Thursday, April 5, 2012

PRINT BUYERS: A Strategy for Getting What You Need!

“The quantity and the colors, that’s all I need…And the stock,…the quantity, the colors and the stock and that’s all I need!…and I need this, the page count…”

Do you remember the scene from the 1979 movie “The Jerk” starring Steve Martin as Navin R. Johnson, where he waddles out of his house, pants around his ankles, stating he doesn’t need anything…”not this or that”, but then one by one adds odd household items to his list of things he needs?   “I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray... And this paddle game. - The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need...And this remote control….” 

Well, if you have been in the print buying business for any length of time, you may have felt Navin R. Johnson’s pain while dealing with some of the people that give us specs at one time or another, or lack of specs, to be more precise. There have been quite a few times that I have been handed so little information and walked away feeling like Navin R. Johnson as I mumble to myself, “quantity, that’s all I need…and colors…quantity and colors, that’s all I need…and I need stock,…quantity, colors and stock and that’s all I need…and I need this…”

Inevitably, we all run across situations where we get little to no information, but are expected to generate bids or worse yet, get a job printed off of inadequate information.  Whether you deal with the client directly, an agency, designers, account or project managers, they all bring highly trained skills to the table, but sometimes lack the knowledge or experience to fully understand the needs of the Print Buyer.  In some cases, it may be the result of a longstanding culture within a given organization, making your task much more daunting.   And we all know that, for whomever your client is, internal or external and for whomever you receive your information from, YOUR CLOCK STARTS TICKING as soon as specs are handed off to you, incomplete, vague or otherwise!   A Print Buyer need to be able to effectively communicate what he or she needs to do their job effectively but more importantly, needs to draw upon their change management skills to ensure that those practices becomes SOP to get what you need, every time!

I often recount a reoccurring experience that I encountered a number of years ago in a previous position, where a Project Manager or Designer would storm into my office waving a loose comp and demanding a rush price and turnaround time from me.   I’d calmly ask the basic questions (qty, colors, size, finishing, etc), which would often be met with a frantically quizzical and frustrated look from the Project Manager or Designer.  “It’s blue, I need a price…it’s blue!” they’d exclaim, waving the comp that happened to have a blue background, back and forth as if so emphasizing would bring me clarity.  Since those days, “BLUE!” has become my tongue-in-cheek synonym to “very vague specs” in my vocabulary and within my inner Print Buying Circle.   One of my contemporary Print Buyers once told me of their similar story and stated that their tongue-in-cheek term they used for such situations was “Who’s on first?” referring to the old Abbott and Costello routine.    Similarly, while recently sharing my these stories to another colleague, he chuckled and relayed his all-to-familiar tales, even offering that he’d often jokingly respond to such demands by spouting off a random number, like “3” or  “7” to appease them.   (or tease them).

All joking aside, it is easy to look back at such scenarios as whimsical, but at the time, it is anything but whimsical for a Print Buyer who is seemingly always under the gun.  It is stressful, frustrating & time consuming for both parties and can lead to confrontation and an adversarial relationship.

So how do you deal with it?  (or do you just stress out and deal with it as ‘just the way it is’ in this industry?) How do you influence change to ensure that you receive complete and timely information?   How can you get what you need while creating a collaborative environment rather than creating turf barriers and resistance?    Well, if you have ever tried, whether successfully or not, you know it is not easy.   In fact, it is usually a long, arduous endeavor, measured in baby steps and small wins along the way. 

It takes patience, perseverance, commitment and at times, compromise.   It also takes partnership, collaboration and coaching.   It’s an art and it takes practice (and thick skin at times!)  In a way, you are rebranding yourself…and the rewards are worth the time &effort!  You can’t do it over night and you can’t do it without some research or without a game plan.  There are a few steps that, through my research and my own experience, I have found to be keys to a successful path.


There is an art in how to properly educate another professional without sounding standoffish and without coming off as trying to get a peer to do something they feel is not their job.   If not done correctly, it is easy to come off as someone who is a know-it-all, lazy, trying to pass the buck or someone who is just covering your butt.   The art is in communicating what you need from someone (information, expectations, etc) in such a way that shows the value to them while at the same time enabling you to do the best job possible for them…to make them look good by reaching and exceeding expectations in schedule, quality and budget! 

Every person has a different language or a different communication preference.   You need to listen to their language, know what is most important to them, know their buzz words and know their ‘hot’ buttons (good and bad).   Speak to them in their language whenever possible, using their buzz words.  Consciously or subconsciously, your words will resonate with them better, they will likely feel that you “get them!”   Remember, they are very busy as well and their immediate perception will likely be negative; i.e. that you are about to impose on their schedule, that you are being difficult.   You need to alter that perception as quickly as possible.  Think about your communication strategy beforehand, concentrating on setting the tone in the first sentence or two.    You want to quickly disarm any negative defense mechanism, so that you have a shot of them ‘hearing’ you.

There are many ways to accomplish this but you have to choose a strategy that will resonate best with the other person.   Some people are “cut to the chase” people so a long-winded opening will disconnect them right away and further solidify any negative perceptions and defenses.  Others may be insecure and untrusting, so calling immediate attention to what they didn’t give you or where they ‘failed’ will strengthen that defensive wall even further.   Knowing how to create positive engagements based on an individual or group’s persona will likewise create opportunities to affect positive change.

One of my important communication strategies include using ‘partnering’ language, such as “we” or “the team” which infers you are on their side, a project partner with them.  Another one, depending on the situation and the person, is to create the perception that they are doing you a favor and that you are indebted to them (for doing their job right, lol) which can be effective with some people.   I know that when someone comes to me, hat in hand, asking me to help them, I am more inclined to help them because of the satisfaction you get by helping someone and the bond, real or perceived, that results from such an interaction.   In short, you need to find the right tone and inflection to “help them help you!”  Finding the right strategy is key, especially when it results in “getting what you need!”   I firmly believe that true power and influence does not come from the authority inferred by your job title, but comes from your ability to connect and communicate with others in such a way that they willingly take action(s) that you desire from them! 

