Creative Brokering

There is no denying the printing industry is facing a major sea change. Print volume is dropping on a global scale and printers in every segment are in search of new products and services that will allow them to remain viable. In the quick and small commercial segment, that quest has lead to much discussion about becoming marketing service providers or MSPs.This movement sprang from the emergence of variable data printing. Personalized or one-to-one marketing was touted as the next big thing in print. And it was. In fact, it still is a key element in the growth strategy of many printers. But now it is being augmented by the rising popularity of social media as a marketing tool.

Businesses everywhere are hopping on the social media bandwagon. They are tweeting, blogging, and creating fan pages. The sticking point is that most of them are not doing it very well. There is no uniformity of message and their postings are often irregular at best.

This is the point where I’m supposed to say something like, “That’s where you come in,” and then tell you how to make money offering services that your customers can’t seem to manage in-house. The problem is most printers aren’t doing any better at managing their social media than their customers.


What Goes Around…

The solution is to do what you have always done in this type of situation: Job it out. Your customer needs it, you can’t produce it in-house, so you find a third party who can provide the service, contract with them, and mark up the price to make a profit. The creative service provider (who is often a freelancer, in this case) gets a steady gig, your customers get what they want, and you make money and develop greater customer loyalty.

If you’ve ever ordered business cards, labels, or presentation folders, you understand the concept. The pitfall to avoid, as QP’s columnists fequently point out, is leaving money on the table. There is serious money to be made in providing social media management services, so do not treat it as a commodity. If you want to know more about how to price creative services profitability, read Digital Original on page 32.

It is easy to find someone who can provide the creative services. Just pop “social media management” into your favorite search engine. This is not a situation where you need to find someone local. The nature of the service means you can work with the pro of your choice no matter where they are located.

They may work with you on pricing if they understand that you will provide them with steady work for a number of accounts. That will allow them to concentrate on the creative work while you do the selling.

While you’re at it, you will do well to have them take care of your social media first. When trying to sell your customers on the idea of having you manage their social media, it helps to be able to point with pride to your own efforts.

What can you expect from a potential third party creative service provider? They should be able to set up a month’s worth of blogs, tweets, and entries to LinkedIn and Facebook (if your customer is using it). If your customer doesn’t have social media accounts, the creative should be able to set them up and offer guidelines for gaining followers, connections, and friends/fans. They should provide a consistent message that is unique to your customer and that promotes their business in a positive manner, including calls to action. Some will also update the customer’s website, but this is generally treated as a value added service.

One of the primary concerns that printers will have about working with an outside creative company is the same one they voice about other brokering relationships. What if the broker approaches my customer directly and tries to cut out the middleman? Unlike print brokering, these services are frequently provided by individuals rather than large companies. The solution may be to draw up a contract spelling out the exact terms of your agreement and treat the agreement more as a contract labor relationship.


…Comes Around

The true beauty of managing a customer’s social media, however, is that it opens another opportunity to sell them printing. If you are managing their online marketing, then it would be only natural that they should allow you to help them out with some highly personalized marketing materials and direct mail campaigns.

What? You never really mastered VDP? Not to worry—there are plenty of traditional trade service providers who can take care of that for you. Don’t offer mailing services? You can broker that out as well. If you aren’t sure where to turn for these services, just flip through the pages of QP or visit our Online Buyers Guide at

Printers are vying to offer more services than ever before. And with all the third party help available, you should be able to provide anything you care to sell. There is a reason why brokered goods and services are a regular part of the business mix for many top performing printing companies. Brokering made up 10% of sales in our 2010 Annual Franchise Review and 11.94% of sales for the 2010 Top 100. Those percentages have risen slowly but steadily over the past decade.

Almost everyone brokers something. Are you missing opportunities by not jobbing out more products and services? If so, finding some new business partners might be a good New Year’s resolution for 2011.