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8 Ways to Waste Money on Printing


8 Ways to Waste Money on Printing

So you need printing – a book, a brochure, a point-of-sale display or a mailer. Whatever it is, you want a quality piece that reflects well on your brand and business. But with all of the production options available, how do you know what’s worthwhile and what’s not?  Continue Reading

The Surefire Way to Improve Creativity… or Kill it


The Surefire Way to Improve Creativity… or Kill it

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity” – Ray Bradbury

Throughout my career at graphic arts firms and agencies, a common thread is that many people resist structure, believing that processes and procedures inhibit creativity. Whether driven by a reluctance to change, or an honest belief that a “free-wheeling” culture fosters innovation, it’s easy to understand this attitude because there’s a certain appeal to it. Why waste time following procedures? However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

In reality, lack of defined procedures inhibit creativity by channeling energies into administrative, logistics and error correction activities that don’t provide value to the firm or its clients. In other words, when staff isn’t playing by the same rulebook, they waste time figuring trying out what others are doing or fixing the mistakes that invariably occur. Small businesses can operate this way for a while, since employees often work in close proximity. But as the business grows, lack of coordination will constrain growth and lead to big problems down the line.

Structure allows creativity to flourish by clarifying roles and bringing consistency to operations. Whether you’re a freelance creative, an advertising agency, a graphic arts firm or internal department, here are four areas of focus that will have an impact on your creativity and bottom line:

Define the Workflow: Work should flow through the parts of your organization in a predefined way. From intake through deliverable, a consistent workflow that is understood and followed by all staffers reduces uncertainty by mapping out responsibilities of each team member and what is expected. Over time, these procedures become internalized so that everyone understands what needs to be done and no longer needs to think about it.

Define the Scope of Work: The scope for each project must be fully fleshed out before any work is done. Typically, this information is captured, documented in a consistent manner and shared with the client and all members of the team, helping to get everyone on the same page. Well defined project specifications help develop targeted milestones and deliverables that meet objectives while reducing the potential for miscommunication and error.

Define the Timeline: Time is a valuable commodity, particularly when multiple projects are competing for limited team resources. There never seems to be enough of it. Yet when properly managed, moderate time pressure is shown to enhance creativity by sharpening focus and pushing the process forward. Once the scope of work is established, drive projects through your workflow by setting internal milestones that will keep the team focused while meeting all deadlines.

Define and Track the Budget: Creativity comes at a cost. For creatives, agencies and graphic arts organizations this is generally calculated as the time required to process, manage, produce and deliver plus material costs and expenses incurred. It’s essential to accurately capture the financial implications of work as the deliverable must not only meet the clients’ needs, it must do so within an agreed budget. Over time, close financial tracking also provides feedback that can be used to improve the process, assuring that all goals are met.

To some, this discussion may seem basic but it’s surprising how many firms, particularly smaller ones, fail to adequately structure and monitor their work. This is a shame because it’s never been easier to do.

Once limited to the largest corporations, third party systems geared to specific industries or categories are now available to firms of all sizes for tracking workflow, projects, timelines and budgets. The best of these adapt to and improve internal processes, becoming integral parts of the organization because they are flexible, adaptable and evolve over time as needs change. Many can be purchased as web-based SaaS (Software as a Service) subscriptions, limiting cost and eliminating internal hosting requirements.

After leading these initiatives, I understand that re-designing and optimizing internal processes can be difficult but it’s well worth the effort. Because once our teams no longer needed to think about process they were freed to focus on the work, allowing creativity and productivity to soar.

Ship That Print Job to the Dumpster!


Ship That Print Job to the Dumpster!

An international beer importer produced a sophisticated display for a holiday promotion. After much time and expense, completed units were shipped to distributors across the country for installation at various off-premise accounts including grocery, specialty and c-store locations. Lacking a national sales force themselves, the marketing folks assumed that the distributor’s salespeople would gladly install the displays at location. After all, the more product they sell, the greater profit would be for all. The salespeople didn’t agree and most displays were never placed.

