Commentary & Analysis
From Print to PURLs in 75 years
From Print to PURLs in 75 years Cohber Press:
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 30, 2006
From Print to PURLs in 75 years Cohber Press: A blueprint for positive change August 30, 2006 -- Cohber Press, located under a mile from RIT in Rochester, NY, is a 75-year old company turning an impressive $20 million a year in revenues. Vice President William Bachman is himself 23 years with Cohber and the trade shop he and the CEO of Cohber, Howard "Buzz" Webber, once owned. With the help of Cohber personnel, Buzz has guided the company through some of graphic arts' most significant milestones. Growing Cohber meant keeping a close eye on trends. Bachman --a former Chairman of the PIA/GATF of New York State who currently sits on the National PIA/GATF Chairman's Roundtable-- says that watching trade shops start to disappear in the mid '90s was a strong indication that commercial printers would have to take on and then grow the desktop design and digital portions of the process. "In 1995 the direction of the company shifted and we started to enter the digital market. What we thought was digital, though, was Heidelberg DI Direct to plate; and not what we have today." The Switch to Digital Over the span of just a few years, Cohber got involved with Xerox DocuColors and DocuTechs, and in the late 90s the CEO of Cohber, "Buzz" Webber, became an instrumental participant in the joint Heidelberg and Kodak committee that developed the ground-breaking Nexpress digital press. In July 2000, Cohber took receipt of the second Nexpress in the country, with another following just five months later. The first customers to show real interest in what digital, and specifically, one-to-one variable, could do for them were those in the pharmaceutical industry. Bachman says this customer segment dove in completely, beginning with monthly newsletters geared, targeted, and distributed to consumers based on their specific health needs. "You're not selling printing, you are selling programs. It's a different way of thinking." While pharmaceuticals "got it" and jumped into digital with both feet, the job of convincing the broader customer base of digital capabilities was going to take some work. Says Bachman, "We took our tradeshop personnel and a few eager salespeople who wanted to sell digital printing. There was a huge learning curve for both them and our customers." Bachman says the major sales and marketing takeaway for Cohber, and anyone in digital printing, is understanding that sales, marketing, and operations are all different than they are in traditional printing. "You're not selling printing, you are selling programs," he says. "It's a different way of thinking." Says Peter Muir, a veteran industry consultant and one of the PIA/GATF's Digital Printing Council's most frequently utilized speakers, "It is not a question of if or when we go digital anymore-- it is a question of how. Leveraging your current strategy and workflow, including people, processes and technology, to embrace digital technology presents the opportunity to add value and new services to your customers. By adding quick turnaround static work to value-added services such as variable data applications, you are not only going to increase your bottom line, but also help increase your customer's bottom line as well." Unprecedented Flexibility Bachman explains that digital brings unprecedented flexibility in timing and targeting, especially; and that his sales people, as a result, effectively participate as marketing partners with customers. The Cohber sales personnel work with the customer to understand their marketing goals, and then bring all the communications options to the table, from printing to finishing, mailing or shipping. To sell solutions, the salespeople must understand the wider gamut of marketing possibilities, Bachman says, and then sell the benefits to the customer. At minimum, they must know how data programming and related processes such as mail lists and matrixes work and then figure out how these and other options afforded by digital will help customers target better and save money. Cohber personnel focus on understanding their customers' industry segments extremely well, so they are prepared to participate in marketing discussions. In addition to pharmaceutical, these segments have come to include education, healthcare, and retail grocery. Muir concurs: "Taking advantage of individual vertical markets will bring you to a whole new level of opportunity and perceived value to your customers. Leveraging this knowledge to develop key programs and applications tailored to the characteristics and needs of individual vertical markets will put you a step ahead of your competition, both current and future." Cohber personnel focus on understanding their customers' so they are prepared to participate in marketing discussions. Helping companies like Cohber gain more insight into vertical markets is PIA/GATF's Digital Printing Council's (DPC) groundbreaking Marketing 4 Digital (M4D) (available at www.gain.net) research project, which gives digital and conventional printers the information and insight they need to sell their services to 24 specific vertical market segments. M4D arms companies and their sales staff with the detailed information including how to "speak the specific language" of vertical segment customers, as the reports provide a deep understanding of each segment's respective environment and unique requirements. Today, in addition to pharmaceutical, these include education, healthcare, and retail grocery. An early example of digital printing's flexibility that was both a learning experience for Cohber's commercial sales people, and of great benefit to a customer, was answering a "need it tomorrow" demand for 20,000 brochures. Cohber was able to send a partial and follow-up with the balance that kept both the customer and Cohber from compromising their productivity. It proved to be just one of many proofs of concept for both