It is also vital that you know HOW they prefer to communicate.   If they don’t typically respond to email but respond to phone calls, then pick up the phone to talk to them.  At times, I found this difficult because in this business, documentation is key and I prefer email.  But I have learned that I can get the needed information via phone or in person easier if that’s what they prefer and still follow it up with a confirming email to document directions or decisions on projects, thus satisfying both goals.   A “Just to follow up, we decided to go with…” email may take a little additional time, but it’s a tremendous insurance policy when trying to reconstruct the project during a “Lessons Learned” session after a project’s completion. (Or if you are like me and just “need” to have everything documented, for your own piece of mind!)


You need to be able to identify then seize educational opportunities with passion and vigor!  You are a professional and you deserve to share your wisdom!  Again, using disarming (partnering) language is important to being effective and to ensure that you don’t come off as preachy or as a know-it-all.  Whether it is educating someone on a recommended finishing technique , on the production & cost impact of getting shipping information to you up front and especially on the benefits of supplying you with complete job information in a consistent manner, the trick is to educate them in such a way that they come away knowing they have learned something that will help them in the future.  You need to help them to “feel” the benefit!   Change comes easier when they feel they have learned something and especially when there is a benefit (for them), real or perceived!

I had a mentor who reveled in educating others and did it with the passion of a child showing his parents how his interactive science project worked for the first time!   His passion and excitement when teaching somebody something new was fresh and genuine.   He had an uncanny knack for immediately connecting his audience with new knowledge and the overall benefit of what he was teaching them.  Connecting “Knowledge & Benefit!”    It’s a model I have adopted and I have found success with, not only in printing, but in other aspects of my life, including at home with my kids and with my baseball coaching.  There is nothing like the look on someone’s face when you have given them an “Aha” moment!

Another benefit of taking this approach is that you will become a hot resource for others in the project chain and in your value chain.   If not already elevated, your respect level will increase and your input will not only be sought, but will be valued and respected.   So as much as you are providing a benefit to others through education, you are also creating multiple benefit streams for yourself.   One is that you will likely receive clearer, consistent information on projects from better educated resources while another is that your respect level and standing within your organization and/or value chain will increase.


Once that you understand the effective communication practices, you need to make sure that you have a well thought out plan for communicating your expectations.  Using effective communication skills such as the “partnering language” and leveraging the “knowledge and benefit” approach in your educational scenarios will especially help you when communicating your expectation.  In essence, you are about to tell others that “this is what I need from you” and the approach you choose may make or break your efforts.

Your communication plan not only needs to optimize effective communication methods for your audience, but the content needs to be as precise and thorough as possible and should be presented in an organized manner.    Whether you lay out your needs in steps or in one fell swoop, it will be important to be detailed, yet collaborative to be educational, yet convey the benefits.   Basically, you need to convey what you need, when you need it and how you need it, while also instilling in your audience, that there is great benefit to them; Even if it’s as simple as enabling you to do your job more effectively which, in turn, will ensure that the goals of the project are met or exceeded!

It is also important to communicate the implications of non-compliance up front as well.   For example, if you need to set a cut off for receiving proofs back from your client to ensure you can get them back to the printer in time to revise or put on press the following day, then you need to communicate that any proofs returned to you after the specific cut off time will not be able to be processed until the following day.   This is especially pertinent if you have printers that are a significant distance away and you need to send proofs to them via overnight express.   It’s easy to forget that even if the client hands off a proof to you at 5pm, in their head, they submitted the proof back that particular day and therefore may expect revised proofs or for the job to be on press by the next morning.  

Finally, whenever possible, I believe it is vital to come full circle and relay the story of success on a given project to them after it’s completion, including how their support (i.e. complete and timely information) was a key factor in the project’s success!   It will bring them a sense of satisfaction, which will act as reinforcement to the positive changes you are trying to influence.


You’ve laid the groundwork and enhanced your communication methods within your value chain, so now what?   Well, now you need to stay the course, be diligent & consistent.  Make sure you follow your own stated guidelines and don’t be afraid to throw out reminders when the situation allows.  For example, when a Project Manager approaches you for a rough schedule, then once you give them a ballpark turnaround time, you can always add a reinforcing statement.  As an example,  you might say, “when you provide me with complete specs and I have the job files in hand, I can give you a more accurate date of when the job will deliver.”   This serves as 2 indirect reminders.  First, it reminds the PM that the estimated turnaround date you gave them is a loosely based guess and second, it reminds the PM that you can give them more accurate feedback, the more complete and precise their information is to you…again, a nice reinforcement to the preferred behavior.

Besides being diligent about staying the course, you need to be vigilant about making sure everyone, including yourself, follows the roadmap.  When someone comes to you with incomplete information in a crunch, it’s all too easy to let them slide and just dig up the answers yourself.   That’s the “get it done” way,“ but it’s not necessarily the “right way” to do things.   All this does is serve as an enabler for others, keeping that door open a crack for continuing ‘bad’ behavior that you are trying to change.  Refuse to accept it!  Nicely, but push it back while using this as another educational opportunity to reinforce what you need, why you need it and what the benefit(s) is/are in regards to the overall success of the project.  

Like anything else that is new, whether it’s learning to ride a bike or whether it is learning new processes, it takes time to perfect.  When you are first learning to ride a bike, it takes both mental and physical effort to remember each step to riding.  We all stumbled along the way, maybe fell off here and there, but eventually, we all got to the point where we just jumped on and rode without nary a conscious thought to the steps it takes to ride.   So, too, is it true for processes.  People in your value chain will struggle to remember each step, what exactly you need and when they are supposed to give it to you.  They will stumble, as may you, but with diligence and vigilance, it will eventually become second nature just like riding a bike later became for all of us. 

