In diplomatic circles, an “ambassador without portfolio” is a government official who has neither specific responsibilities nor authority over a particular ministry—just a general charge to advance the interests of his or her country. In printing circles, those who promote the use of the medium with nothing more to credential them than their love of print are “ambassadors without portfolio,” too.

Kodak has just given them one. At an event for customers and the trade media in Rochester, NY, last weekend, the company announced the launch of its “Print Ambassador” initiative—a recognition program that salutes purpose-driven print evangelists and offers them tools to inspire others with the same enthusiasm. We think it’s one of the most coherent and appropriate print-promoting campaigns that we’ve seen in a long time.

Kodak recognizes Print Ambassadors “For understanding the power of print and other visual communications in today’s technology-driven world. For...improving its ability to engage, motivate, and inspire.” So reads the text of certificates presented to trade journalists and industry analysts attending the Rochester event (including the writer of this post). Even more fittingly, Print Ambassadorships have been conferred upon people who serve as envoys to print’s developing world: members of The International Graphic Arts Education Association (IGAEA). Anyone with a similar commitment to driving the future of print can be nominated for the distinction.

Jeff Hayzlett, Kodak’s chief marketing officer and vice president of the graphic communications group, said that the program was a response to calls from customers for more help in building markets for printed products. Kodak rises admirably to the challenge at Print Ambassador HQ, a Web site where the message and the means are easy to grasp.

At this HQ, there’s none of the high-flown rhetoric or institutional stodginess that has dulled other efforts to build excitement for a medium that really can be exciting when it’s positioned as Kodak positions it here. What we get is a grab-and-go toolkit of promotional aids served up in an informal, sometimes slangy manner that’s well suited to the dynamism of the multimedia environment in which print today competes.

The mix isn’t perfect—for one thing, it focuses exclusively on digital printing, leaving conventional production out. But in terms of marketing effectiveness, Kodak’s effort is miles ahead of what vendors, trade associations, and others typically put forth in two-cheers-for-printing exercises that, lately, seem to be rallying almost nobody.

Here’s a quick click-through tour:

In one well-organized screen, the Value of Print section offers print-promoting statistics and an assortment downloadable white papers, articles, and videos on the value of print—first-rate resources that can be handily accessed to punch up a sales presentation or enrich a customer-education program.

Print in Action features three very short talking-head video clips that, because of their brevity, don’t permit these Kodak customers to share much insight into their experiences of the power of print. The weakness is more than compensated by a selection of downloadable case studies from PODi on result-getting marketing campaigns based on digital print. There’s also a link to information and a video on transpromotional printing at the Web site of Be'eri Printers, an Israeli company that specializes in digital output services. (If you’re not fluent in Hebrew, though, try to watch the clip with somebody who is.)

In Nominations, you can recommend fellow evangelists for Print Ambassadorship. Kodak promises quick responses to questions posted in Ask the Experts. A hookup to the Kodak MarketMover network of Kodak-equipped digital print providers is yours to request in the Find a Printer section. Links to trade shows and conferences where Hayzlett and other Kodak marketers will be present are provided in Events.

Criticisms? As noted, we’re sorry that the site doesn’t contain more of specific interest to print’s ambassadors plenipotentiary—offset lithographers, whose enormous use of Kodak plates and consumables does more than anything else to support the company’s goal of keeping print ubiquitous, efficient, and influential. And, yes, at the moment everything at Print Ambassador HQ ultimately is a pitch for Kodak products and services.

But, seldom have we seen a vendor’s commercial interests aligned as deftly and engagingly with the vital, long-term interests of the industry as they are here. Bravo, then, to Kodak for launching a campaign that seems well poised to succeed both as a marketing device and as a pro-bono gesture.

According to Hayzlett, this is only the beginning. In Rochester, he told the journalists that Print Ambassador will include a program that enlists students to evangelize the value of print to local businesses. Printers will get help in raising their environmental awareness and in promoting their medium in education.

Hayzlett also said that in general, Kodak is determined to use print to build markets for print. Declaring that “broadcast is dead” for the company as it tries to reach an ever more segmented customer base, Hayzlett said print would be the narrowcast tool of choice. He promised that Kodak would be “very, very guerilla” in using print and graphics to reach its target markets.