Another marketer decided to take a subtle approach. They printed a collateral piece featuring lifestyle messaging but the outside was designed to look like a foreign passport. The idea was to seed these pieces throughout New York, where consumers would pick them up out of curiosity and read them. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize until after printing 500,000 pieces that they had no efficient way to efficiently distribute them. The program gathered dust in a fulfillment warehouse.

In both cases, seemingly valid promotional concepts were dead on arrival because no thought was given to execution, to how these items would be placed or distributed to the field. As a result, all of the time, thought and expense that went into developing and producing these items was largely wasted. They could have saved everyone trouble by shipping them directly to a dumpster, because that’s where they ended up.

Countless times I’ve seen examples where no thought was given to the end use of printed materials. That’s a shame because ultimately, the success of any program is determined by how well it is executed from start through completion. Breakthrough creative, sterling copy and flawless reproduction mean nothing if the message doesn’t get into the hands of the consumer.

So, in the interests of improving print marketing everywhere, keep these 5 “W’s” in mind when developing a printed promotion or campaign:

1. Who is responsible for executing the program and getting it in front of the consumer? That individual or team must carefully review the distribution channels and confirm all parties know what’s expected and are onboard with it. Since conditions often change, they should be invested with the authority to quickly adjust when required.

2. What are you asking them to do? Some printed materials require placement or installation (i.e. POS displays) by field sales. Many regard this as a distraction, so make sure they are available and agreeable to doing what’s required and provide incentives when possible. When possible, engineer displays to simplify installation.

3. When are materials due? Time sensitive materials delivered late are useless so establish a production schedule that will comfortably meet the deadline.

4. Where will materials be displayed? Be sure to have permission to place materials before producing them. Many supermarket and retail chains have adopted clean store policies that limit promotional materials and displays. Also confirm that printing method and substrates are suitable for the conditions. Paper is usually inappropriate for long-term use outdoors or in a market’s refrigerated case.

5. Why? Printed materials can inform, persuade and motivate so consider how the user should respond to it. Coupons must be easy to detach and use, offers feature a clear and immediate call to action and direct response include appropriate feedback mechanisms.

Proper execution planning will assure that your printed materials don’t go en masse to the dumpster. Instead, they’ll be placed individually in the recycling bin, long after they’ve served their intended purpose.

Six Steps to Effective Marketing Communications


Six Steps to Effective Marketing Communications

“You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the marketplace.” – David Ogilvy

So, you’re looking to lift your brand.

Growing your brand is vital, yet it often proves elusive. Especially in today’s hyper-connected and competitive environment. The jumble of advertisers shouting across all media for a share of the consumer’s attention makes getting your message through the clutter more difficult than ever before. But it’s not impossible.

We all know great brands that have risen above the din and stand apart as unique “personalities”, creating the growth that drives these businesses forward. While we might think of iconic brands in these terms, the good news is that most brands, big or small, can be lifted by applying solid communications practices.

Everything starts with the brand. So, when planning marketing communications, carefully consider each of the following Brand Lifting Elements:

1. Goals: Effective marketing communications must reflect well-formed goals. These may include greater brand awareness, generating sales, customer retention, repeat business, etc. The first step in brand lift is to identify marketing objectives that advance your overall business.

2. Audience: Once clearly defined communication goals are established, use this framework to identify a receptive target audience. This audience may be segmented into one or more groups that have a common need for the offering and the means to acquire it.

3. Messaging: Every brand has that unique “personality” that lends a common voice to all communications. Carefully craft messaging that captures this essence while furthering the marketing objective and fitting the unique needs of the audience.

4. Creative: Creative is the conduit that drives the message through the clutter in a way that resonates with the audience. At it’s best, creative not only informs, but delivers a brand experience that excites and encourages action. Carefully vet creative work against these criteria to assure maximum effectiveness.

5. Channel Selection: It’s challenging to reach the consumer given today’s myriad of communication media. Communications channels should be carefully selected to deliver a consistent message, engage the audience, encourage a dialog (when possible) and ultimately achieve the marketing goal. Don’t lock into specific solutions, instead review all options and design communications that utilize the most effective media.

6. Measurement: Brand lift is about results, so select and measure metrics that reflect marketing goals. Periodic review will then show how well communications are performing against goals and allow for adjustments when necessary.

