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To Enrich, Educate and Entertain

Use What I Love, and the Money Will Follow

Posted on: November 20th, 2019 by Charles Kelley

As 2019 draws to a close, it marks my 42nd full year in the printing business and my 10th anniversary as vice president of business development at Perfect Image. I have been fortunate, doing what I love all these years. In sharing my unique view of the industry, it is my fervent hope that you will use these insights to sharpen your competitive edge in all things marketing. 

You may not be my client, but I still want you to know what it means to be the beneficiary of such passion for this industry. Below are pearls of wisdom I’ve gathered for clients over time. 

How it used to be…

I was with a consulting firm in 1977 when the owner of a print shop came to us for guidance on financing his business. While manufacturing had been calling my name, I had no inkling that in working with this gentleman I would catch the printing bug. All of the reward centers in my young mind lit up like a Christmas tree, and I decided to buy a printing franchise.  

In those days, print buyers and graphic artists would walk into a print shop with large, oversized envelopes full of artboards – prototypes of their print projects with the elements literally glued together. X-acto knives and a plastic laminate material called Rubylith had been used to precisely trim and cut the outlines of different colors in the artwork. I bought an ITEK typesetting machine (now relegated to the ‘museum of forgotten art supplies’), and I also invested in a dark room, because back then, we had to shoot pictures of artwork before loading it onto the press.

The industry was just beginning to change. Quick copy shops and same-day printing were starting to emerge. Even though that wasn’t how larger commercial plants operated, it was the genesis of a technological shift. In the mid-1980s, a friend of mine knowledgeable about computers and the early Macs would stop by my place and tell me all this stuff would be obsolete in a few years. Nobody was going to have a dark room. Computers were going to change everything. He was right. 

Technology opened doors – and new challenges 

do-something-great.jpgFast-forwarding a couple of decades, many thought technology and digital communications would be the death of commercial printing. They were wrong. They could not foresee the dramatic ways print would captivate audiences with metallic features, dimensional inks, advanced personalization, high-speed digital printing with lithographic quality and much more, lavishing all kinds of newness and intrigue on the timeless touch of the printed piece. Print is here to stay.

The biggest challenge for today’s marketers is finding new ways to command attention in marketplaces overcrowded with emails, digital marketing, print, video and advertising from other marketers. I believe I have solid answers to this challenge, and they’re all tied to your strategy and the strengths of your marketing partners. 

Here are four powerful ways to compete in marketing today

1. Is your print project a Chevy, a Mercedes or a Lamborghini?

It doesn’t matter! Regardless of your budget or the size of your project, demand the highest standards of quality, excellence and service from your printer. It’s my nature to go all in, learning the ins and outs of an organization to skillfully support their goals. This is how I caught the printing bug in the first place, immersing myself in my client’s needs. I love planning projects, performing cost analyses, interacting with creatives, and seeing reactions to finished products, whether they are annual reports, magazines, newsletters or statement inserts.

There is no greater reward than being a part of the marketing and production team from concept to creation and driving change through print. 

Bottom line: Love of teamwork is king, including with your external partners!

2. Diversify your spending

digital-marketing.jpgIt may seem odd coming from a printer, but I believe the biggest mistake marketers make is failure to embrace targeted multichannel marketing. We love it when a client says, “Please print 200,000 of these” – but we also know it might not make sense.

After doing a goals and target market analysis, we often advise clients to print less and add email and digital marketing to their campaign mix, or maybe some radio or TV.  

On the flip side, I have a client who uses us to manage email blasts when they are ready to open a new facility or make an announcement. My recommendation? Instead of distributing 60,000 emails, send 40,000 and augment them with direct mail and online marketing. Research repeatedly shows that direct mail coupled with email and digital yields a higher ROI.

Bottom line: Cast a wider net. Generate more response. 

3. What’s their secret sauce?

secret-sauce.jpgI believe printers have a responsibility to advise and assist clients in today’s hyper-competitive environment. Your printer is a specialist, and you need their expertise in your corner. You need them to be transparent, consultative and straight with you. We call this being ‘More than a printer.’ 

My secret sauce is a mix of attention to detail and service. My boss likes to tell the story of an 800 phone number that nearly crashed a client’s project before it came out of the gate. The client approved the artwork and we had to be on press that night to get 25,000 pieces in the mail on time. I was in my office looking at the proof when something told me to call the 800 contact number. It was not a working number! That same something told me to check the website URL. It was a broken link!

I immediately pulled the job and contacted the client. It was Saturday before she could call back, and she was unspeakably grateful. “I would rather be late and right than on time and wrong,” she said. I encourage every client to consider me one of the “Ps” in their life, to think of me as they do their physician, policeman or preacher. If they have an urgent need, I am here for them. Full stop.

Bottom line: It’s important to have a second set of eyes and a sidekick when it matters most.  

4. The numbers always matter

Shortly after graduating Morehouse College with a degree in Economics, I became the third African American in Atlanta to be elected to a banking officer position for a major bank. That experience has been tremendously valuable through the years, for print clients needing help in evaluating print investments to spend more wisely, and also for our clients in the banking industry. 

Bottom line: You have a lot more on your plate than buying print. Ask your printer to make your life easier by crunching numbers to help you maximize your budget and marketing outreach.

More pearls of wisdom

pearls.jpg• Be Organized: If your print project is event-driven, start planning well in advance. Call your printer weeks out to let them know it’s coming. The success of your project is about timing and accuracy.

• Use Professionals: Hire a graphic designer who knows how to work with a commercial printer. Hire experienced content marketers, web developers and media buyers for email, digital, online and other forms of marketing. Professionalism makes the best marketing impressions.

• Decide in Advance What Success Looks Like: If you’re doing direct mail, first define your target audience and establish a solid database. Know what percentage of people you want to respond so that you have a benchmark for measuring success and building on it. 

I hope I have expressed how a good print partner can help you win in today’s environment. After 20 years, I sold my printing company and stayed on with the new owner for a time before joining Perfect Image. I simply wanted the freedom to focus on the aspects of my industry I love most – working with people and helping them succeed. Perfect Image has been around a long time, and like me, the company still believes in relationships built on trust. 

The bottom line? When you win, your printer wins, and that’s a partnership you can both take to the bank.


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