Will printers’ multimedia hopes float?

The jargon has changed. Check out some print company websites and you might soon find that there are hardly any “printers” out there any more. There are a lot more ‘print service providers’ (PSPs) and ‘marketing service providers’ (MSPs).

Yet if, say, an advertising agency wants to run a multimedia campaign, why would it seek out a printer? There are any number of other communications groups that could create the more complex digital facets – the webpage, email campaign, mobile site – and simply broker some print where it’s needed. To compete in this world, printers need more than a handbook of jargon covering personalised URLs and QR codes and a passing knowledge of HTML. But some are trying, and succeeding, to carve out a niche as more than just a print company.

The print service provider

Sydney’s Prografica Communications runs a five-colour Komori press and two Canon ImagePress colour engines, but that’s where it would like the comparison to an ink-on-paper-only commercial printer to end. Managing director Kerim El Gabailli was recently asked to sit on the expert panel for B2B marketing at the Association for Data Driven Marketing & Advertising (ADMA), on the strength of Prografica’s integrated marketing campaigns strategies. The company has won Australian Marketing Institute (AMI) awards for its integrated marketing campaigns.

El Gabailli says Prografica planned to run three distinct multichannel campaigns during January this year. But he tells ProPrint there is more to succeeding as a multimedia printer than being familiar with different streams. The magic comes from being enough of a specialist to understand each technology intimately and being enough of a generalist to know how to combine them. “Knowing the different channels is only part of the puzzle. There are many different skills and capabilities required in the team.”

According to El Gabailli, before any printer sets out to sling email, PURLs, SMS, QR coding, near-field communications, and other 21st-century marvels, certain ingredients are essential.

He points to capabilities to develop marketing and strategy, the ability to write proposals, as well as copywriting and creative muscle. Most importantly, he advises, hire a data manager. It is unlikely that core production staff at a print company will possess the kind of data farming skills essential to a cross-media campaign. An IT manager should be able to bring these.

Then be prepared for an uphill climb and a mighty sell to the agencies. Do ad agencies have faith in printers being able to provide a multi-layered print and electronic package? El Gabailli responds with a simple, elegant “No”.

Even if a printing enterprise has successfully hurdled the traditional boundaries, it still has to wage a perception battle with the decision makers.

The mailing house

Paul Tannous is managing director of iGroup Australia, a multimedia mailhouse enterprise. The company’s cross-media kitbag includes transpromo skills and an intricate understanding of data, assembled from essential mail and applied to non-print channels using systems such as XMPie.

Tannous says any resource investment has to align with a cross-media business plan and sales and marketing strategy.

“Cross-media has no finite boundaries, so it’s critical to determine precisely what solutions you intend to offer and how the implementation should be phased. This will help define what software, hardware and people skills are required.”

He describes three “critical” elements in transitioning from print service provider to marketing service provider. Firstly, there has to be competency in the handling, processing and manipulation of data. Secondly, it is important to conduct a highly detailed assessment of the suitability of existing sales and service teams to sell cross-media solutions. Thirdly, promote, promote, promote.

“Create noise and market your new services. Adding another page or two to your current brochure and website isn’t enough. While cold-calling has its place, you’ll enjoy more new business success cultivating relationships through the interest you create by posting relevant and helpful online content in industry forums, your own website and your social media presence – Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, and so on.

“The decision to become an integrated channel communications provider pits you against competitors you won’t have previously encountered, who are already established in this space. You need to establish credibility distinct from your existing print reputation. Don’t underestimate this but don’t be overawed by it. Think about how you established your print business in the market and apply the same principles to the existing and new markets you have the opportunity to serve.”

Tannous says printers have to sell themselves from scratch as MSPs where it counts. “Your great reputation in print doesn’t lend credibility to your cross-media offerings. Initially, ad agencies will find it odd having conversations with a printer about PURLs, landing pages, microsites, multi-channel surveys and rendering variables into video placeholders. You can eliminate any lack of faith you encounter by demonstrating examples and case studies of your solutions.”

The printer/ad agency

AT&M Integrated Marketing in Launceston is an advertising company with its origins in corporate printing as Sprinta Printing. Managing director David Peck says leapfrogging the agencies is a definite advantage: “Since we are an advertising and marketing agency that morphed from a pure corporate printing company 15 years ago, we do not require business from other ad agencies, as we’re dealing direct with the clients. This eliminates a middleman putting on huge mark-ups and gives us tighter control over the budgets and deadlines.”

The company offers printing services based on the integration of its Heidelberg offset and Fuji Xerox digital equipment. It invested in a range of off-the-shelf cross-media technologies but has its own IT, programming and web developers, which has given it the ability to adapt, reconfigure and improve to suit its work flow and generate better results for the client, says Peck.

“To successfully embrace a new product, offering it is a lot bigger than just installing some new technology and waiting for the clients to come in,” he says.

Skills must not only encompass coding and programming but also creating an integrated approach, he says. “For example running a campaign with PURLs to track the responses is a waste of time if the client does not have the resources or expertise to do the follow-ups. This is where our company provides extra modules such as strategic planning and sales training before starting a campaign or project.”

The print manager

E-Bisprint, a print management enterprise in Tuggerah, NSW, is reporting strong feedback since it launched its e-business solutions last year, aimed to help clients bridge the online-print divide and reduce their print spend.

E-Bisprint’s e-publishing services provide a mix of solutions for a client. Customers can order a printed brochure or e-book from a single file on their customised e-portal.

Managing director Paul Freeman says “solid in-house IT experience and an innovative can-do approach” have been crucial in developing its MSP strategy.

“Be prepared that you’ll probably fail to some degree, and some applications may not be suitable for you to pursue long-term due to the lack of experience within your organisation. If you evaluate 10 products or services, you may only end up providing six or seven.”

It is critical to choose technology partners carefully, he says. This is where in-house IT specialists come to the fore as they can help choose the right partners in each field. E-Bisprint has had a team of four software developers since 1997.

Sourcing its technology from a range of software developers, kiosk suppliers, mailhouses and digital printers, its ‘Best of Both Worlds’ e-print solution hinges on a PDF that is used for the print and electronic components of a project. E-Bisprint recently signed a kiosk management contract for a federal government department to generate electronic forms.

Freeman’s gut feeling is that ad agencies generally aren’t confident that printers can supply an effective, integrated MSP strategy for their clients. Moreover, he believes only larger, cashed-up printers can compete in the market.


 

Data management: a bridge too far?

Printers are the last place clients should go for cross-media campaigns, according to Integrated Mailing Services.

That’s because production is the least important part of a cross-media campaign, says managing director Buzz Borsitzky.

The key is data, which he says is something printers generally don’t understand.

Borsitzky says data is so complex that it can only be mastered with a great investment in time and money. Printers may have to spend $300,000 on internal development and then hire specialist staff. Owners then run the risk of not properly understanding what the staff are talking about.

He says it makes far more sense for clients to turn to digital agencies or mailhouses like IMS.

“Our lifeblood in the business is data. You need to understand data and how to manipulate it.”

He says data is a challenge even for a company like IMS, which employs six IT staff.

“If you’re talking about multimedia, a small printer wouldn’t have a clue. Why any organisation would use a printer is beyond me, because the last place you’d go would be a printer, unless it’s one of the big boys.”

 

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