the company and its customers. Taking advantage of individual vertical markets will bring you to a whole new level of opportunity and perceived value to your customers. More Printing by More Business Bachman partially attributes healthy growth in digital to its cost-effectiveness for smaller organizations. "The ROI becomes justifiable because the technology that surrounds digital makes it a very cost-effective proposition for smaller businesses; and in particular retailers. "The automation that has evolved in digital printing has substantially simplified the creation process and allowed more people to get involved." Julie Shaffer, Director of PIA/GATF's Digital Printing Council, echoes Bachman's sentiments. "One of the bonuses of the movement to digital is its accessibility," she says. "Smaller printers who were unable to make the investments that larger organizations could undertake for traditional prepress and print equipment can now establish their own digital niche, at more reasonable costs of entry. "When you combine the ability to utilize state-of-the-art digital printing tools with much decreased necessity for geographical proximity to your customer you've brought a true wealth of opportunity to printers looking for new and cost-effective ways to compete." New Processes & New People Of course, getting there was not so simple. Bachman says that Cohber purchased a mail shop with programmers and mailers in order to fulfill the critical distribution component of digital offerings. There's no point in offering variable digital print, he says, if you are sending your jobs out to a mail house for folding, stuffing, and getting into the mail stream. The different nature of the work and processes of digital also necessitates a different human resources structure. "We're hiring marketing and IT people, not desktop publishers and prepress," Bachman says. "Printing is a main focus, and our digital printing business is the fastest growing print we do, but to go to the next level we're concentrating on web IT and marketing professionals." Paul Galligan, VP and Managing Director of Digital Marketing Solutions at Cohber, joined the company a year and a half ago. With a career that began in IBM hardware and software development, Galligan brings Cohber crucial knowledge in understanding and implementing the technology it would require to continue growing. When Galligan entered the printing industry in the late 80s, new technology such as DocuTechs and Indigos were just being introduced, and he became one of the relative few who realized the potential early-on. Powering Digital "One of the reasons I joined Cohber is that they had made a significant investment in digital technology. The equipment was there, but we needed ramped up a way to harness the technology and really maximize its potential," Galligan says. He began by dissecting the network infrastructure and boosting its power substantially--for example, increasing bandwidth by 1000 percent. Today the company boasts a much more robust and redundant system that lets Cohber take advantage of that speed and pass it on to their customers. Securing Digital The next item on Galligan's agenda was security. "We built a secure transmission process, and now encrypt not only the information going back and forth with customers, but have increased our overall network security so that it is virtually impossible to break through our firewall." Galligan says that beyond customers' own concerns regarding security are the reality of Congressional Acts that make companies responsible for the data in their systems. Insuring Digital "Accuracy is very important when you are doing variable print work," Bachman says, "Printers need to understand that you have to be mistake-free. For instance, if you are doing variable data coupons or variable data giveaways, errors can be astronomically expensive." Quality control was put in place to resolve issues before the job is printed or electronically output. Benefiting from Digital Cohber has, for years, provided the variable, one-to-one benefits of digital printing; beginning with basic merges and moving on to, more recently, high-end logic-based scripting that drives job content using precise data. Galligan, Bachman, and their colleagues agree that these high end logic systems will drive the next generation of print. "Everything we do is based on customer needs," Galligan says. "We make the system as flexible as they need it to be. The customer can change an entire piece online, if that's what they want, without compromising security." "You have to build a system that offers everything from the very simple to the very complex. It's a huge investment, but if you don't do that, you'll end up middle of the road and will have difficulty managing all the scenarios thrown at you," Galligan says. Cohber's digital offerings continue to evolve, and today the company is successfully developing cross-media campaign integration that is helping its customers touch their own customers more efficiently. Bachman credits Cohber's shift from project-based operations to campaigns with longer term, wider-reaching goals for the company's continued dominance in the market. More educated At the same time, companies are becoming more educated. "They are better understanding how to get more out of their marketing dollars," Bachman says. "Marketing reps know they don't want to just buy print. With data modeling and threading, we help marketers figure out who their best customers and prospects are, what they respond to, and then give them the competitive edge in getting those prospects' continued attention." "People don't want to just blanket mail or email anymore, because more precise options with much better return are available," Bachman says. "Being able to offer the different technologies that we do, we can put together the exact right package for our customer's customer –from email blasts to PURLs (personalized URLs) and hard copy– depending on what makes sense. That's what puts us and our customers in the lead."