Executive Q&A—Ed Ickowski

In this second installment of our series dedicated to bringing you the thought processes and views of the industry’s movers and shakers, Printing News talked to Ed Ickowski, director of business development and sales at DirectSmile, a company blazing forward in image personalization.

PN: Tell me about your company, the segment of the market it serves, and who you consider to be your “core” users.

EI: DirectSmile is the inventor of image personalization, and one of the leading suppliers of software for variable data printing and cross-media marketing. Our solutions allow users to implement sophisticated personalization tasks simply and efficiently to leverage the power of one-to-one-communications across all media.

DirectSmile solutions are designed for true mass-personalization and can scale to handle million-volume database-driven communications both in print and digital media while tracking and providing detailed campaign feedback. Printers, designers and agencies use DirectSmile to open up new fields of business including selling image personalized print products to the end-customer, producing customized direct mailings, creating personalized response-tracking Web sites and establishing Web-to-print portals.

Our core users are printers, marketing automation companies, agencies and corporate organizations that want personalization in their message to their customers via multi channel technologies.

PN: How did you get involved with the company? What is your background?

EI: I have worked in the printing industry for the past 15 years, and as a result have built many relationships. These led me to DirectSmile about a year ago, and I was excited to take the helm and drive their sales in the U.S. market. Prior to DirectSmile, I worked for eCopy, EFI, TR Systems and Canon. I have held various roles from director of sales and business development, to account management and corporate sales trainer. I have been very fortunate to work with some great people and great companies, all which have helped me become the business person I am today.

PN: What do you consider your greatest achievement in this market to be?

EI: I bring an entrepreneurial spirit and positive energy to every position I have held. When it comes to my customers, I believe in taking action to meet their needs because doing right by your customers is always positive for your business. I strongly believe that by sharing success, ideas and information with your team, you embolden people with a sense of pride and purpose, and from that fresh ideas are molded. I feel privileged to be in a position where I am helping my organization, as well as my customers, build a healthy and successful foundation for their businesses.

PN: If there was anything you could change, either about your career in regards to the print industry, your company, or the market as a whole, what would it be and why?

EI: More time to educate and explore: I would spend more time educating, empowering and helping individuals open up to new ideas. Success is within every organization. Companies have great human capital, but sometimes it lays dormant because there are no ways for employees to share their ideas. What most businesses often forget is that it is new ideas that grow a company, help your customers and drive this industry.

Today we live in an “instant-society” where communication happens at light speed. I see people getting so caught up by this, they never lift their head up to look at what is coming. In my day-to-day work, I try to help customers see the future and the possibilities of what they can do with DirectSmile.

PN: What do you consider the greatest challenge to be for the industry right now? Why?

EI: The greatest challenge for our industry right now is the fear of making a decision or taking a risk. The economic situation has, to an extent, polarized the industry. Companies are either unsure of where they need to go, or they are extremely aggressive in looking for new ways of making money.

I see it more simply; digital is here to stay, and with it comes a world of opportunity and creative ability never seen before. Businesses need to decide if they are in the game or out—there is no midway point. I believe right now is the right time to take the risk with new ideas and new capabilities. The companies that lay those foundations now will be the ones who are successful in the near future.

PN: What do you consider the greatest asset to be for the industry right now? Why?

EI: The greatest asset for our industry today is the passion from the community. It is the employees, for the most part, who love what they do and want to be successful. It is the greatest industry to work for because it is ever growing, changing and never stagnant.

The challenge we face is sometimes we are just unsure how to make a transition. I say 99 percent positive effort, and the rest is left to timing.

PN: In your opinion, what have been the biggest changes to the way we communicate with one another in the past few years? How would you recommend this industry take advantage of that?

EI: As I stated before, as a society we have come to expect all communication to be instant, and with the advent of social media and new technology, we expect communication to be personalized. There are two consequences to this. First, the days of being able to say “Dear Jim” on a letter and it being effective are long gone.

People are inundated with messages everywhere they look today. To capture a person’s attention you have to reach them on an emotional level. We believe variable data publishing was the first wave within the industry to do this. We see even more that it is the personalized image that is the key emotional element people identify with most. I dare to say that if you are serious about being in this market, you need to be into image personalization.

Second, even though we have more technology to use to communicate and be more efficient, often we lose the quality conversations with our partners and customers. Ideas grow out of time spent understanding the business and the person, not just texting or Twittering.

More than ever today, you have to pick up the phone and say, “Hi, this is Ed from DirectSmile, I have an idea about your business, do you have time to speak.” That is personalized communication in the highest form.

PN: Looking ahead, what major innovations or technologies do you believe will shape the future of the industry? Why?

EI: In the past, VDP technology could do very sophisticated things, but was very complex and required high levels of skilled programmers and designers to achieve these effects.

The biggest movement I see is the simplification of the software. Putting powerful tools into the hands of people who can use them without difficulty will make VDP, cross-media and image personalization become ubiquitous in the market. That is the game changer that will make the biggest impact.

PN: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to printers and others involved in this industry?

EI: Two things: First, take notice of the newer, younger generation of employees. Trust in your employees, listen to them, educate them and take a minute each day to ask your employees about their ideas.

The second is SELF PROMOTION. Use personalization as a way to highlight your company, your employees and what you can offer your clients. We all get comfortable with how things are, and sometimes don’t realize our message is stale.

Show your customers why an image is “worth a thousand words” and you will see great results. Personalized imagery reaches people on an emotional level so use it to reach your customers that way.

PN: Is there anything else you would like to share with my readers?

EI: Everything is contagious, in a good way of course!

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