List Management

More and more print buyers are beginning to realize the potential of direct mail in conjunction with digital media, as well as the power of variable data printing.  Much of that has to do with a variety of awareness campaigns created by the industry manufacturers (Xerox, HP, Canon, etc.) as well as print providers who are realizing the necessity to sell the value of print rather than the technology of print.  Yet, there’s one facet of all of this that is probably not being addressed as it should be — list management, both in terms of postal issues as well as content.

In a member presentation this past Tuesday, Ronnie Ewers with EQ3 touched on a variety of issues on the postal front which can cost firms significant dollars.  How significant?  He used the example of a very large mailing client whose savings in postage was in seven figures.  How were the savings gained?  It took sophisticated list scrubbing and an understanding that the USPS system is not perfect in handling NCOA (National Change of Address).  It’s not uncommon for many lists to have 8-14% incorrect addressees in a database.

The other issue of course is content. Are data fields being used properly and are they usable in variable projects.  Too often variable print projects never come to fruition because the client’s data is not functional – and opportunities are missed for the client and the print provider.

Everyone talks about Big Data and the business opportunities to target message an audience.  Although if the data is not usable, for whatever reasons, the promise of Big Data is a pipe dream, but I see  glimmers of opportunity.

Why aren’t most print/mail providers working with their client to maximize the power of the data?  One of the major problems might be that the client doesn’t understand there are issues.  It could be that marketing won’t talk to I.T. and I.T. “knows” what they’re doing, and resolving the issue will take senior management’s involvement.  Thus this becomes an issue of “consulting” rather than selling a product.  It does require a different mind-set and possibly individuals with different sets of skills – but the upside could be extraordinary.

Think back to the 1960’s and 70’s.  Who ever thought that folks would want to “rent” computer time and outsource those activities?  IBM didn’t see it as part of their business strategy, but a guy by the name of Ross Perot did.

We Hate Business Cards!

Over my career in our great industry, which now spans four decades, one of the products most often treated by disdain by every printer was business cards.  Your prices were always too high and the cards never came out the way the customer envisioned.  Lord forbid if you screwed them up — because if you couldn’t be trusted with a “simple” business card, how could you be trusted with our company’s collateral?

Yet, VistaPrint and other print providers (, Staples, Office Depot, FedEx) have used this and many other “non-sexy” printed products to create a whole new sector of print providers.  Cimpress (VistaPrints parent company) is taking this success to another whole level.  As a recent online article in Printing Impressions stated, they are focused on serving “the marketing needs of the small, micro businesses and consumers who want to boast collateral that reaches the professional level of Corporate America.”

Check out this article to see what Cimpress (VistaPrints parent) is up to. Interesting reading.

Words and Images

I was viewing a recent interview that Mark Michelson, Printing Impressions, conducted with Thomas Quinlan, RR Donnelley’s CEO.  In explaining RRD’s strategy, Quinlan stated they were in the words and images business and their role was to synchronize their customer efforts with the varying media.  Words & Images.  I like it.

The day prior I was reading a Wall Street Journal article titled “Retailers Can’t Shake Their Circular Habit.”  It dealt with free standing inserts and the author’s premise was that retailers were “stuck” [my word] using expensive print using an anachronistic form of publishing – newspapers!  Yet, when one really reads what the author was saying — and I don’t think she did our industry justice – the reason the retailers continue to use print is BECAUSE IT’S MORE EFFECTIVE than digital and social media!

So, let’s hear it for words & images – in all its forms.

Just Around The Corner

Spring training is now in full swing, which means that the Boys of Summer will soon be playing in earnest.  Yet, I feel like Punxsutawney Phil, who just saw his shadow. Is spring ever going to show up?

I’m looking out my window at about 4″ of snow overlaying ice.  Granted this is not unusual for North Texas, but for the last three weeks we’ve had more freezing weather than we deserve.  Send it to Buffalo.  Send it to Chicago. They’re used to it and they’re lacking baseball teams.  Although in fairness to Cub fans, there actually may be glimmers of hope in ’15.

