By Noel Ward, Executive Editor November 24, 2003 -- One of the more remarkable things about the GATF Variable Data Printing conference a couple weeks back is that it is, in some ways, still going on. My email for the past two weeks has had regular infusions of ideas, comments and suggestions that are being piped out to all attendees via a list-serve handled by PIA/GATF. Many comments have been made about the quality of the presentations, the range and depth of information and the willingness of so many people to share their ideas and experiences. Some of the comments from this enthusiastic group include: “I had a wonderful time at the conference and I was so happy to be around other printer who were all on the same page (VDP).” “The venue was great. The organization was great. The content was great - many of the subjects hit the nail on the head.” “Our company has been selling Variable Data Printing for less than a year. I have probably sold about 15 different VDP projects so far. Some of the most powerful sales tools available are the samples we've produced for clients. Since most of the jobs we have done are postcard-related, I would love to find a way to get ahold of other samples that some of you might have done for your clients. I would love to find a way to share samples with each other.” “I think this is a great idea. Is it possible to have a samples website prior to next year? Companies would need to be willing to share their ideas for this to be successful. Any thoughts out there?” “I would be happy to share PDF's of the projects we have done. I think having samples available and specially PDF's so we can print these out as we need them would be great!! I also like the idea of setting up a website for us to share.” “Actual examples would be wonderful, but, I think, a book of PDF's would be more practical. The book could be a “free” handout as an added value to the conference.” What's great is the willingness to share knowledge, experiences and ideas. It comes from recognition that by sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of our experiences we all move forward. It has nothing to do with the fact that conference attendees come from all over the country and don't generally compete locally. Everyone at the conference knows their competitors for printing--variable or otherwise--are no longer limited to their zip code. What's different is the newfound awareness of convergent databases, marketing, and printing is changing the very nature of their businesses and what they can do for their customers. And they want to take advantage of it. In contrast, though, are the majority of printers who would rather give away a spouse or a kid than let another printer know anything about work they do for a customer. And most would never consider partnering with the direct marketing company for which they do printing each month. And data? Hey, we're printers. We don't need no stinkin' data! But I digress. Shared Vision The willingness to cooperate comes from a shared vision of the future. They realize the market for print is changing and that success requires changing with it. But that doesn't necessarily mean re-inventing or re-defining their businesses--it means thinking about their businesses in a new way. Or as Steve Jobs of Apple might put it, ‘Think Different.' For some time I've stood on various stages and soapboxes urging printers to find companies to partner with. I've said that developing alliances with forward-thinking ad agencies, direct marketers and other mar-comm firms that understand the power of targeted communications will become critical to their business. So was finding database management companies to handle variable data, help the marketing people use it properly, and help the print provider produce and mail it. Lots of people told me I was crazy, but I'd known that for a long time anyway. But I recall a print and mail shop I used 15 years ago when I ran market research projects and customer satisfaction programs for a living. The printer partnered with a transactional service bureau to handle all the data processing, customization of cover letters, pre-sorting, etc., and they were steadily building business for both firms. It worked back then because the business owners shared a vision and offered complementary services. And it was clear from the VDP conference that this same kind of thinking is becoming more common. Which may or may not prove that I'm not as crazy as people thought. The Power of Partnership Last week in this space I noted how printers, marketers and database companies each had a stake in the examples presented at the conference in Scottsdale. The firms who had the stage at the conference were the ones who have seen the light and recognize that while none of them can win alone, they can all win--and even win big--together. Partnerships are key to success. It is rare print provider who can do the marketing, design, database, printing, and mailing under one roof. A handful of big firms manage it, but doing it all in one place is hardly an essential ingredient. More important is having an understanding of a customer's needs and finding the most effective way to produce and deliver messages that are targeted to an individual or business. It requires alliances in which each partner brings strength and value to create a winning combination. Take a look back at Barb Pellow's article last week which showed how Global Document Solutions, Roberts Communications and XMPie partnered to produce the very effective “Snackinar” mailings in conjunction with Xerox and GraphExpo. None could have completed the project alone, but together made it a resounding success. What this all really comes down to is the old business adage of “find a need and fill it.” When all a customer needed was printing, that was pretty straightforward. Now they need more , but you don't need to rely solely on your own resources. As the participants at the VDP conference showed, when businesses partner and build on each others' strengths, everyone wins. And they know that sharing ideas, skills, knowledge, and talent is the key to staking out new territory in the new landscape of printing. I fully expect some of the audience in this year's VDP conference to be on the stage next year, strutting their stuff and generating some more excitement.