Lifting your brand is not a one time effort; it’s an ongoing process of continual trial and refinement. Consistently apply these Brand Lift Elements to marketing communications and over time you will build stronger brands, have better results and more profitable business.

Are You Wasting Marketing Dollars?


Are You Wasting Marketing Dollars?

Many marketers are wasting their time and money but don’t even know it.

Digital marketing is getting much of their attention and for good reason. The Interactive Advertising Bureau reports that U.S. Marketers spent $42.8 billion on digital marketing in 2013, which includes social, email, mobile, display advertising and SEO. Advertising Age expects spending to increase to $76.6 billion by 2016. That’s significant growth, but it represents just a part of overall marketing budgets.

According to a recent Gartner study, U.S. companies spend an average of 10.4% of revenue on marketing with roughly 25% spent on digital marketing activities. So, while much of the attention and some of the spend has shifted to digital, traditional services, including print, still command a significant portion of many budgets.

According to the NAPL, a leading U.S, printing trade organization, in 2014 customers will spend over $80 billion on commercial printing nationwide, almost twice as much as on interactive. It’s critical that businesses spend these funds wisely but doing so is more difficult than it seems.

Printing has always been a complex industry and adoption of digital technologies has made it even more so. Today, the U.S. commercial printing industry consists of over 35,000 firms specializing in a variety of technical areas including sheetfed offset, heatset web, forms, digital printing, wide format, publications and quick copy to name a few. Yet with the increased focus on digital marketing, many agencies and corporate marketers no longer have staff with the expertise to effectively manage all the forms of print they buy. Printing is often treated as an afterthought, but given the significant dollars spent it shouldn’t be.

Lacking in-house resources, some believe that working directly with a printer is the best way to buy these services but that’s often not the case. Printing firms make significant capital investments in their facilities and have a vested interest in keeping that equipment busy. Most will match projects with their equipment, leading at times to gross inefficiencies. Bidding to multiple printers doesn’t assure that any of the selected shops is best suited for the project either.

Properly sourcing and managing printing today requires deep industry knowledge, years of experience and extensive contacts. But since this level of print expertise is not a core competency at most firms, another option is becoming increasingly popular. The professional print management specialist.

A print specialist works to efficiently outsource their clients’ printing work. They understand the industry and have built networks of pre-qualified and fully vetted providers. Unhindered by plant and facilities, they can bid and place work with the printer best suited to produce it efficiently, getting quality results while saving money. By combining the spend of many firms, they also gain the buying power to negotiate deeper discounts than many firms can manage on their own.

So what is the best solution for managing print purchasing within your firm or agency? The answer depends on your annual spend and whether you have the talent in-house to manage it efficiently. Auditing your print expenditures, internally or through a third party, will provide the insights needed to make an informed decision. Then you’ll find that:

1. You’re currently buying printing efficiently. Congratulations, keep it up.

2. You’ve identified significant potential savings. If savings offset the cost, consider adding an experienced print manager to your staff or outsourcing to a professional print management firm.

3. You’ve identified moderate savings. If savings will not support hiring then consider engaging a print management consultant or or contracting with a management firm.

Ben Franklin, American patriot and printer, wrote the famous line that “a penny saved is a penny earned”. Since printing still represents a large part of many marketing budgets, it’s worth the effort to make sure you get the most from every dollar spent. Your bottom line will thank you.

Mad Men and Burgers


Mad Men and Burgers

One of the fun things about the popular series Mad Men is that it often references real brands from the period being portrayed. In a recent episode, Peggy is assigned to lead the pitch for Burger Chef, a popular hamburger chain in the 60’s and 70’s with restaurants across the US. When I saw this, it really hit home and brought back some memories. My Dad worked on that brand for years.

Growing up in the 70’s, I remember driving with him to visit Burger Chef restaurants across the Northeast. His company produced point-of-sale, premiums and other collateral for the chain so he’d visit the stores to see that materials were merchandised correctly. At times we’d have so much Burger Chef stuff in the house that it felt like the “Burger Chef” and “Jeff” were members of the family.