So, let’s get the season started.  It’s the time of year when everyone is excited about their team and there are dreams of a season lasting until October.  Play ball!

Billion Dollar Broker

This past week industry power-house InnerWorkings announced it reached $1 Billion in annual sales.  Their motto of “We make marketing happen” is one that should truly resonate with print providers, yet very few firms have been able to execute at this level.

The concept of a print management company (or if you prefer the old-fashioned moniker – print broker) succeeding to this extent was unheard of 20 years ago, and 13 years ago when the company was founded, most folks would have laughed you out of the room if you suggested that they could generate even 1/10 of their present annual sales.

For me, the InnerWorkings success says a lot about how print buying has changed in that time.  Over the past 15 years, while many print providers were struggling with the question of should we go digital or remain offset, this company was taking advantage of how corporate America was changing.  The buyer could care less (although they didn’t always say it) as to what kind of press you were using.  All they wanted was a competitive price and their print problems to go away.  InnerWorkings made it happen because their vision went beyond ink on paper and focused on managing the logistics of print, and it didn’t hurt that they also were able to make the industry’s over-capacity work for them. They’ve become the low cost producer for distributed enterprises who see print as a commodity.

Although I still think our DNA is one of a manufacturing industry, the success of InnerWorkings tells us how much the industry has changed from being purely manufacturing centric to becoming more customer centric.  Therein lies the kernel of truth of how to succeed in the 21st century of visual communications.  It’s more about providing solutions than it’s about being a manufacturer of print.

To Regulate or Not to Regulate

OK, I’ll admit at first I wasn’t too excited about this topic of Net Neutrality.  I liked things the way they were.  Limited regulations and free enterprise. Good things I thought, but then I started to do a bit of reading and talking to my son.   James grew up (professionally) during the dot com days of Silicon Valley and makes his living in that world. He is a proponent for net neutrality and was upset with the folks in Congress who “didn’t get it.”

I also started paying attention to my rising telecomm costs at my office and at home.  I also noted that there were more and more mergers in the world of telecommunications and less and less competitors.  Hmmm.

Although I’m not one for regulations, I think I concur with the FCC on this issue.  Utilities (or services which are utilized by the vast majority of our country — and dominated by a handful of companies) need to be regulated.  Otherwise, it’s my observation, that the smaller companies and folks who don’t have the deep pockets get forced out of the markets.  Talk to the young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, and you’ll see that they support net neutrality – because they want availability to the opportunities that a regulated system could provide.  The companies who are beginning to dominate the channels want to dictate the terms of access – and they speak about open markets and efficiencies.  But is this best for us?  Is this best for creating new markets and allowing the world of communications to grow?  Is this good for small business?

Congress is going to become involved in this and it behooves everyone in our industry – who utilize these pipelines of information every day – to contact their legislator and speak up.  I for one think that net neutrality is good for business.

Let’s Play Two

This past week, baseball lost another legend — Mr. Ernie Banks, a.k.a. Mr Cub.

He was in his prime in the 1950’s and into the early 60’s.  In those days, we didn’t have the 24/7 media connection we have today.  You followed your local heroes and occasionally read about the “other” stars in the newspaper and magazines.  Yet, for many of us kids growing up in those days, Ernie Banks was synonymous with the Chicago Cubs. Mickey Mantle was the Yankees.  Boog Powell was the Orioles and Stan the Man represented the Cardinals.  And of course for us Dodger fans, we had the Duke and an up and coming southpaw called Koufax.

Yup different days.  But the game is still played between the lines and every team has a chance in March. The smell of fresh cut grass; the crack of the fungo; and the snap of a catcher’s glove when the ball strikes hasn’t changed.  That’s what makes baseball such a great game.  So, let’s play two!



