Thursday, July 28, 2011

What's in a name? That which we call a company by any other name can be just as successful, right?

An interesting discussion popped up on a LinkedIn group a few days ago: “What do you think of the moniker “Marketing Services Provider” to describe printing companies?” I thought, sure, this will be an interesting discussion. I read through it, taking notes along the way since Old Trail Printing is, like most printers, considering making the jump from PSP to MSP. I then opened the Printing Industries of America's July edition of The Magazine. Guess what one of the articles was about. That's right- “The Transition from PSP to a C-MMSP Takes Hold”. Ok, so clearly this is an important transition that is happening, and NOW. There were two more blogs from May I remembered reading concerning the same topic and pulled them out of my archived article list for review. A trend began to emerge... one that altered the way I felt about the term “Marketing Service Provider” and also my thoughts on the transition of becoming one. The term “Marketing Service Provider” is 1) an industry term 2) undefined and 3) controversial. These three characteristics combine to create one interesting “problem” for those of us considering calling ourselves MSPs. And the problem is just that: whether or not we should and should want to call ourselves MSPs.

Let's address each issue individually:

1) MSP is an industry term. One point raised by Chuck Gehman in the LinkedIn discussion is that “No CUSTOMER ever says, 'I need a marketing service provider to help me with...'.” He also explains that this is the biggest problem printers have when considering the transition from PSP to MSP. This is true. Customers of printers would not say something like that; only printers would think in those terms. Customers might say, “I need a printer who can offer assistance with a trans-media campaign.” Why, then, is the term MSP being thrown around like it is a part of everyday conversations? It is not- I had only heard it once or twice before I entered the printing industry, and only in passing, concerning the printing industry...

Now, the question is: what do customers call MSPs? Is there a different term that they use within the marketing departments of retail companies, hospitals, small businesses, b2b businesses and b2c businesses, etc? Shouldn't printers making the transition to trans-media services be gearing their re-branding towards their customers and what they would recognize rather than a term primarily known, but still undefined, within the industry?

This takes us to problem number...

2) MSP is an undefined qualification. Obviously a definition does exist for “marketing service provider”, however, with a changing industry, definitions are altered and adjusted to fit what we are doing rather than creating unique terms to define our capabilities and services. One term I really like, which I used earlier and is from Gehman, is “trans-media service provider”. This seems to better cover the possibilities of services printers are beginning to offer. Yes, most services are marketing-focused, but the ability to offer marketing services across a wide variety of outlets is what printers are beginning to do... not just provide marketing services. There is an additional dimension to MSP that is being left out, causing the definition to be insufficient and altered to the point of causing serious confusion and disagreement... essentially causing...

3) Controversy. I don't mean people are going crazy over the topic and actually fighting, but based on the amount of group discussions occurring and magazine features and blogs written about the topic, I would say that this has a lot more than a few people riled up and anxious to “defend” their decision to call themselves MSPs. The fact that there is even such a debate going on makes it clear that the term is faulty in even more ways than addressed here. Obviously the industry is aware of the need to grow and eager to get advice on how to do it, successfully, but it seems it is the industry itself that is divided, or at least confused, on the “direction” it has chosen. I am sure the inventor of the term “hamburger” was hesitant at first, given the burger was made from beef, not a pig, but it clearly worked out. If the title, or in this case, the moniker, does not fit the job then failure is imminent- not to say there are not plenty of companies out there who have been successful at making the transition under the “MSP” moniker- but the wrong term alone can cause failure (think about the Ugli fruit- do you really want to buy it).

So, clearly there are hits and misses out there. Personally, I think “MSP” might be more of a miss than a hit when it comes to describing where the printing industry is going as far as services and capabilities. What I say, which can be taken at a dime's worth, is that printing companies stop trying to fit into a pre-defined mold of “where they should be” as far as services offered, etc. and adopt a unique, fluid term that describes, easily and without confusion, what their company can do. It might even prevent the closure of those companies who insist on making the transition; a simple re-identification could direct their efforts better without creating the problem of undefinable, unmeasurable successes and failures. Perhaps “Trans-Media Service Provider” will catch on... it is, after all, a rather accurate term for where we are headed.

 Written by Julianne Kaercher, Social Media/Marketing Assistant

It is always the title that is the most difficult write, but it defines the entire direction of the paper.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Integrating Digital with Offset Workflow Proves a Difficult Task

Trends are constantly changing and improving the printing industry and it is up to the company to be aware of these changes, integrate them into daily workflow and increase efficiency, as expected by the addition of such practices. But when does the addition of new work processes begin to hinder the business? At Old Trail Printing, we have been struggling with this line of thinking and know many other companies out there are too. No doubt about it, printers need to embrace the new digital era, and fast, but to what extent?

The major challenge at our plant has not been obtaining, training, and using digital machines. Nor has it been training employees about the use of digital information to regulate and increase work efficiency and maintain a standard of quality. The most challenging aspect of integrating the new digital side of print with the old offset side of print is actually changing our thinking and feelings about the dreaded “something new” that is digital workflow.

If all of these advances are in fact improvements, wouldn't it be assumed that everyone would want to integrate them into their daily workflow to streamline processes and make their own job easier? One would think. However, it seems that such change is met with apprehension and apathy. As education for trade and skilled jobs wanes, companies who integrate new technology into their workflow are not actively integrating a youthful employee base, causing a technology-based education gap that creates workplace unease. Even I have to admit that when it comes to the latest gadgets and online tools, I am at a loss- my daughter has to show me how to put music on my mp3 player just so I can listen to “classic music” when I work out. I am, however, willing to learn; although I am far from functioning said mp3 player with the ease that she does. Shouldn't employees be as eager to learn the latest technology so they too can independently work without asking for help?

At Old Trail Printing, training and education are available so we can help maximize workforce efficiency, but will we ever be as sure about using digital technology as someone who has grown up with a “known” digital workflow their whole life? Probably not. We can, however, change our attitude towards the future of print and work with technology rather that resist the inevitable. Who knows, we might learn something new!

In no way is this meant to be read in a negative tone- Old Trail has grown internally by leaps and bounds when it comes to integrating the two workflow processes and we couldn't be happier. These comments are reflections on the printing industry as a whole as we turn the corner into the world of digital print. Not one company could claim they are 100% fully integrated without error, or resistance. This conversation is a reality to many companies, not just printers, who rely on a fantastic group of skilled workers, but are facing the “digital wall” head on as their business continues to grow and education for these skill-based positions dies. What will these companies do when the “Baby-Boomer Generation” prepares for retirement? We have some thoughts on this... but that is a different blog.

Written by Tom Horn, Plant Production Manager

“Obstacles are things a person sees when you take your eyes off your goal”