After seeing the brand on Mad Men, I did some research. In the late 1970’s, the Burger Chef chain was owned by General Foods and had over 1,000 stores across the US, second only to McDonalds. However, in 1982 GF management decided to divest and sold the chain to the parent company of Hardees, which subsequently rebranded or closed stores. The last Burger Chef restaurant dropped the name in 1996.

While the history is interesting, what really struck me is the devotion to the restaurant that continues today. Google “Burger Chef” and you’ll find numerous tribute sites and social media pages dedicated to the brand. Many of these sites feature materials that my Dad’s firm produced back then. It takes dedicated fans to hold onto packaging, premiums, displays, etc for almost 40 years!

Indeed. It’s a good reminder that, in a digital world, there is still a place for traditional advertising and promotion. We are still physical beings who need to connect with the tangible items that surround us.

While digital ads disappear, printed advertising and promotions can stick around for a while. Sometimes for a very long while.

The Year of Making Things Happen


The Year of Making Things Happen

Wow, 2013 sure flew by and it’s been quite a ride. Starting a new business, or restarting it in our case, can be daunting so I just like to thank my family, friends, clients and colleagues for their support. Because of you, ImpressionsDP is off to a strong start and we look forward to great things in the New Year.

Restarting the business was a good opportunity for reflection since much has changed over the past decade. When we founded i3 Marketing in 2002, digital marketing was in its infancy and the major social media networks (Facebook, Twitter) didn’t exist yet. Since that time, marketing has been turned upside down; new channels and tools came online, older ones evolved and the pace of change continues to accelerate.

How do you structure a business that will help clients effectively navigate today’s environment? Rebooting gave us some time to think about that.

“An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it”.
– Bill Bernbach

While marketing tactics have changed, one constant that remains is the need for results. Marketers are great at planning but they often need help executing those ideas effectively. In other words, their plans must be turned into actions that deliver on the desired goal. That’s why we’ve chosen to refocus on providing tactical marketing services, or helping clients turn their ideas into the “magic” that delivers across digital and print media.

But this article isn’t a sales pitch and the lesson learned here is not just about marketing. Periodic reflection is a valuable exercise that applies equally to life and business.

We often have personal and professional goals that will take significant time and effort to achieve. Five years ago, I decided to get an MBA and spent the next three years pursuing it before graduating in December 2011. It was a long stretch but the toughest part of that journey was getting started. After that, while the program was still difficult, once I changed the inertia the rest of the time flowed (remember, a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force).

The dawning of a New Year is a great time to reflect on our individual goals, what we’ve achieved and what’s left to do. Do you want to build a business, learn another language, parasail in the Caribbean, earn a new degree or get a pilot’s license? Whatever it may be, have you started it yet? If not, why not?

Most worthwhile pursuits take time and effort to achieve so forget about immediate gratification. Anything we can get with little effort is usually of no lasting value. Find something that gets you fired up, map out a plan and get to it!

“Vision without action is daydream. Action without vision is nightmare”.
– Japanese Proverb

Let’s make 2014 the year of making things happen!

And whatever your pursuit, best wishes for happiness and success in the New Year.


How Pina Coladas Made Me A Better Communicator


How Pina Coladas Made Me A Better Communicator

After spending most of my career in sales and marketing, I know the importance of being able to  communicate clearly. To do so, we need to know where the audience is coming so that we can effectively get the message across. That is, we must understand what is the audience looking for and why are they interested in what we have to say?

Effective communicators frame a message from the listener’s perspective in order to relate it to his or her needs. Sophisticated marketers use various techniques and tools to understand and properly target market but this form of empathy is not their exclusive domain. Anyone can improve public communications by taking the listener’s role and asking the simple question,  “What’s in it for me”.

I remember when I first realized that public communication is all about connecting with the audience. It happened in my senior year at the University of Miami.

In my final semester, I took a course in sales techniques. The capstone project of this course, which counted for half of the final grade, was a sales presentation in front of the class of 30 students. We could pick our own item to sell, then each of us would present it to our classmates, who would then review our performance and suggest a grade.

At the time I worked evenings at a printing shop and was planning to work in graphic arts after graduation. I figured, what better item to sell to the class since I was going into the field and already had some experience in it. I carefully selected printed samples and spoke with a salesperson, who gave me a number of pointers. After a couple weeks preparation, I put on my three-piece suit and headed out to sell printing to a class of college seniors.

