By Noel Ward, Executive Editor The conference retains its lead position as the place the learn, share ideas and get invigorated about the potential of VDP December 13, 2004 -- Well, it happened again. Last month PIA/GATF put on yet another Variable Data Printing conference (AKA: The VDP Wizards Convention) that retained the lead position as the place to learn, share ideas, and get invigorated about the potential VDP holds for print providers and their customers. Held at the La Posada Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, over 260 attendees heard about leading examples of VDP applications and participated in break-out sessions and workshops. Over two and a half days they learned about the nuts, bolts and some of the fine points of creating, developing and implementing effective variable data print solutions. Attendees chose from three tracks, Basic, Experienced, and Sales and Marketing. Every session was packed, covering topics such as Frank Kanonik of ProSource Printing telling about "Teaching Veteran Sales Reps the New Rules of Digital;" "Educating Designers to the Nuances of VDP" with M.J. Anderson of Trekk Cross Media; "Mailing 101," from John Rafner of Nice Lines; and "Basics of Database Management," by Bill Marchiony of XpressCopy. There were far more, all of them full of practical information from people who walked the walk and talked the talk. By the way, you'll get to hear from Frank and John in 2005 as regular columnists here on ODJ. They are looking forward to sharing their knowledge and helping ODJ readers understand the nuances of VDP and direct mail. Watch for their first columns in January. Gambling, Funerals, Real Estate--and VDP Then there were the cases. We heard about the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City which works with Vestcom in West Caldwell, New Jersey to use an extensive knowledge of customers' preferences to keep them coming back. Vestcom uses data analytics tools and marketing automation from KANA teamed with Exstream Software's Dialogue to create the numerous type of variable content documents that are produced on an IBM Infocolor 130 and Xerox 4890 printers The program, called My Borgata Rewards, encompasses ongoing customized direct mail programs, preferred customer cards, assorted incentives, and more, all using VDP to yield Borgata much higher revenues than bigger, more well-known casinos. It was clear that VDP is helping make Borgata the casino of choice. Next up was Fenske Media Corporation in Rapid City, South Dakota which has worked with Service Corporation International to connect with members of organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to sell pre-paid funeral services. As it turns out, the program fills a genuine need for its target and has proven successful by reaching people as individuals and educating them about how their estate can benefit from pre-paid plans. The program uses personalized mailings to invite prospects to VFW-endorsed seminars, provides assistance in planning and with insurance regulations and helps inform next of kin about the process. Like any top line VDP program, this one is replicable and can be expanded to other organizations and for different products. Another example was what Siegent, a supplier of real estate related neighborhood data was doing. ODJ readers may remember an article from June about the personalized covers of "Reason" magazine that showed the subscriber's house. Adapting the concept to multiple markets, Siegent partnered with the relocation arms of major real estate firms, Banta Corporation, Rismedia, GlobeXplorer, and Hogue Printing to produce perfect bound hybrid offset and digital magazines. The mags incorporate static content but have covers branded to the relocation firm and personalized with the subscriber's name and a satellite photo of their neighborhood, along with the normal name and address info. XMPie software handled the variable content and a Xerox iGen3 printed the covers. Frank McPherson takes the Stage Sales to date, as a direct result of the seminar, have totaled $111,000, or nearly $30 for every dollar spent. One of the illuminati of VDP is Frank McPherson, who runs Custom Data Imaging, what he modestly terms a "little print shop" in Canada. His keynote session on "Un-Scrabbling the Issues of Marketing and Selling VDP" was based on a project he did as a way of proving just how effective variable data printing could be. I think he even surprised himself. The program involved a multi-part mailing to customers and prospects, inviting them to a seminar he created to tell them about the power of VDP. I won't go into the many details, but the total costs for the seminar came to $3,800. Sales to date, as a direct result of the seminar, have totaled $111,000, or nearly $30 for every dollar spent. Not too bad! He emphasized he had to take a leap of faith to make it happen, and emphasized that VDP is not about the press, but about the added value and other revenue-generating services that VDP brings to your business, such as mailing, data management and fulfillment services. "Digital printing is a click-commodity," says McPherson. "Variable data printing is a value added solution." These kind of stories were why we were all there. To learn and find out more about how to make VDP a vital and successful part of our businesses. A well-spent couple of days in Arizona. These kind of stories were why we were all there. To learn and find out more about how to make VDP a vital and successful part of our businesses. There were 26 vendors in attendance as well, up from about a dozen last year, with low-key table-top displays where attendees could get a look at what their technologies brought to VDP. The companies--a "who's who" of the industry--included Adobe, Atlas Software, Canon, Cohesion, Creo, Datalogics, EFI, Elixir Technologies, GMC Software, HP, International Paper, Kodak Graphic Communications Group (Kodak Polychrome Graphics, Kodak Versamark and Nexpress), Meadows Publishing Solutions, Océ North America, On Demand Journal, Pageflex, Print Revolution, Printable Technologies, Printing Impressions, Saepio Technologies, Xeikon, Xerox, and XMPie. Small conferences like this one can be a tremendous value for the money. I see more and more print providers coming to these with key employees, comparing notes and sharing their learning experiences and taking back what they learn. Already PIA/GATF is talking about next year and how they can raise the bar on an already fine conference. I know I'm looking forward to it.