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Commentary & Analysis

The Big Wide Word: Marketing Tips for Wide-Format Shops

OK, so you’ve invested in wide-format printing capabilities, the equipment is up and running, the staff is trained, and you’re ready to RIP. How do you get work to run on that equipment?

By Richard Romano
Published: June 29, 2015

One of the challenges that a lot of traditional commercial printers have in making the transition to wide-format—either in part or in toto—is not in putting ink on a substrate, but in understanding how to sell wide-format, since it is a very different animal than small-format printing, and certainly different from traditional offset printing. Changing the company and sales cultures can be a challenge, to be sure, but a very big part of that is understanding the changing nature of marketing. Sure, “social media marketing” is a big part of today’s landscape, but there is more to it than that. It’s about thinking creatively about the marketing process itself.

Here are some of the top channels that successful wide-format companies can glean new business.

Current Customers

If you are like many shops, chances are you added wide-format capabilities to serve the needs of one or more current customers. That’s a common path that many shops took into wide-format. But there is no reason not to expand beyond those “starter” customers and reach out to the rest of your client base.

If you do marketing or other materials for, say, a trade association, adding the ability to produce trade show and display graphics for events they may host or attend is a logical next step. Restaurants not only have menus (eat-in and/or take-out), but also indoor and outdoor signage, and it may need to change often. Almost every business you are likely to work with has a physical location, and physical locations often need signage. Even if you’re a publication printer, those publications often go to events, and need big blowups of publication covers. (I know this all too well, having once had to attempt to get ungainly foamcore-mounted magazine covers on an airplane.) These are all extensions of the work you already do for these clients, and you probably already manage many of their assets.

Cold Calling

In our book Disrupting the Future, Dr. Joe Webb and I advised printers to approach their business by thinking like a sculptor. We quoted Michelangelo: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” This is not to say that great artists like Michelangelo were poking around looking for hidden statues as if it were a weird scavenger hunt; rather, they saw the art “trapped” inside the rock. Once they envisioned the statue in their mind, it simply became a mechanical task of carving away the rock to “let it out.” Likewise, an entrepreneur is someone who can look at a market and see a business/service/product that no one else can see, and by extension, the savvy wide-format printing salesperson can make the rounds of his or her territory and “see” opportunities to help businesses with their display graphics needs. This travel doesn’t even need to be deliberate sales calls. Stopping to gas up the car? Look at all the signage needs a gas station has. For example, on-pump displays advertising soda or beer specials inside the station’s convenience store. Inside the store itself, there are myriad sign and display needs, from ceiling and wall graphics, to floor graphics, to door graphics, to window clings, to rack wobblers.

Any other retail establishment also has a ton of these kinds of opportunities. Someone has to print it all, and while someone obviously already has, perhaps you can do it for them better, or less expensively, or as part of a package that includes other types of printing.

Open Houses

Perhaps the best way to show off your printing capabilities is to invite people to your location, whether it be the local design community, local business owners, or other potential customers, and offer demonstrations. (Providing food and drink also helps.) Some printing companies have monthly or even weekly “lunch and learn” sessions where the shop’s capabilities are demonstrated. These can be very effective ways of not only showing what you offer, but what is even possible, especially as many print buyers or designers may not even be aware of new specialty printing applications and technologies.

Remember, though, that it should be less a sales pitch for your services and more a tutorial on how you can help them grow their businesses through display or other types of specialty graphics.

Trade Press

This may sound self-serving, but an untapped marketing outlet is the printing industry trade media (like WhatTheyThink, to name but one). We’re always eager to feature wide-format producers and projects in this space. What I have often found, though, is that there tends to be a substantial amount of resistance to talking to the media from many printers, as they tend to be fearful that they’ll be giving away proprietary information to their competitors. (I am aware that there are sometimes legitimate reasons to not want—or be able—to mention clients or projects by name.) The idea is not to give away your “secret sauce,” but to use your own experiences and projects as a way to help educate others in the industry. The more we can share information and success stories, the healthier the industry as a whole will be. And a healthy, growing printing industry benefits everyone in it.

So don’t be afraid to reach out, either through a press release (which, as you know from reading this site, we run in the news section), or directly to an editor—like me—for a potential story or profile. Anyone reading this who has a story to tell or a wide-format project they are especially proud of is welcome to drop me a line at richard@whattheythink.com.

Social Media Marketing

Unless you have been trapped in an underwater pyramid for the past several years, you know that everything under (and even over) the sun comes with a hashtag (#) these days, which is the way content is tagged and organized on social media sites. There are many many articles, on- and offline, here at WhatTheyThink and elsewhere, about strategies and best practices for effective social media marketing, so I won’t dwell on them here. Suffice it to say, you can certainly be as active as you want to be—some printing companies have blogs, some have enewsletters, some are active on LinkedIn or Facebook, some tweet—and some do all of them— but one simple way of showing off your capabilities is via Instagram. Indeed, I have spoken to specialty printers who have found Facebook and Instagram to be their best marketing tools, either directly or indirectly. Especially when people have unique items printed—custom golf balls, awards, even textiles like shirts and socks—they more often than not post pictures. (Do an Instagram search for #customsocks sometime and you’ll see what I mean.)

I am Facebook friends with the owner of a CrossFit gym in New Hampshire, and last year, he attempted to get team T-shirts printed in time for a major competition. His first choice of printer blew the deadline, but another garment printer bailed him out, and much Facebook praise was lavished on this printer, complete with photos of the shirts. Don’t discount the effectiveness of social media.

Print Stuff!

Finally, if you produce specialty graphics, make sure you use these same items to promote your own business. I don’t just mean your logo on pens or golf balls or smartphone cases, but doing a sample run for client using their own graphics. Here’s an example. You’re a shop who is getting into garment printing. You’ve bought an Epson or Anajet inkjet direct-to-garment printer, and can print short runs of T-shirts and other garments. Why not, the next time one of your clients gets a job printed, you do a few sample T-shirts with their logo on them. You say, “Here, we are now printing T-shirts and we think you might like these.” It probably will cost less than $10 a shirt, but even if they don’t immediately place an order for 500 shirts, they now know, “Hey, these guys can print great-looking T-shirts.”

In lieu of “T-shirts” substitute whatever item it is you want to specifically sell.

The point is, you need to think creatively these days about your own marketing and promotion efforts. This communicates the fact that you are a creative-thinking shop.  

Please offer your feedback to Richard. He can be reached at richard@whattheythink.com.


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Wide Format Editor

Richard Romano

Richard Romano, Section Editor/Senior Analyst
Richard has written about communication, graphics hardware and software trends for the past 15 years.

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