Finally, you will have transformed yourself from someone that others may have initially been perceived as a bottleneck or even a stubborn stickler, to a valued resource to those around you.  A valued resource for information and a respected partner who ‘knows how to get things done’ effectively and accurately, while making your clients and all of the people in your value chain look good!   

The rewards will not only benefit your clients, they will also benefit you well beyond not having to chase down missing information.  The streamlined and efficient processes will afford you more time to add value to your team, your value chain.   Perhaps you leverage this to get involved with projects at the conceptual stage, influencing early production decisions earlier, rather than trying to deal with them at disk release.  Or perhaps you begin to engage more in budget discussions, leveraging your knowledge and resources to help your clients get more “bang for their buck.”   Bottom line?  You will have increased your organizational value and will have successfully executed a roadmap to get nearly everything you need to get the job done correctly.  Hmmm, perhaps you may even have plenty of time for paddleball…Navin R Johnson eat your heart out!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


So, you find yourself in the position of having to qualify Print Providers or maybe you just need help navigating the overwhelming volume of calls that you receive from printers that you don't currently use, who are looking to drum up some business.   To some, it is overwhelming, to others, it is annoying and to others, it is an opportunity...and that's the position I've always tried to take with great results.

If you take a little time to formulate your plan and you look at the situation as an opportunity, you will be amazed at the benefits.   Because this IS an opportunity.  An opportunity to expand your network, your resources and maybe even your communication horizons.   All without having to commit to any of the print providers who are seeking your attention.   For the most part, they are reaching out to find new contacts to try to jump start their portfolios, maybe due to the dip from the economy, maybe because of a seasonal dip or maybe because they are just trying to strengthen their customer base.  Whatever the reason, if you have a plan that lays out, in a direct and honest way, your print situation, expectations, current landscape & needs, then you are halfway home.


Pre-qualifying points:
You will need to formulate a plan that includes bullet points on company led initiatives, your current print environment & supplier situation as your first line to pre-qualify or disqualify potential suppliers.

- Company Led Initiatives include guidelines around hiring new suppliers such as diversity initiatives, volume discount policies or the need to use union printers for example.   Suppliers that don't meet these stipulations or restrictions, can not be pre-qualified as a potential vendor (under the current landscape.)

- Current Print Environment includes type of print you outsource, number of projects you typically outsource, volume trends (increase/decrease) and print trends (i.e. toward digital print, web, email, etc).  A supplier that doesn't meet your current/future needs and expectations in regards to their capabilities, can not pass the pre-qualification filter.

- Supplier Situation includes whether suppliers are in the middle of a contract, when the contracts are due to end and likelihood of rebidding, current supplier coverage, alignment or gaps for each type of work you outsource, as well as supplier trends (recent increase/decrease in supplier base).   A supplier that doesn't meet your current/future needs and expectations in regards to their capabilities, can not pass the pre-qualification filter.

You can use these areas as a filter to help you "pre-qualify" vendors right up front, especially if you initially concentrate on company initiatives or restrictions.   For example, at my last company, I was mandated to use Union Printers for all member collateral. Secondarily, there was a push to engage women and minority owned businesses for other work, whenever we needed to add a new supplier.   Using these two initiatives as a filter made it easy to pre-qualify suppliers even before I knew what equipment they had on their floor.   They appreciated the honesty and we both appreciated the time that was saved on both our ends.

For the printers that meet any of your company initiative filters,  you can then turn to the current print environment and supplier situation to further pre-qualify the supplier and/or communicate whether there is any current opportunity available to them.   Using this battle plan, you can quickly identify suppliers that may fill any gaps that you may have, identify mirror capabilities you already have covered by other suppliers or you can easily disqualify the supplier based on the company's current initiatives or print and vendor alignment situations.

Sales reps, wait, let me qualify this, most all sales reps will respect an honest approach, even if it means the door is currently not open to them with your company.  They'll likely appreciate it more than leading them on and ultimately wasting their time calling on you when you have no intention on bringing them into the fold at that time because of company initiatives or your current print & supplier climate and scenario.

Pre-Qualified, what next?  

If you happen to have a need for a supplier and they meet your pre-qualification filters, then great!  You are ready for the next step that includes site visits, pricing and expectation discussions, etc as well as to bring other areas of your company into the fold as needed, such as Procurement, Finance, marketing, etc.

But what happens if a supplier meets your pre-qualification filters but you just don't have room for them?  Well, be honest and tell them where they stack up against your guidelines and where they stand in regards to the current situation and scope.   Likewise, be honest and direct in communicating the prospect (or not) of bringing in new suppliers in the near future.  Think of it as a relationship, because that is what it ultimately is.   It's better to be honest than to get their hopes up by stringing them along and ultimately wasting everyone's time and thus, diminishing your credibility.  And have an open mind and keep the big picture in mind...NEVER SAY NEVER!

Never say Never!  

Another key part of your plan is to never say never.   What I mean by this is to never just abruptly close the door on a prospective supplier, whether they met your pre-qualification guidelines or not.  It is one thing to not need their services today because of initiatives or current print and supplier scenarios, but what happens if you suddenly lose a supplier, get a complex new project handed to you or need a specialty supplier that requires a new supplier and you don't remember the salesman or  company that called on you last year that could fill this need for you???  A great practice is to ALWAYS ask the sales rep to send you a package in the mail that includes 2 of their business cards, samples of work, equipment and capabilities list.   When it arrives, find some time to take a few minutes to flip through it.   Save one of the card in your rolodex, then file the package away so you can access it if and when you ever need it again.  Make sure you allot space in a file drawer or storage area to keep these packages, because they are worth their weight in gold when you can ride in to save the day by having such resources at your fingertips!   And it is also a good practice to tell the sales rep that you will keep their info on file and if anything changes in the future (with initiatives and situations), you will consider their services at that time.

