First Things First

By Dawn Lospaluto
In August 2, 2013

Marketing Plus CoverJudging has been underway this week for NAPL’s Marketing Plus Awards. I never cease to be amazed by the quality of the materials that are submitted for this competition. Exquisite examples of the printer’s art–offset, digital, letterpress–are showcased in the samples that come into our offices in the days preceding the contest deadline. There are plenty of “ohs” and “ahs” from staff members when each package or envelope is opened.

I’m not sure when the first printing competition was held, but I’m guessing it was not terribly long after the invention of the press itself, because the artistry of printing has been a hallmark of the craft for centuries. That artistry often begins with design, and the quality of printing has often gone hand in hand with the graphic designer’s ability to create images that give printers the opportunity to show off their abilities in the best light.

In years past, although many graphic designers won walls full of awards for their work, these award-winners were sometimes disparaged by their peers for designing just for design competitions, not for their clients. (Of course, some of those peers may just have wished that their clients gave them the same freedom of visual expression.)

Clever, cutting-edge work was recognized by award programs with absolutely no concern about whether the art work had pleased the customer as much as it had the designer and the contest judge. (Or whether the customer was happy with the look, but unhappy with the results?)

Judging visual quality is still important, but it is no longer the most important aspect of graphic design and printing. What counts now are the results of the work. That change was recognized by NAPL when it established its Marketing Plus Awards Program as one in which entries would not be judged primarily on their printing quality―although quality work must be present―but on their effectiveness as marketing pieces, i.e., on their results.

Marketing Plus entrants are asked to explain the “backstory” of their entry. What were the customer’s objectives when he came to the designer and printer? Why was a particular output medium, look, or approach selected? How was it effected in concrete terms? How was it distributed and how was the distribution method determined? And, finally, what were the results? Did it succeed or fail? Could that success be quantified? Was there a sufficient ROI on the client’s investment?

These are questions that set NAPL’s competition apart. And NAPL asks them because they are exactly the kinds of questions that our members’ clients are asking.

Unless customers are shopping strictly on the lowest price available, superior quality printing is expected on any job. As a result, customers are turning to today’s printers as much for communications and marketing advice as for help with printing. Yes, they want collateral to look good, but they also want it to complement and be an active, often a leading, participant in their entire marketing initiative. And they look to the printer to provide the printing AND marketing skills to make it happen.

Printers who develop their own promotional and marketing materials must be equally adept at making them a key element of a marketing campaign that is thought out and implemented on a well-conceived schedule, and whose results can be, and are, measured.

Campaigns that aren’t measured or measureable are like those T-Ball games where no one keeps score. There are no losers, but there are no winners either. Everyone plays, there’s a lot of running around, and plenty of dust is raised, but no one comes out on top. That may be fine for building pre-schoolers’ self-esteem, but it won’t build your business.

Plan your next marketing campaign so that it hits your right prospects with the right message in the right format. Make sure you build in opportunities to follow through on inquiries and leads. Then use what you learn not just to create an even better campaign for yourself in the future, but to offer your customers marketing services that have been tried, tested, and achieved success.

PS: Be sure to enter that successful campaign in the 2014 NAPL Marketing Plus Awards competition where your marketing expertise can gain further exposure and generate greater growth potential.

PPS: Check NAPL’s website in coming days for the names of the 2013 winners. Even better, why not plan to attend the 2013 Soderstrom Awards Dinner in Chicago on Sept. 7, where you can meet the top award winners and learn about their insights and experiences.

Dawn Lospaluto

Epicomm Senior Director of Communications, Dawn has been the editor of Epicomm 's "Bottom Line" magazine and its predecessor publications, "NAPL Business Review," Printing Manager," and "The Journal of Graphic Communications Management," for 20 years. She also writes and edits several Epicomm member print and electronic newsletters, including [Re]View, Management Bulletin, Highlights, and Discover; press releases; and various marketing materials; and oversees Epicomm 's book publishing program. Dawn previously served as corporate managing editor for Allied (now Honeywell) Corporation and as a reporter and editor for New Jersey's largest evening newspaper. She is a graduate of Douglass College (Rutgers University) and holds an M.A. degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she has served on the adjunct faculty.

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