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Commentary & Analysis

Live and In Person: Offline Marketing Strategies for Specialty Graphics Printers

Advice abounds for using social and other electronic media for marketing, but don’t ignore some “old school” offline marketing strategies.

By Richard Romano
Published: December 5, 2016

It’s pretty easy these days to find helpful tips for marketing your business using online and social media. In several books, Dr. Joe Webb and I have offered many ourselves. However, we often forget that as much time as people spend online and staring at their phones these days, they still live in the real world (such as it is), at least for now. As a result, there are many offline opportunities for marketing and promoting wide-format and specialty graphics.

Recently, I was leafing through our 2011 book Getting Business, which looked at how commercial printers can avail themselves of the myriad electronic marketing channels, but we also didn’t forget about some of the old offline stand-bys. Sure, some of them are no longer effective, but many still are. (Funny: the book ended with a “futuristic” afterword set in the year 2020—complete with a picture of a flying car—which seems kind of quaint at this point.)

Anyway, I want to highlight some of these opportunities—and some that are not in the book.

Direct Mail

There was a time when everyone’s physical mailboxes were stuffed with what was uncharitably called “junk mail” and it was easy to get overwhelmed. If you’re like me, and I know I am, you probably don’t have that problem anymore. I can remember a time when I had to have the Post Office hold my mail if I was going to be away for any length of time. Now, even Harry & David don’t write anymore.

However, the problem has migrated online and has become magnified a thousandfold in our email inboxes, such that email marketing is losing much of its efficacy simply because we are overwhelmed with messages and the delete key is so tempting. (Also, too: spam filters.) Effective marketing is about standing out in a crowd, but you can also stand out just by being the only one there. And studies have shown that print direct mail still beats digital in terms of response rate. You may even be offering direct mail printing and mailing services for clients.

If you are new to direct mail marketing, or have never done it, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has a resource called Every Door Direct Mail, an online tool that lets you target print direct mail campaigns literally by street. If you only wanted to reach businesses in, say, a three-mile radius around your physical location, you could do it. You need to be conversant in the specific postal requirements to make it cost-effective, but even if you don’t have the equipment to produce direct mail campaigns yourself, the website also offers a list of local printers who specialize in it. Working with these small-format printers may also help get more specialty graphics work, if they are themselves looking to offer those kinds of products.

Vehicle Graphics

First of all, if you produce vehicle graphics yourself, this is a no-brainer, but even if you don’t, this kind of mobile advertising is highly effective. Vehicle graphics have been around since the advent of the vehicle, but today’ wide-format printers can create stunning imagery a million light years beyond those adhesive letters you always saw on plumbers’ vans. And it’s been said—or at least infographiced—that vehicle graphics arte among the most cost-effective advertising media. When done right—and there are some vital best practices—vehicle graphics are good advertising vehicles, as it were.


When we hear the word “events” we usually think of industry shows like the SGIA Expo, the ISA Sign Expo, or Graph Expo, and while those expos are great for networking and educational opportunities, they’re really not primary venues for getting new print business, although they can be.

Rather, what I mean by “events” is local happenings in or near the geographical area in which you’re based, non-industry-specific forums where you mix with business owners and others in your community—basically, people who are likely to be your customers, present or potential.

If your local Chamber of Commerce hosts networking mixers or special seminars on various business topics, those are great opportunities to give your “elevator speech,” or short pitch about what you do. Local chapters of the American Marketing Association (AMA), as Dr. Joe is fond of mentioning, are also great places to mingle with CMOs of local and regional businesses, both large and small. The other advantage to these kinds of events for a print business owner is that printers never or rarely attend them, so you can literally stand out in the crowd. Dr. Joe recently met a marketing officer at his local AMA meeting who never bought print because he thought it was “too intimidating.” The opportunity to educate potential customers about the advantages of wide-format graphics alone could be worth the price of admission, especially if what you produce has the coolness factor that a lot of specialty graphics have.

There are other kinds of local events that offer promotional opportunities. Charity events like fun runs raise money for medical research, the homeless, feeding children, and other worthwhile endeavors, and are always looking for sponsors. That can mean getting a flyer inserted in the gift bags given to participants, as well as your logo on the shirts given to runners. And talk about a captive audience: the majority of runners doing a 5K (except those in the lead) are staring at the backs of these shirts—your logo—for 20 to 30 minutes, sometimes longer. And, if your business actually prints T shirts, you can look into producing the official event shirts, which are also good advertising vehicles. (By the way, these events are also raising money for good causes and are worth participating just for that alone. But if they can also help your business, everybody wins.)

Lunch and Learns

There is another kind of event that I want to distinguish from what we have been talking about and that is “lunch and learn” sessions. I have spoken to several wide- and small-format printers who offer them, and the response is invariably positive. Essentially, you invite members of the community into your facility to get an up-close look at what you do (and offer food). Attendees can be your current customers, other business owners you are trying to court, or local/regional graphic designers who may not be aware of what the creative possibilities of wide-format graphics are. It can even be a mix of all these groups, but you don’t want these to be too unwieldy crowdwise, especially if you don’t have the physical space for large groups.

The idea is to show them what you produce, tout some of your “greatest hits”—projects of which you are exceedingly proud, that were extremely effective, or are just plain cool—and demonstrate what the capabilities of your shop are. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to getting business, let’s be fair, is people not knowing what you can do. I’ll bet that you have customers—maybe even long-term customers—who need certain print products but simply don’t know that you offer them. One downside to our age of ecommerce and web-to-print is that fewer customers come to your physical location and see examples of what you do. Especially for designers, knowing the possibilities of, and how to design for, specialty graphics can give them another service to offer to their own customers, who may then become yours.

Eat Your Own Cooking

At the end of the day, the best way to promote your print products and services is to use your print products and services yourself, or what can be referred to as “eating your own cooking.” That is, demonstrate your skills by using them yourself for your own promotional purposes. This will demonstrate your proficiency at wide-format printing.

So while online and social media are great ways to market your business, don’t forget that sometimes print is best experienced offline and “live.”

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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