single-source providers as opposed to restaffing. Still, he cautions that a half-hearted commitment to MSP may cause your efforts to backfire.
For First Edge Solutions, based in Milwaukee, the transition into a MSP wasn't a big leap of faith; then again, it wasn't a transition, either. Bobby Kraft, president and CEO, didn't paint himself into a corner when he opened shop in 2003, preferring to view the data stream as his point of attack—some items need printing, some need to be mailed and now others need some sort of online massaging.
“We can be unbiased in our approach to the distribution of it,” Kraft says of data.
In 2011, First Edge acquired a full-service marketing and design agency, the TAKA Group, in Scottsdale, AZ, and renamed it FE Agency. The tuck-in was an easy decision for Kraft; sometimes clients need branding or strategic counseling, and nonretainer-based help is preferable to, say, engaging a large agency.
“Companies may be challenged with their budgets, but they still need to communicate the same way as larger clients...they still need to get their message out,” Kraft notes. “One of our strategies was to bring in the agency to really round out our design and internal agency capabilities, and we certainly find it to be of value when we’re working with other agencies that are clients of ours. It brings them a greater confidence that we understand their pains better, that we can walk in their shoes.”
First Edge Solutions boasts a rather impressive dossier, with a laundry list of printing, creative, marketing, photography and Web-based customer solutions. In addition to rich multi-channel communications services, First Edge also promotes offerings such as eGencee (e-agency), an on-demand marketing solution for personalized, template-based marketing materials. Another creative offering is its Meet-Meme social media trading cards, which marry online and offline worlds and enable users to expand their networking efforts.
Though Kraft isn’t sure that the move to MSP makes sense for everyone, he cautions others to be mindful of the boundaries—real and imagined—that can be created when your company offers services that are competitive with your agency customers. Kraft saw a potential agency client slip away despite his reassurances that they were complementary for each other and not competitive. Despite Kraft's offer of a non-disclosure agreement and the fact they served two different niches, the competitive aspect couldn't be overcome. Most of First Edge's clients play in the Fortune 1000 world.
As technologies evolve and the role of print in it continues to mutate, Kraft feels the biggest key to MSP mastery lies in strategic discussions with clients. "It's really about the strategic conversations that ask, 'Where is your business going? What do we need to build to continue to support your business communications, not just in 2012, but for years to come?' That tells them they have somebody (in you) who is a true partner, who will continue to grow and invest in their relationship," he adds.
A considerable investment for MSP migrants is the re-education of its sales force. Reps who formerly sought out biddable work need to assume a consultative sales approach when the conversation revolves around marketing.
“Everybody knows the technology is out there, but they haven’t done anything in regards to training their salespeople on how to identify applications,” contends Kelly Mallozzi, a Chicago-based printing consultant and noted industry blogger. “And, there’s very little confidence on the side of the salespeople that the technology part is in place.
“A lot of people flat-out agree with me that it’s not as important to be a marketing service provider as it is to understand marketing concepts, and being able to talk intelligently about marketing concepts with your prospects and customers. You need to discuss what they’re trying to accomplish and how printing fits into the grand scheme of things.”
Mallozzi isn’t dismissive of the role that marketing plays in today’s print sales; it’s part of an intelligent, consultive sales approach. But, a deeper sale within an existing relationship may entail having a conversation with a corporate-level executive, and she knows even veteran print salespeople who are loathe to open a dialog with a C-level exec, fearing that they are overstepping their boundaries.
Herein lies the rub; do you trust in your own firm's ability to promote these new marketing proficiencies, or should you take your gospel to the customer's C-level and risk alienating the print buyer or person in charge of procuring print? Mallozzi acknowledges the risk, but feels strongly that it opens up an opportunity to educate the executive who may be younger and lacking the knowledge of how some marketing tools such as social media could mesh with traditional print vehicles to achieve their overall marketing objective.
“How can you, as the printer, help them? How can you serve them? How can you help them do their job more effectively?” she poses. “Salespeople should be thinking about how they define themselves and what their job really is. It’s not, ’I just need to find the person who buys print and make sure that I’m offering the lowest price.’ ”
The short answer, then, is to become a provider. Whether it’s printing-related or marketing-driven matters little, just as long as your firm is the client’s problem solver. PI