A very valuable benefit of this practice is that you will also have a rolodex full of potential contacts, aka your network!   You never know what the future holds...whether it's a sudden need for a new supplier or whether your need to network for a friend or for yourself; you never know when your network may come in handy.   Believe me, it is gratifying when you get a call from someone who had called you 2 years previous and you flip to their business card and ask if they are still at ABC company or when they left ABC company.   They'll be appreciative that you even remembered a 2 minute call from 2 years ago.  Again, don't underestimate your network and contacts, especially in the seemingly small graphic arts world!

Pushy? Be firm and be fair!
Occasionally you will get a pushy rep who demands to meet with you or who demands to go higher in the chain of command.   You need to be firm and you need to be fair.   You need to communicate that your time and your team's time is very valuable, as is the sales reps and that if any of the parameters change, you will gladly consider taking a closer look at the services he is offering, (as professionally as possible).   I have even communicated to the really really pushy rep, that out of fairness, I would honestly need to make time to meet with every (otherwise) pre-qualified vendor if I broke rank and agreed to meet with him/her and there just isn't enough time in a day or week to do so.   You are being fair to you, your team, your company and the sales rep.  If you have a semi-open mind then you are not passing up the deal of the century, so stick to your guns and politely, but firmly address the request.


  • Make sure you take the time to have a pre-qualification plan in place to deal with potential suppliers.
    •  Have a subsequent communication plan in place that is honest, firm and fair that lets the supplier know where they stand against your guidelines, the prospects of doing business with you today and what steps you would take if/when the situation changes and a need arises for their services.   
  • Never close the door completely, ALWAYS ask for the supplier to send you a package that includes 2 business cards, samples and an equipment/capabilities list and close by letting the supplier know that you will keep the info on file in order to contact them if the situation changes and their services are warranted.  
  • File one business card in your rolodex for easy retrieval and to boost your contact network
  • File the supplier's marketing package away for easy retrieval should the need arise
  • Be honest, firm and fair and you will build a healthy and respectful persona for yourself along with a potentially strong network of contacts

I believe that you will build a solid and respectful reputation in the industry using this strategy, even from those who you never do business with.   I have had some of the most interesting and educational conversations with supplier sales reps that I have never done business with, largely because of the mutual respect level that has been forged over the years.   To wit, I recently received an unsolicited recommendation for a job that I interviewed for from someone that I never personally met, but I had dealings with on a peripheral level when their company called on me a number of years ago.   A company I did not do business with, in fact.  One couldn't ask for a better compliment than that!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Due to the dramatic down turn in the economy over the last couple of years along with the emergence and adoption of electronic medias, like email, mobile, social networking, podcasting and web self-service, the traditional print buyer role, and print industry in general, is undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis. Since there is a growing, vast array of newer communication channels, with no defined roles or job titles associated with deployment, the role of the traditional print buyer has transitioned to include the understanding and deploying of all of the communication channels.

To date (2010) the terminology has yet to catch up with the industry, though the transformation of such terms as "publishing" (from meaning the printing of books & literature to meaning the deployment of communications (i.e. publish to the web), has helped to spark the transformation of a universally accepted terminology that reflects the new communication technologies, processes and the industry, in general. To wit, W2P used to be known solely as Web-to-Print but is now widely accepted to mean Web-to-Publish, as one example.

Graphic arts and print associations, such as Print Buyers International, are in the process of rebranding in an effort to move this transformation forward, to reflect the new generation of roles and responsibilities of the traditional print production specialist or buyer. Similarly, I positioned myself as the "Multi Channel Publishing Manager" at my last company, to reflect the role and responsibilities that my staff was undertaking over the last 3+ years.

Though the "Print Buyer" is assuming these new roles and responsibilities across the U.S., there is a strong likelihood that the "print buyer" terminology may soon become obsolete, once the communications industry adopts more relevant terminology that appropriately reflects the duties of today's Print Buyer!

My suggestion to Print Buyers??? Make sure you have learned the nuances of the emerging channels, just as well as you have mastered the nuances of print, then start branding yourself as a "Multi Channel Publishing" specialist! It's time to align the diverse skills and expertise of today's Print Buyer/Multi Channel Publishing guru, with an appropriately reflective title to help move the transformation along even even further...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


by Jim Derochea - Marketing Communications, Solutions, Multi Channel Guru

In the spirit of the great, Mark Twain, who once lamented, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated," so too are reports of Print being dead! Print has been evolving and will continue to do so, as the pieces of the marketing/communication pie continuously shift and new channel technologies continue to appear.

We are in an exciting era, given the explosion of communication technology, the likes that man has never witnessed, that seems to change the game nearly every day. Whether it's new G4 mobile technology & endless stream of apps, Automated Marketing Tools, Cloud Computing or exciting cutting edge game changers like Pranav Mistry's "Sixth Sense" that could render desktop computing obsolete as we know it, the landscape is perpetually changing. Print still plays a large part of the mix and will continue to do so, quite likely in different and possibly unique ways, compared to the past.

Traditional print will remain prominent in packaging, signage, business cards, etc., but many other areas such as marketing, advertising, direct mail, etc., will continue to evolve. For example, direct marketing mailings have evolved from mass mailings, to a hybrid of targeted communications via print and electronic delivery, reducing the print volume while reducing costs & increasing marketing impact. Though reduced, print is still part of today's mix.

Another example of how print is evolving, is the use of relevant printed communication to drive an electronic interaction, i.e. drive a consumer to a relevant website or email destination, that begins a 2-way dialogue and can be measured for future relevancy. And further, the same tact can be used to "tickle" additional information. Rather than mail a printed, multi-page brochure that is getting more expensive to mail, a marketer may instead print and mail a piece that includes the most impactful highlights or benefits, with a focus on driving the consumer to a particular website should they want/need the detailed information. This communication cycle might also include the option for the consumer to order or print out the material, should they want a printed version, but either way, it reduces the volume & overall yearly costs for the actual brochure, while still getting the access to that information into the consumer's hands. Again, a different way print is being leveraged in today's electronic communication revolution.