I’m presently looking at the stark mountain range west of Las Vegas from the 32nd floor of a hotel.  102 miles to the west is Death Valley one of the most desolate areas of the world.  Below me is the Mecca of Sin, as some see it.   Others view it as Disneyland for adults.

It’s been about five years since I have been here, and it’s amazing the amount of changes which have occurred.  More hotels.  More entertainment.  More things to do.  Yet, what has not changed is the pace of Vegas.  The hype.  The energy.  And there’s been plenty of energy – and learning – at this year’s EFI Connect, which I’ve been fortunate to attend.

The focus of the conference is product centric – similar to HP’s DScoop — but there was plenty of good solid information.  More importantly it was the opportunity for management teams to meet and network with others who are living the world of implementing management systems and digital workflow. Talking to someone face-to-face in a collaborative manner is still the best way to communicate and learn.

One of the most interesting points of the past two days, given EFI’s core business in MIS software, was a discussion I had with several folks regarding production standards, BHRs, and sales comp.  It seems I was having these same conversations over 30 years ago – and the importance of these issues have not paled.  Our tools have become much more sophisticated, and we have a lot more information and data, but the base issues still remain the same.  Do we REALLY understand what the data is telling us?  And HOW are we going to use it?  The more things change ……

Controlling Your Destiny

I was perusing the Wall Street Journal this morning while waiting for my desktop to finish waking up and read two articles that piqued my interest.  One dealt with how manufacturing is making a comeback in the U.S., and the second was an op-ed piece on the cost of textbooks.

As I always attempt to do, I looked to see how print fits into these discussions and found some nuggets worth exploring.

The manufacturing article dealt with the inevitable cycle of business – what was once a good idea has become old-news as time and competition change the playing field.  In regards to manufacturing, China no longer has the upper hand due to low wages as its labor costs have begun to increase.  On top of that there are a variety of issues including transportation time, and controlling the product which have opened the door for innovative U.S. manufacturers.  Manufacturers who embrace automation, efficiency and logistics control.  Although the print community has not been devastated by over-seas competition, the need to become more efficient and embrace automation is continuing to ripple throughout the industry.  And that’s a good thing.

The other article dealt with supply, demand and how publishers have been able to increase the price of books dramatically (did cost of printing go up during this period – I don’t think so).  As the article stated, since 1985 the price of consumer goods have doubled, but the price of a text book has gone up six-fold.  Which brings me to the need for print providers to start thinking of ways to control their destiny – which is a trend we are starting to see as firms move up stream in marketing and downstream into mail and fulfillment.  If you take it a step further, look at the model of the print management firms who have successfully helped “manage” their clients print procurements.  Thus the print provider is much more than just a supplier and have carved out a profitable niche.

One last thought. The first article was focused on how “Made In America” is making a comeback.  So, let’s keep working to make sure that “Printed In America” continues to be a viable option!

Parting Shots From USPS Postmaster

It’s fascinating to see what people will say once they are no longer the point person in an organization.  Some will take the politically correct path, while others will voice what they wouldn’t have said prior to their leaving.  Case in point is Postmaster General (former) Pat Donahoe.  Check this article out from the Washington Post.

Mr. Donahoe has it right.  There are myopic forces at work – both labor and mailers.  And of course, we can’t forget Congress.  The article is good reading and Donahoe provides insights from a person who was trying to make the right changes.

The real question — and this is true of any major government service or organization — how can we modify it without upsetting a significant stakeholder(s).  So, does anyone have the guts to make long-term decisions and deal with significant short-term pain?  If you’re an observer, you’re saying yes, let’s make the right decision.  If you are the individual/stakeholder whose career will go down in flames or business will significantly be affected, you probably have a totally different perspective.  It’s the breakfast analogy.  The chicken is a participant/observer (eggs), but the hog (sausage/bacon) is committed/stakeholder.

So, what should be done with the USPS?   And are you a chicken, or are you a hog?