How to Sell More Digital Printing to Ad Agencies, Marketers and Designers
Print service providers (PSPs) have a pretty diverse set of tools available today, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into capturing more work. Increasing the amount of digital print jobs you receive from agencies, marketers and designers requires a smart, strategic approach to both the business plan and sales strategy. During a webinar on Tuesday hosted by Printing Impressions Editor-in-Chief Mark Michelson and sponsored by Ricoh USA, Alysha Burch, founder and president, and Charlie Sims, associate creative director for copy and content, at Square Root Creative detailed how the relationship works from the other side - what they are looking for, how to approach them and what they need for a PSP to be a true partner in every sense of the word. (Note: You can still sign up and view this free webinar on-demand by clicking on this link.)
Square Root Creative is an independently-owned, full-service creative agency in Manhattan, which was established in 2002. It handles a wide range of work for big-name brands such as Amazon, Nestlé, Disney and Sony, among others. Full service in this case means they work on a wide range of products and campaigns, including branding, product positioning, advertising and promotions, packaging and marketing collateral, digital and interactive elements, and video and photography. Like the modern PSP, Square Root Creative is aiming to be the single point of contact for all of its customers’ needs.
Burch noted she’s somewhat surprised that she isn’t getting called on more by PSPs, and doesn’t quite understand why more printers don’t see the value in establishing a strong partnership with creative and ad agencies. Agencies, she pointed out, have a strong relationship with the brands already and, for PSPs, it is going to be much easier to connect with the right person at an agency than it will be to make contact with the marketing or brand manager at a major company.
Agencies, Burch further noted, are often the influencers and the print buyers, with the brands relying on them to understand what is relevant to consumers at that moment in time. Not only that, she said, the agencies themselves are constantly looking for ways to “stand out, stay relevant and to sell more work.” When a PSP brings her something she doesn’t know about because she is focused on other things - sparking creativity and giving her something new to promote to her clients - that is going to make an impression.
For PSPs, Burch summed the real-world benefits of courting agencies:
- It is an effective selling strategy, allowing PSPs to reach multiple brands and a wide range of work from a single point of contact.
- It can create repeat business.
- It can increase overall print volumes, especially as agencies learn how digital printing and variable data can help create innovative short-terms, multi-channel campaigns.
- And it can increase the range of types of work, with agencies looking to consolidate their printing, packaging and seasonal work under a single roof.
That said, she pointed out that the first rule to winning agency work is not to expect to get her client’s phone numbers. Agencies are protective of their clients, and PSPs need to respect that they will be working with the agency — not directly with the brand — so pitches, ideas and communication should all go through the agency.
All About Education
One way to win agency work, Sims said, is to focus on education. “I understand you guys live with this day in and day out,” he noted, “but that makes it easier sometimes to take those capabilities, or some of the benefits of those capabilities, for granted.”
Don’t assume the agency already knows all the benefits of digital printing. Burch advised shops to lead with something along the lines of “let me know if I’m telling you something you already know,” and then spending a few minutes talking about the latest advances in digital printing - and how those translate into tangible benefits for the agency. Things such as the eco-friendly aspect of digital printing compared to offset, the ability to do shorter runs and the turnaround times of digital, are all points that the agency might not truly comprehend.
Likewise, focusing on educating agencies about the ever-expanding choices in media and substrates is a good way to build a relationship. “We ourselves have said ‘wow, I didn’t even know you could print on that,’” said Sims. They no longer have the time to have long lunches with paper and substrate vendors on a regular basis to understand what is new and what is possible, so a PSP who can bring updates and ideas as to what is possible becomes a more valuable partner in the long run.
In fact, one suggestion that Burch and Sims had is that if a PSP running a job for an agency has another substrate they think it would look better on, don’t be afraid to run a proof - and send it on both the original media choice and the suggested substrate, so the agency can see them side-by-side. Burch noted that more than once, she has ended up switching to the PSP’s choice, increasing the cost of the job, but also increasing the effectiveness of the campaign, which is a win for everyone involved.
Personalization/variable data is another area that Burch and Sims noted PSPs aren’t talking nearly enough about when it comes to educating agencies about the capabilities and benefits. “I still wish I had more education about what’s really possible,” Sims said. Much of it comes back to data — brands today are focused on the customer experience, and 9 out of 10 times, he said, those brands are trying to get information of some kind back from their customers when they send out communication, in the hopes of crafting even more relevant messages.