It is impossible to predict what evolved role(s) Print will have in the world, 5 or 10 years from now, due to the continued emergence of exciting new communication channels. So, it is not a question of whether Print will survive, but a question of how Print will evolve within the marketing mix.

I will finish this blog article just as I started, with a very relevant quote from Mark Twain, which happens to be on the subject of Print, "The printer's art, which is the noblest and most puissant of all arts, and destined in the ages to come to promote the others and preserve them."
~ Mark Twain

Monday, August 10, 2009


by Jim Derochea - Marketing Communications, Solutions, Multi Channel Guru

What's in a name? What's in a title? A lot, if you are in the communications world today, especially if you have anything or had anything to do with printing. For instance, today, "Web" is more than just a kind of roll fed press and "Channels" aren't just for TV anymore while Publish" means much more than what an author aspires to have done with their writings. Case in point, I recently touched upon how the "Publishing" term has evolved and become acceptable as a replacement for the word "print" in several acronyms. Originally viewed as print only applications, it has recently become acceptable to view the terms "W2P" as Web-to-Publish and "VDP" as Variable Data Publishing, to accommodate the inclusion of digital channels. But, in some cases, the industry terminology and "phraseology," is lacking and has not kept up with the changes in the technology & trending landscape that seems to be occurring at a rate equal to the speed of light! Unfortunately, this has led to confusion & misperceptions and can spell pain for those involved.

Lets look at the "Print Buying" industry, for example. Over the last year or two, there have been many changes in the print buying community. Having managed a team of Print Buyers for a number of years, I personally saw a dramatic transformation of the scope and responsibilities for print buyers. Not only does the term, "Print Buyer" no longer accurately describe what many of these professionals do, but, the term has suddenly gone out of vogue as well, as companies look to add newer channels to compliment the print channel. The term, "Print Buyer" or the term "Printer" for that matter, no longer fits, since both the Print Buyer and many commercial Printers have incorporated cutting edge channel technology into their repertoire. Let me back up a minute, to give this subject a little context.

Lets go back in time a bit, to mid-2006 to be exact, when I was in the midst of conducting some personal research into emerging communication technologies and trends. I have always had a strong fascination with technology & trends; "emerging" technology & trends to be precise. No matter what area, what application, I have always loved to learn about new breakthroughs in technology, often picturing if/how it might affect my life or imagining how I could leverage it differently for a different application or how I could leverage a new technology in my work life.

Anyway, around this same time, in 2006, I was challenged to look at the roles & responsibilities of the Print Buyers I managed, to assess whether they could be doing anything differently. The wheels started spinning. I thought about the influx of recent & emerging communication technologies that I had been educating myself on, while also pondering my team's deployment of the millions of collateral touch-points to our customers each year, printed touch-points.

Then, BOOM!!! That's when I was hit with an epiphany, of sorts. A realization regarding the future roles & responsibilities of my team of print buyers, maybe all the print buyers, for that matter. I rationalized that, going forward, we would still need all of those many touch-points to the customers each year, but I deduced that those touch-points could eventually be deployed in diverse ways; deployed through more efficient means via digital channels such as email, web portals, W2P, SMS, etc. The signs were there, but no one (in the organization) had looked that far ahead yet.

In my opinion, this revelation meant that Print Buyers needed to evolve or risk possible career obsolescence in the near future. This became the foundation for my "3-5 year Vision" for the Print Buyers, that included a proactive road map for our "Print Buyers" to follow. A road map that included a training and education schedule, a resource list and a timeline for completion, to help prepare them for the transition into a new, multi channel role.

Looking for validation, I shared this vision with several industry leaders, including Margie Dana, founder of the PRINT BUYERS INTERNATIONAL, who just happens to have great relationships with many of the industry giants. Margie's own research validated the same theory as well, which served to deepen the motivation of my my team. Margie has spoken on this topic in the last 2 years, at numerous graphic arts conferences across the country. In fact, the theme of the Print Buyers International's 2009 Conference, RELEVANCE THROUGH REINVENTION, focuses on that very topic! (The conference is slated for November 3-5, 2009. For more information, you can go to )

Margie Dana and I have had several discussions over that time and agree that the Print Buyer terminology needs to be re-branded to reflect the actual role & expertise of today's buyer. But the industry has yet to come to a consensus on such terms. "So," you ask, "what's the problem?" Well, many Print Buyers have taken up the challenge over the last year or two and educated themselves on the new, emerging technologies. They have sought to understand the concepts and terminologies of the various channels, to become experts, so that they can feel as comfortable deploying an email campaign as they do deploying a print campaign. In the end, the concepts and the skills needed to deliver quality results for any channel are essentially the same, but, in many cases, the "print buyers" have yet to be recognized in their organizations, as multi-media experts.

Maybe its misperceptions around the "print" aspect of their title or maybe its due to the fact that the industry is in flux due to the speed at which the technology has emerged, without definitive standards, roles and responsibilities being truly defined yet. Or maybe, it is both, with the use of the word "print" in the Print Buyer's title itself, creating a mental barrier for decision makers, who still have the perception that a Print Buyer 'only knows print' which ultimately has stagnated role and responsibility consensus around deployment of multi channel communications.

So, what kind of name change will emerge to supplant the "Print Buyer" term? Media Buyer? Multi Channel Buyer? Channel Communications Buyer? Multi Media Buyers????? Without consensus, I fear many current Print Buyers will be pigeon-holed because of the apparent perception that they are only experts in print that is still out there. Hopefully, events like PBI's 2009 Print Buyers Conference will help to build momentum and exposure for today's Print Buyers, who still hold the key for a smooth transition and adoption of multi channel practices for many organizations. Somehow, a fresher, accepted terminology must catch up to the actual technology and associated practices and roles. And in the case of the "Print Buyer," not only a change in terminology, but a global understanding of their new expertise and new role in today's multiple channel environment!

