Cowpies and Print

There are a couple of ways that marketers routinely step in a steamy, nasty mess when it comes to print.

Printed communication is alive and well despite predictions of its imminent demise. Direct mail and free-standing-inserts (FSIs) and brochures still top the list of materials that carry the flag for the ink-on-paper channel to market. While online channels have become critical and few marketers if any still rely solely on print, actual printed materials remain an important tool to communicate with clients and potential clients. It’s just no longer the only way; it’s part of a mix.

First, there is a load of unnecessary cost and grief caused by the person to whom you assign the project, the hapless guy down hall who’s not that busy or that nice agency lady who bought you lunch in Yorkville last week, for example.

For some inexplicable reason, despite an entire Ryerson University degree program specific to Graphic Communications, it’s hard to convince marketers that there is exceptional technical skill and knowledge required to actually produce that FSI, for example. Aside from the admittedly important element of outstanding creative and engaging content, actually producing the piece represents the eighty percent of the iceberg that’s underwater.

Or, to put it another way, the actual production is the part of the process that represents risk of titanic proportion.

It’s not the actual running of the printing press thing – that’s a whole other kettle of ink. It’s all about someone looking out for your interests amid the cost implications within the labyrinth of detailed specifications: the stock, the binding, spine-pasting gutter allowances, the folds, the cross-overs, bleeds/no bleeds, the screen angles, UV vs. AQ coating, digital printing versus sheet-fed versus… and on and on and on, literally hundreds of parameters. All together, they may well determine whether you will have enough in the budget for a second campaign to drive still more results or whether you’ll just have to hope some orders come via that tired old website.

The second cowpie land mine is getting this beautifully produced, highly economical, creative masterpiece into the hand of people who might actually want or need your company’s products and/or services. The cost implications of this challenge are rarely thought about.

Is virtually everyone in the country a potential customer for your business? If so, distributing this beautiful, compelling piece to all 13 million+ households in the country makes some sense. On the other hand, if there are some geographic or psychographic or life-stage considerations, you might not have to print so many, as long as you can come up with an economical, selective distribution plan.

The difficulty is that creating and executing plans like this are invariably very detailed and technical, and require a lot of hands-on management. Moreover, it may make sense to test market some different offers – a potentially critical ROI consideration – which adds further complexity.

If you have these capabilities in-house, you have a bigger budget than I ever did as a CMO. Seriously, no marketing department has people who do this well. And surprisingly few seek them out! Cost-re-engineering specifications just doesn’t get done and project management are left to third parties that are more than prepared spend as much of your budget as possible.

It just makes sense to engage a print manager who can help you make the most of your hard-won marketing budget. And by the way, I haven’t even touched on the whole issue of professional proofing to eliminate errors. Mistakes in copy represent enormous financial risk. But that’s for another day.

Print isn’t dead yet, not by a long shot, though the way in which print programs are often executed may well be nudging it ever closer to the funeral home. Too bad; print can still really drive the numbers if it’s done right.

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