I made it through the material without embarrassing myself but do remember that my classmates didn’t engage much and there were no questions at the end. Still, I was confident that the presentation was good and my grade would reflect that.

It didn’t. I got a “C” and the peer feedback was terrible. “Boring”,  “ZZZZ”, “didn’t understand it”, but the worst was “lose the cheap suit”.  I was disappointed and didn’t understand what went wrong.  But after some reflection, I realized that I was selling printing to an audience that didn’t understand it, didn’t need it and couldn’t relate to it.  The presentation was mediocre because the message didn’t fit the audience.

Fortunately, the professor allowed each student an opportunity to present again and possibly improve the grade. I signed right up but initially didn’t know what item an audience of college students would relate too. After looking around my apartment, I went into the kitchen and saw the blender. That’s it – I’ll pitch the blender, and to demonstrate what a great unit it is, I’ll make Pina Coladas for everyone

In the second presentation I intentionally started off slowly by describing the blender’s attributes, how well it chops up ice, it’s many speeds, etc. My audience was not very excited until I said “now we’ll demonstrate the capabilities of this wonderful machine”, then pulled out ice, juice and big bottle of rum. Then I made up several batches of pina coladas and distributed them to the excited class – all while keeping up a running dialog on the machine’s attributes. This brought all sorts of audience engagement, mostly classmates shouting to add “more” while I was pouring in the rum!

Now, this happened back when the drinking age was 18 so I doubt that a student could get away with it today. But, unlike my first presentation on printing, it was clear that the class was fully involved in this one and their feedback reflected it. Some of their comments included “Great job”, “Thanks for the drinks” and “Awesome”! I got an “A” for the presentation and for the course!

While plying your audience with alcoholic beverages is not usually an option, the takeaway here is that it’s always possible to craft your message to fit that audience.  When you do this well, the audience will let you know it. And when you don’t, they’ll let you know it too, especially when someone criticizes your favorite cheap suit.

Because of this sales class I learned this lesson early on, before even starting my career. And by applying the golden rule “know your audience” over the years, I’ve been able to build business with major Fortune 500 firms, some of which I continue to work with today.

For me, this rule is truly golden.

Why Print Still Matters In A Digital Age


Why Print Still Matters In A Digital Age

The rapid growth of digital marketing has led to speculation that print is no longer relevant. Technology is disrupting marketing communications and soon there will be no need for this older, analog medium. But, if history is a guide, this argument may be flawed. Continue Reading

A Fresh “Return” to Tactical Marketing


A Fresh “Return” to Tactical Marketing

ImpressionsDP is a brand new venture but it’s a return to basics for me.

I began my career in the graphic arts industry and have worked with some great companies and people on a variety of projects over the years. But time moves on and my beloved graphic arts industry changed dramatically as the old techniques gave way to digital design and image processing. Those who couldn’t adapt left the industry and those who remained needed to develop new skills and expertise. Since then, the industry has enjoyed a renaissance in capability and quality that is truly remarkable.

While this shift was happening it became clear that it was time to expand my horizons. Digital technologies have always fascinated me so was only natural to learn about the new channels that were displacing traditional print. Over the past decade, first at i3 Marketing then Mesa Integrated, I’ve had the opportunity to work extensively in a variety of these digital communications channels including web development, social media, SEO/SEM, email marketing and PPC advertising.

Recently I also learned how truly effective digital communications can be by earning a degree online through Penn State’s excellent iMBA program. With it’s focus on management and corporate strategy, the program underscored how effective communications, whether digital or traditional, must be aligned with overarching goals and objectives. While a seemingly common sense approach, it’s surprising how often this is not the case.

Communications often fail, not because the idea is flawed, but because no thought is given to execution or that implementation is not appropriate. The POS display that retailers refuse to put up, the brochure that cannot be distributed, the web site that captures no leads. The list goes on and on.

That’s why we’re creating a new kind of agency. ImpressionsDP is a tactical marketing agency understands communication strategy and how to effectively and efficiently implement it.

The best ideas are useless they’re put into action — ImpressionsDP knows how to get it done.