You can weigh in right now! Click here to go to my poll!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


by Jim Derochea - Marketing Communications, Solutions, Multi Channel Guru

When buying an acquisition list, do you ask whether the list includes communication channel preferences of the individuals on the list? Or have you polled your own customer base about how they prefer their communications delivered, which channels they prefer? I am amazed at how many companies still don't ask. I am likewise amazed at how many companies that do ask, only ask their customers in broad terms, lumping all communication into one bucket and then are surprised when they still don't get any increased activity or ROI.

It is a step forward, obviously, to ask for your customer's communication channel preference, but if your company sends your customers communication information across different content types, such as benefits, rewards, legislative, account data, general info and billing, to name a few, then you are not asking the right questions. At the very basic level, you need to be asking them which channel they prefer for each type of communication that your company sends them.

In my opinion, if a company asks for just one global communication preference even though they send out communication information across different content types, then they are far more likely to have a low opt-in rate for other channels from their customers. Studies show that many people still don't fully trust the internet for distributing certain kinds of personal information, such as personal benefit info, financial info or other highly personal information, so given the option of just choosing one channel, the fear of their personal info getting compromised will win out. Therefore, many customers will choose to just stay with conventional print/mail channel, to assure that their info stays secure.

On the other hand, if you ask them which channel of communication they prefer for each type of communication that you send them, then you are far more likely to get your customers to opt-in to their preferred channel for each of those types of communication. Depending on your customer demographics and your own company's objectives & ambition, you may even choose to dig deeper by asking for such information as your customer's language preferences for each channel and communication type to deepen the connection with the customer. In either case, the customer is far more likely to be more engaged with your company, because they are much more likely to actually read it, because they are receiving information how they prefer to receive it.

To illustrate the point about using other' preferred communication channel, , I heard this anecdote from Dr. Charles Dwyer during one of his insightful "Power & Influence" seminars. In essence, his story referred to a Manager who was having trouble getting a response from a key client regarding some critical information that the Manager needed to meet a project deadline.
The Manager went to the Director, to alert him of the issue and the unlikelihood of making the deadline. The Manager relayed that she had left several voice mails and emails over several days, but had yet to receive a response. The Director asked the Manager how this client usually communicated with them, to which the Manager noted, was via fax. The Director then urged the Manager to send a fax to the client to request the information. Within 15 minutes the Manager had the key information in hand, from the client. Why? Because the Director knew that the best means to communicate, engage or influence someone, was usually through the means that they preferred to use. Just as that Manager's emails and voice mails were a waste of energy and diminished the chance of her reaching her project goal, likewise is it a waste of time, money and resources to send your constituents information in the wrong communication channel. But unless you know for sure, then you are throwing darts in the dark when you choose the communication channel for them. Every so often your dart hits the target andsometimes you put a hole in those new jeans hanging over the dresser that's 5 feet to the right of that dart board, but more often than not, the dart sticks to nothing.

Having your customers choose to opt-in to their communication channel preferences will likely create opportunities to lower your communication costs (via electronic delivery channels vs. print/mail channels). You may then choose to leverage some of those savings to incorporate more relevance and actionable content into some of some of your customer touch points to make them more impactful and engaging. Not only could your hard costs to deliver your various planned messages decrease, but, the overall engagement level, ROI and retention levels should all see favorable, if not dramatic improvement, which we all know, positively affects the bottom line and helps to create a more enhanced long-term relationships with the customer.

So next time you ask your customer if they want, "Coffee, Tea or Milk?" make sure you ask them, "Cup, Glass or Thermos?"

Monday, July 27, 2009


by Jim Derochea - Marketing Communications, Solutions, Multi Channel Guru

How many of you went through, or are going through, the pain of trying to manage multiple W2P tools for your constituents that were developed by multiple solution providers? The old W2P model went out of vogue before many of us even realized it and for some, it's been a nightmare trying to recover. Where was W2P 2.0 when we needed it???

For a little anecdote, lets go back in time to 2004-2005...
After a number of years of advocating for the adoption of Web-to-Publish solutions within the MarComm Department that I worked for at the time, in hopes of streamlining many of our repetitive "down and dirty" jobs and campaigns, there was finally a breakthrough. The company gave the thumbs-up to adopt W2P technology and we immediately started brainstorming. After collaborating with other MarComm leaders on a list of potential W2P tools that included many constituent-facing, self-service W2P solutions, I quickly deduced that the 2004 W2P landscape was outdated for our needs. To me W2P was a distinct channel, just like email or print and thus, needed to be addressed as such, as opposed to addressing it as many individual solutions.

For many years, the Printers provided the W2P services that gave the users a quick way to order materials. It was simple, providing a simple branded interface to order stationery, for example. It made sense for the Printer, because it drove print and it made sense for customers, because it streamlined the ordering process and helped to control costs. But our needs were exponential and I immediately raised the red flag!

I looked at the potential individual W2P needs that were now on my plate. Our constituents, both internal & external, were very unique and needed access to specific assets & needed unique functionality from all other constituents. The prevailing suggestion at the time was to seek out an optimal vendor/solution for each constituent's needs and build a unique W2P Self-Service tool for each. But this would not streamline anything...Some of the W2P providers only provided print output, while others provided the ability to produce static electronic assets only, while others could provide variable assets electronically, but didn't cross over to the print side well or vice-versa. Some offered canned solutions that met a specific need perfectly, while others provided Developers to customize the solution to suit our needs. I acknowledged that this would provide us with a robust, perfectly molded solution for each of our W2P projects, but would be very costly and would lead to severe "unintended consequences" down the road if we chose to use different solution providers to build the array of W2P tools for us. Unintended consequences such as having little to no integration between W2P solutions or little chance of leveraging one W2P solution for another constituent's solution later on or individual solutions not offering scalability for us as our business needs expanded. Since we did not have an Digital Asset Library, we also had no logical way to "feed" each W2P tool with the most current assets, except to try to manage it manually, which would have been a full-time, major undertaking in itself. And simplistically, I could foresee some poor Sales Executive, a Broker of ours or an inside Customer Service associate having to remember many different website addresses and having to log on to each site separately, to conduct their business. As much as the W2P technology was the best answer to solve each individual constituent's 'problem', the summate of the solutions was poised to create far more problems than they solved.

