The relationship between a print buyer and a print service provider is not unlike that of a customer with the person who does her hair, to hear Margie Dana tell it. “Customers don’t switch print providers cavalierly,” she says. “It’s like switching hairdressers. You find someone you love and stay with ‘em.”
Dana should know. The firm she founded, Boston-based Print Buyers International, is a change agent and resource for finding and disseminating information to both print customers and print service providers. Print Buyers International holds an annual two-day conference in the Boston area, but this year for the first time is co-locating the conference with GRAPH EXPO 2011.
The 6th Annual Print & Media Conference will be held one floor below the exhibition hall. “To have it at the show is a very tangible benefit to our customers,” Dana says.
The print and media buying market is changing in significant ways, according to Dana. “The roles of print media buyers are evolving in lockstep with the way the roles of print service providers are changing,” she says. “It’s a mirror image.”
This evolution began earlier for print service providers, Dana adds. But once it became evident print volumes were declining and other media had taken hold and gained popularity, buyers who long had print-centric responsibilities found their roles changing. There was less print to source and manage.
At the same time, firms were looking to introduce and use other media, social and otherwise, leading those in print production to recognize they needed to expand their skills in order to keep their careers on upward trajectories.
“They can’t rely strictly on print manufacturing or print education anymore, although the need for that education, that familiarity, as well as keeping up with advances in print technology, still exists,” Dana says. “They have to make time in their workdays to accumulate additional skills in new media.”
Effect on PSPs
These changes have ramifications for the print service provider, according to Dana. “If nothing else, they need to be sensitive to the fact their customers’ needs are changing,” she says. “When the height of the recession hit, I was aware of a lot of job losses in the print buying side. It feels to me that that has slowed down. But that means there are fewer people doing the work. And the folks who have remained, in some cases, are less skilled and have less accumulated knowledge than the people who had been let go.”
The term “print buyer,” whether at agencies, organizations or associations, can describe any number of people, Dana says. These professionals don’t have the same titles, or work in the same department, but they all buy print and they can be either 20-year veterans, or “deer-in-the-headlights new and lost,” as Dana acknowledged she herself was when she started her career.
As a result of the inexperience in today’s print buying, PSPs should grasp there is an ongoing need for customer education they can fill, Dana says. “You can’t provide too much information to prospects and customers,” she adds. “It can be as simple as a short blog post or a tweet. You can enlighten and inform customers about your business and what services you offer in dozens of ways.”
The upshot? Print service providers that provide trusted information and education will be the ones that get the business, Dana says. There is value in educating and enlightening the customer, and it’s a very effective sales strategy. The customer, she says, often ends up thinking, “This is the company that helped teach me this, showed me a way to set up files, or came up with a campaign that was very creative. I can’t do business without them.”
Ultimately, the education component is a great way to stand out from competitors, Dana concludes. “I absolutely believe if you provide information and education in any of dozens of ways to prospects and customers, you will strengthen that bond and build value into that relationship,” she says. “And I believe it’s a minority of print service providers who do this.”