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Commentary & Analysis

Forging Creative Connections to Grow Business

The room was just packed.

By Noel Ward
Published: August 10, 2007

The room was just packed. There were art directors and graphic designers. Printers and production managers. They were all in one place -- the Gil Hatch Center for Customer Innovation on the Xerox campus in Webster, New York -- to hear about how digital printing is becoming an active and vital part of state-of-the-art graphic communications. But this was no product pitch. The day-long workshop was intended to get creatives and print providers in the same room, thinking about how digital printing can be used across a multitude of graphic communications--and to help the creatives who specify print providers and substrate choices identify companies that can breathe new life into their latest collateral, direct mail or other communications project. It was a day of sharing ideas and visions and seeing the potential for partnering with others who understand that part of the future of print, and especially marketing communications, is digital.

The workshop kicked off with a presentation by Steve Lance, multiple Emmy Award-winning creative director, author and partner in a company called Unconventional Wisdom, a network of copywriters, designers and marketers. Lance stalked the room, telling the rapt audience how effective marketing campaigns must have A.I.R.: getting the Attention of the intended audience, keeping their Interest, and ensuring they Recall the message so they will do something positive--like buy a product or service. There are 8 steps to doing this, claims Lance:

  1. Target your audience with a relevant message
  2. Know your competition
  3. Develop a specific strategy
  4. Deliver a clear promise
  5. Give every creative concept a chance to live
  6. Tell 'em, Sell 'em, the Tell 'em again
  7. Edit ferociously
  8. Sell your bosses before you sell your audience

The result is successful campaigns, the kind that keep an ad agency's customers happy, that make art directors proud (and maybe win them awards) and keep print providers on the leading edge of digital printing and winning more business.

The Blueprint

Beth Ann Kilberg-Walsh, mar-comm manager in  Xerox Production Systems Group followed up on Lance's comments with a focus on direct mail. She cites three key points creative and printers need to understand: The connections between direct mail and electronic media; that return on the total campaign investment far outweighs cost per piece; and that it's vital to involve the entire value chain: the agency, client, printer, direct mail shop -- everyone. And to bring that partnership together as early in the project as possible.

I know from experience that this works. Back when I was associate creative director at a marketing communications agency this is exactly what we did. As soon as we began laying out the creative strategies for a promotion we'd line up all our suppliers and have them help with options for substrates, mailing, printing --the whole enchilada. And today, with all the variables involving databases and digital printing it's even more important to get all your ducks in a row as soon as possible. Positive results are born in getting these details right.

The Digital Dozen

Johnette Mongelli, Senior Document Advisor at Xerox, suggests creatives and print providers both pay attention to the "Digital Dozen:"

  1. Get involved at the design stage
  2. Determine how the project will be produced
  3. Determine which elements are static and variable
  4. Develop extensive database instructions
  5. Communicate maximum sheet size
  6. Test images
  7. Determine production timeframes and budgets
  8. Find out how data will be provided
  9. Test the shortest and longest pieces of data
  10. Build in integrity and ways to check and verify
  11. Keep finishing and bindery requirements reasonable
  12. Understand USPS mail requirements

These are all crucial steps to successful promotions. But it's easy for art directors, designers and even many printers to overlook parts of this list, which can result in a promotion being less effective than it could be. This workshop gave them the questions to ask at the start-up meeting for the next campaign.

Illustrating the Point

Using these tools to promote his own business, freelance illustrator Jeff Moores has run direct mail campaigns targeting art directors and designers. The mailings consisted of a postcard that came in a custom-printed envelope that looked like a mailbox. The cards have only basic name, address and first name personalization, but they tell a story, complete with whimsical illustrations and relevant copy, that is completed over four separate mailings (remember Steve Lance's Tell 'em, Sell 'em, Tell 'em again?). The campaign drove in new business with each mailing --and continues to bring in new business now, several months after it went out. Moores was on hand to tell his story and how he used digital printing for both the envelope to card inside.

  Envelope front

  Postcard front

Connecting People

"The workshop is a deliberate effort to connect people who specify print --agency art directors and graphic designers-- with print providers who can provide the level of digital print quality the creatives need to dazzle their clients," says Bob Wagner, vice president for Xerox Creative Services Business and Premier Partners Program. "By putting them in a room together they can share knowledge, network, and hopefully find opportunities to work together."

It was also an opportunity to show designers just how far digital printing has come and the range of applications it can cover. "Many graphic artists and designers have perceptions of digital printing like it was half a dozen years ago, or even longer, not realizing how much the landscape has changed," says Wagner. To bridge the reality gap Xerox produced a book, called A Formal Investigation into the Urban Legends of Digital Color Printing. Humorously illustrated by Moores, it examines four misconceptions about digital color printing:

  • The image quality isn't good enough
  • Digital printing is too expensive
  • The available papers are too limited
  • We don't have the data for variable information printing

The book then debunks each of these using real-world examples and case studies to show how full-color digital printing is more than ready to play in the big leagues of advertising and graphic design. See the details at www.xerox.com/creative/urbanlegends.

Wagner says feedback from all attendees has been very positive. Creatives were pleased with the quality of print and graphics from the digital presses and they were networking with printers who had the equipment and software to deliver the kinds of jobs the designers envisioned.

My Take

Having worked on the agency side, managed data intensive direct mail and market research projects, and bought printing and mailing services, I found it great to see all the key components openly discussed and ideas shared in an open forum. Digital print, as much as it has improved, is still but a fraction of all the print produced today. Just how big a share it can attain is anyone's guess, but it's workshops like this that can help it grow. To be sure, it's essential to reach out to educate marketing directors and C-level executives about the potential digital print holds for their businesses. They wield a lot of power and influence. And some of them may act on what they hear. But it's equally important to reach out to and connect the people who live and breathe graphic design and putting images on a page, because armed with the right knowledge they can not only influence those same execs but have an equally big effect on the growth of digital print by designing with digital in mind.


Please offer your feedback to Noel. He can be reached at noel@ondemandpublishing.com.

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