So, I sought out industry experts, many of who seemed as perplexed as I was at the time. As gratifying as it was to get their acknowledgement for being such a forward-thinker, it didn't net me any substantial leads. I eventually drew up a couple of proposals to try to avoid going down a path of unintended consequences.

The first proposal would only be a cosmetic band-aid to help our constituents navigate the various W2P solutions which involved the building of a permissions based, branded portal that would simply be a 'warehouse' of our individual W2P tools.
Users would be given access only to the W2P solutions that they had permission to utilize and the rest of them would be suppressed. But it lacked full integration, especially to share assets and to compile aggregate reporting data. The second was more daring and involved the same permission based branded portal idea, combined with the building and implementation of a robust DAM system to "feed" the various W2P tools as well as a rules based reporting filter that compiled the W2P data from each tool, into a master file.

Unfortunately, economics and timing ruled and neither proposal saw the light of day, but it raised my awareness that the W2P model of yesterday needed to change and change rapidly. The days of offering only specialized W2P solutions was quickly reaching it's end. Companies needed W2P solutions that not only streamlined & managed their print and inventories, but they needed Web-based (W2P) tools to allow access to specific assets and functionality to various internal and external constituents across multiple channels and they needed it all integrated.
Back then, we needed Web-to-Publish 2.0!!! (notice I use the word "publish" because the use of W2P technology transcends print and encompasses the deployment of both print and electronic assets these days!)

Today, 5 years later, more and more solution providers are offering W2P solutions that are fully or nearly fully integrated, so though it may take some digging, there are integrated W2P solutions out there. Some now call them W2P 2.0 solutions. Many of the EMM or MCM Suites now have this capability as well, so if you are also looking to integrate campaign management, deployment across channels, robust reporting, CRM, etc, as well as to integrate your W2P tools, then one of these solutions are worth a look!

So, if you have not taken a look at your W2P plans in terms of future scalability and integration, maybe now is a good time to do so. Proposing a plan to the right leaders during these fragile economic times, that will truly make your organization more efficient, agile, integrated and intelligent, surely can't hurt your relevance to the organization!
Go Web 2.0! :-)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


by Jim Derochea - Marketing Communications, Solutions, Multi Channel Guru

Well, the term “Web-to-Print” (W2P) certainly seems to be outdated, though the technology is here to stay, in one form or another. It is a similar dilemma that “Print Buyers” and related fields and associations have been faced with over the last several years. Attempts to re-brand themselves with a more apropos moniker over the last several years to better reflect the inclusion of multiple communication channels have not proven fruitful…yet. In fact, I know of many “Print Buyers” who, despite having re-invented themselves as gurus of Multi Channel deployment, have been displaced during economic downsizing in large part because of the stigma attached to the word “Print” in their job title and the need for these companies to seek less expensive forms of communicating. Ironic! But that’s a story for another day.

As for W2P, I have been referring to the acronym, W2P as WEB-TO-PUBLISH, the last several years, just as I have referred to VDP as VARIABLE DATA PUBLISHING, rather than Variable Data Printing. I believe that the term, “publishing” has evolved and has been accepted in the industry, to now encompass most types of deployment, including deploying email, posting to web as well as print.

Of course, there are still many otherwise knowledgeable communication specialists and leaders out there who get confused when someone suggests W2P as a solution to provide their constituents with access to digital content/information because they still think of W2P and VDP as “Print” solutions only.

So, its up to all of us to spread the word, because WEB-TO-PUBLISH tools are only going to become more prevalent in this economic climate of fiscal awareness, along with the current pressure for companies to Go Green!

Jim Derochea

Friday, July 10, 2009


by Jim Derochea - Marketing Communications, Solutions, Multi Channel Guru

I was recently asked, “why hasn't highly relevant communications become more prevalent in the marketplace?” There is no single answer, but, instead, intertwined obstacles that have stymied universal adoption. However, help may be on the way...

In my opinion, there are two main roadblocks to mainstreamed adoption of highly relevant communications. One of the biggest factors is still overall cost or perceived cost to produce highly relevant communications compared to traditional communications, particularly given the economic state that we have been in over the last several years.

The other factor is the shortage of skilled VDP (Variable Data Publishing) Marketing Specialists who truly understand that true relevancy usually needs to be transparent to the receiver, otherwise, it tends to come of as gimmicky, intrusive or even uninteresting and irrelevant. This shortage of talent also comes into play as a factor in cost, because companies either have to pay to secure this expertise through a 3rd party or they must be able to justify the cost to hire their own full-time expert, while creating enough demand to justify their position. Ultimately, cost seems to be the overriding factor, with the talent/expertise issue being a main component of overall cost, but at the same time, is an important issue unto itself. Understanding these two roadblocks and dealing with them separately is not always easy, but companies need to address and conquer both of these issues, in order to begin to transform their communications into more impactful, highly relevant conversations with their constituents, across multiple channels.


The cost to buy, mine and manage data, even the company's own data, is one cost factor, especially for companies that have not invested in strong, integrated enterprise data technology solutions. Besides those obvious costs surrounding data, there are other significant pieces of the puzzle that affect the costs per communication that are paramount to successful personalization. One of these major pieces of the puzzle revolve around the depth & quality and the subsequent analysis of that data to determine what data elements to use & how to use them for the best "impact" with their constituents. As previously noted, a company has to either pay for a third party (agency?) to do this for them or hire highly competent associate(s) to accomplish this. It may be cost prohibitive for a company to hire a staff for this function, if the company does not plan to continuously pump out relevant communications. I feel that, to be effective, companies need to commit to making relevant communications a part of their communication fabric. If done correctly, it should be neither cost prohibitive or labor intensive. Au contraire, if done correctly, it should reap a high ROI and should create efficiencies across the board.