Digital printing is a powerful way to take that data and craft highly relevant, unique campaigns that drive action — something every brand is looking for, and every agency is looking to provide. Agencies are looking for ways to help brands cut down the barriers between customers. So, when a PSP can come to the table with an idea that sparks a campaign, it strengthens the partnership with the agency, and the agency gets to be the hero to the brand, while relying on the printer to execute the vision.
And don’t forget the finishing side, either. Finishing, Sims noted, can sometimes start the conversation. He noted that he wants PSPs to let him know what is possible, and how the turnaround times are shrinking, since that will have an impact on what the agency is designing. The way a piece is folded, or how the information is revealed in a mailer, for example, can completely change the way the message comes across. Or, he suggested, offer up a variety of different ways to deliver a gift card in a mailer, or ways to use diecuts in unexpected ways. If a PSP can capture the agency’s attention with a unique or creative use of media, personalization and finishing, it can lead to a strong relationship that spans multiple brands and jobs.
Speaking to the convergence that’s occurring within the printing industry, Burch also urged PSPs not to make wide-format an afterthought. She noted that wide-format work is becoming a larger part of her business as well, with clients looking to do pop-up stores, events and create social media destinations for consumers to share. When she first started, Burch had to go to different printers to get her sign and banner work and the rest of her print work completed. Today, like with the brands, agencies are looking for a single resource they can work with - a single point of contact to send files to, to check on status and to verify quality. She stressed that even if a shop doesn’t offer that work in-house themselves, it is worth it to partner with another shop, allowing PSPs to be as full-service as the agencies themselves.
Crafting Your Approach
These tips will help PSPs win the work once their foot is in the agency door, but how should they go about getting there in the first place? Burch noted that there are a few key points to keep in mind:
- Be a good listener and be ready to apply your capabilities to the agency’s work in relevant ways.
- Speak to your successes and have examples of some of your best work.
- Be a problem solver.
- And perhaps, most importantly, be persistent.
Burch noted that PSPs need to understand that agencies are busy, and if they don’t take the call the first time — or even the third — persistence can still pay off. She gave an example of one PSP who called and left multiple voicemails, but didn’t win the work until one of those calls just happened to come at a time when she needed something done overnight. They got the business simply because the PSP remained persistent.
Another point Burch and Sims stressed is to do the research ahead of time to know what the agencies do and the markets they primarily serve. She noted that she gets many calls where someone starts off claiming they do a lot of work in her market, and how her response is to ask them to prove it. “We are marketers: I will call BS on your BS,” said Burch. She also reiterated that it is extremely important to make it clear the PSP isn’t trying to get to the agency’s client list. “I will shut you down,” she said.
When the call does go through, or the agency grants an in-person meeting, Burch noted that it is important to speak her language. Don’t talk about feeds and speeds — instead, some of the key words that matter to agencies include:
- Cutting-edge creative
- No minimums
- Quick turnaround
- Affordable prices
- Branding and color quality
These are the terms that agencies talk about every day when it comes to creating and executing the visions of the brands they serve. And PSPs who can use these terms and relate it back to how digital printing will help serve those brands better will be the ones who win the work. “Build a relationship,” advised Burch. “I want to be able to rely on you.”
Don’t just stop at phone calls, however. Burch and Sims noted that if they have seen or heard a PSP’s name, it is going to make them more likely to actually pay attention to the direct mail piece that demonstrates some of digital printing’s capabilities. Shops should also not be afraid to put the agencies on their annual Christmas card lists, or to invite them to open house events. Keep in touch, whether the agency is currently working with your shop or not.
Don’t be afraid to send samples, either. That said, Burch noted that PSPs should be selective - send the best, the most unique or the weirdest pieces the shop has done. Send entire campaign packages that knock the socks off the agency and prove the versatility of digital printing - give them ideas they can take to the brands.
Agencies, marketers and designers are creative people who are always looking for new inspiration. And PSPs that can help inspire that creativity - and provide a path to execute the vision - will reap the benefits long-term. It is a relationship that will take persistence and very well might push the limits of what printers think is possible, but the end result is a partnership that benefits printers, agencies and brands alike.
(Note: You can still sign up and view this free webinar on-demand by clicking on this link.)