By Tom Wetjen 83 percent of creative agencies are involved in print buying decisions, and 89 percent say they play either a primary role or collaborative role with the client in campaign development and direction. April 28, 2005 -- The trade publication Technology Watch made it official in January -- the quality of digital color printing is on par with offset. That's what the magazine's technical staff concluded from tests at Rochester Institute of Technology's Printing Applications Laboratory. This supports the growing consensus that current-generation digital color print quality is ready-for-prime-time, designer-portfolio-grade, Madison-Avenue-approved--and poised to please your customers. That's great news, because the largest opportunity for printers to grow print volume today is with digital color printing. I.T. Strategies, an independent research firm, predicts that by 2007, annual worldwide spending on digital color output by businesses and consumers will reach almost $50 billion. In addition, a recent study by RIT's Printing Industry Center finds that creative agencies -- the customers most likely to require Madison Avenue-approved print quality -- play a critical role in that growth. That study, based a survey of 250 agencies, found that83 percent of creative agencies are involved in print buying decisions, accounting for an average purchase of $1.5 million annually and a median of $400,000. And 89 percent say they play either the primary role or a collaborative role with the client in campaign development and direction. According to Victor Basile, senior vice president / director of Print Graphic Services, Publicis – N.Y., and chair, Print Management Committee, American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As), "Agencies today seek to offer integrated services that tap into all the resources in their network at speeds that weren't possible a few years ago. Digital printing provides the fast turnarounds that keep pace with these programs. The quality is really good, and it can only get better. If you're not looking at digital printing today, you should be." Making the production manager a sales and marketing partner can help print provider sell their services to the agency's creatives. Digital color printing's economical short runs and personalization capabilities can also improve the targeting, response rates and overall effectiveness of integrated communications programs. Printer service providers who can support these programs and help agencies use new media to better track to their clients' goals will have an advantage in landing agency business. Following are eight tips for print providers seeking to sell digital color printing to creative design professionals. Target agencies with business-to-business clients . Agencies that support businesses communicating to consumers generally focus on building brand awareness through mass media, such as television and radio. In contrast, business-to-business (B-to-B) agencies tend to have more limited budgets and narrower targets that they reach through trade magazines, direct mail and sales collateral. Digital-color printing delivers the highly targeted, cost-effective print that makes these programs thrive. One additional point: B-to-B firms tend to have smaller marketing departments than B-to-C outfits, so they rely more on the agency for everything from marketing strategy to media -- and print services provider -- selection. At the agency, target the production manager . According to the RIT survey, the production manager is the most common agency contact to the print community. In numerous agencies, the production manager also plays a role in educating the creative department on new technology options, making that person both a sales target and a marketing partner, who can help the print provider sell its services to the agency's creatives. Set correct expectations with a sample book that shows offset and digital prints of the same text and image files. Demonstrate the image quality . Designers are unforgiving judges of image quality, yet many may be working with dated references for toner-based print, which has only recently become an effective substitute for offset in most applications. Bring designers up to date and set correct expectations with a sample book that shows offset and digital prints of the same text and image files. Consider enabling designers to submit test files via the Web to receive a free digital print sample of their design. More advanced technical infrastructure supports stronger partnerships . Supporting a sophisticated integrated marketing campaign typically requires a set of advanced capabilities that can include variable information color printing, Web systems programming and design, telemarketing, fulfillment and other services. Some print providers develop these capabilities, others partner for some or all. Most count digital color printing among their base core competencies, and find that broader infrastructure support strengthens partnerships with agencies. Demonstrate effective return on marketing investment . For the best results, print providers should link their service offerings to the agency's media selection criteria: reaching target markets, cost and budget considerations, and marketing strategy implementation. In other words, print providers need to demonstrate that digital color is the most cost effective alternative for successfully reaching target markets. The pitch is most effective when backed by examples showing a significant return on the marketing investment. Quality and dependability are more critical than price . That's right: price is not the agency's key factor in print vendor selection. The RIT survey found that pressure on the agency to meet deadlines and deliver quality led respondents to select dependability as the top factor in selecting print services providers. Quality was second, followed by turnaround time and ease of doing business. Price ranked fifth. Price is not the agency's key factor in print vendor selection. Help creatives design for digital . Print service providers can help creative designers improve their printed work by providing guidebooks and seminars on designing for digital. Many print providers and industry associations publish materials and can provide assistance to help in this effort. In addition, color variable information printing introduces new design challenges, such as accounting for all the possible image and text variations in a piece. That requires close collaboration with variable information programmers, relationships that print providers would do well to foster. Measure the results . Print service providers should ensure that a measurement system is in place for programs they run, and the best measurements use "boardroom terminology." For example, one creative group in the study was able to show that every dollar spent on marketing communications in one campaign resulted in $6,000 in revenue. Such measurements increase the likelihood that the agency and its clients will buy into future programs, and they are useful as a sales tool for prospects and for fine-tuning programs to optimize results. The RIT study found that a change in sales was the most frequent measurement (29 percent), followed by the number of sales leads (24 percent), the response rate for a direct mail piece (23 percent) and ROI (6 percent). Most measurement programs were conducted by clients (37 percent), though client-agency partnerships were nearly as frequent (34 percent) and agencies sometimes took on the task alone (22 percent). Help Lead the Transformation Print service providers should ensure that any measurement system for programs they run use "boardroom terminology." More than ever before, marketing executives are looking for more efficient ways to communicate and share business information. Many are finding these efficiencies in integrated communications that mix old and new media to deliver improved business results. Digital printing technology plays a critical role in this more efficient media mix, while offering printers their best opportunity for revenue and business growth. Print service providers who help lead this transformation by building strategic partnerships with creative agencies around integrated communications opportunities will be well positioned to capture this growth. Editor's Note: To learn more about selling to creatives and to see some of the latest customer business development resources and digital printing and workflow technologies, stop by the Xerox booth at the AIIM On Demand Conference and Exposition at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, May 17-19.