The "perceived" cost per piece for printed personalized communications is also a factor, especially in cases where Marketing Directors and/or Finance Directors don't understand the overall potential effectiveness (ROI) of such campaigns versus traditional static print. This may also be true when they don't have first-hand experience with actual campaigns and campaign results or don't believe that "relevance" will make a difference to their constituents. To this point, I witnessed several Marketing Directors and VP's several years ago at a highly respected personalization conference, discussing how they weren't using personalization because the cost per piece was too high and they couldn't sell it to their Finance Leaders. They did not know how to accurately communicate the costs/ROI benefits of targeted, relevant communications versus a one-size-fits-all mass communications model and therefore had little chance of getting buy-in from their Finance Leaders. I believe the needle has moved slightly since then, through education and cultural acceptance, but there still is much work to be done.

On the upside, I do think that the trend towards electronic communications such as email and the internet, has taken a slight chunk out of the cost issue, since it is theoretically less expensive to send a personalized E-Communication via email or a personal web portal, than to send a personalized printed communication. This has opened the door for many Marketers to adopt relevancy in their E-Communications, though the economy has still likely caused many companies to hesitate in adopting such practices.


Based on industry researchers and based on my experiences and research, it seems that there is not enough consistent, in-depth analytics of data being applied to relevant communications in the marketplace. This could be due to a shortage of the analytic gurus who understand how to effectively use data to hit the communication mark by eliciting specific "emotional connections & actions" from consumers through effective relevancy and messaging. It could also be because many companies still don't fully understand this concept of effective, transparent relevancy and opt for gimmicky interchangeable imagery and personal content or may just be that this concept is still so very new and companies are trying to learn as they go.

We all have seen numerous cases of personalized communications over the last several years. Some really bad, some eye-catching & some even relevant. But the best communications are usually the ones we may not immediately identify as a personalized communications. The content and message is based on personal preferences and other personal data, but is not obvious or intrusive. Several years ago, I attended a VDP workshop, where the instructor gave an exquisite example of such a campaign. I have changed the concept details slightly and left out some detailed information, as to not infringe on the company copyrights or to come off as an advertisement for them.

  • EXAMPLE: Effective & transparent use of relevancy

The instructor's son was all excited and came to his father to ask him to sign him up for a particular roadside service. Wondering what got his son all excited, the instructor asked his son why the sudden urgency and excitement to sign up for such a service. The son reached into his back pocket and pulled out a postcard he had received in the mail from this roadside service company. At first glance, it looked benign, with the only apparent personal information being in the form of the standard name & address in the mailing area. The son excitedly began to tell his father about the service. "It says," the son started, "Have you ever broken down and had to have your vehicle towed? Dad, I was just towed, like 2 weeks ago!" The son went on reading the postcard, "Even if you only were towed 15 or 20 miles, it could cost you up to $100 for towing service." The son then explained how he got towed to a repair station, 18 miles from where he broke down and it cost him $90 in towing fees. The ad went on to highlight how he would never have to pay for towing again, if he was a member of their roadside service. The son exclaimed, "If only I received this a couple of weeks ago and became a member, I wouldn't have had to use my meal money for school to pay for the tow!"

Being somewhat of a VDP guru, the instructor suspiciously took the postcard and after a few phone calls, determined that this was NOT a coincidence that his son got this postcard, but it was actually a very transparent, yet effective use of personal data that had been recently collected. He found out that this particular roadside service company had partnered with numerous towing companies in a specific region of their state. They asked the participating tow companies to collect and send them the basic information of any non-members on a weekly basis, that they had to tow, along with date of tow, miles towed and total cost of the tow. To the casual recipient, it appeared to be a timely coincidence that they received this postcard fresh off the nightmare of being towed, when in fact it was a succinct, effective and transparent use of relevant data. It also highlighted that you don’t necessarily need a ton of data, just the right data that is relevant to your message and the action you are trying to influence from your constituents.

  • CONCLUSION: Help is on the way…

So, how will we get there? How will we get to the point where the use of use of relevancy in communications is commonplace? I believe that there is a perfect storm brewing for enabling technology and solution providers to flourish as we move out from under the dark economic cloud. As companies regain their footing and regain their confidence in the economy, they will be looking to make investments in technology that will empower them to create & deliver more impactful, relevant messages while streamlining their communication processes and allowing them, as marketers, to be much more efficient and agile.

There are already many such enabling technology solutions out there offered by companies like InterlinkOne, Neolane, CGX, PPI Solutions, Unica, TFC and Aprimo to name a few. These companies offer robust Multi Channel Marketing Suites or Enterprise Marketing Management Suites that include all of the marketing tools needed to easily develop, deploy and measure relevant communications and campaigns across all channels, including incorporating variability to any communication. Most of these companies offer solutions that integrate a Digital Asset Library, Rules Engine, Marketing Mart Database and Reporting Analytics to help companies produce & manage all Communications and Campaigns (Campaign Management) that can be deployed across Multiple Channels. Creating once, using often, across any channel while having the ability to report and analyze the effectiveness of communications so that the data can then be used to influence future communications. Imagine doing what you do today, communication-wise, but with the ability to do it more efficiently and with much more impact, speed and relevance. Once adopted, Marketers will quickly realize how simple, yet powerful, these technology solutions are and how cost effectively they can produce, track & analyze robust communications and campaigns.

The time is right, it’s the perfect storm, for companies to partner with or adopt these enabling technology solutions as the economy begins to recover. Then, we will begin to see a wave of innovative, highly relevant communications, that will soon become more and more prevalent in the communication world.

Jim Derochea