Getting into Verticals: Education

Profitably serving the education vertical at either the higher or lower level is first and foremost—ironically—a matter of learning: who to talk to, how to get to them, what they need, what they can afford, what they can do on their own, and how you can make life easier.“If someone thinks he knows all about it, then he doesn’t know enough,” insists Bill English, president of Superior Business Solutions in Kalamazoo, MI, which has handled many personalized marketing campaigns for colleges and universities.


Politically Connected

“Probably the first skill set would be to be politically adept inside the academic institution. It’s a very politically active environment, let’s just say that, in terms of who knows, prior relationships. Consultants who are involved in the marketing of these institutions carry a lot of weight. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of any of those kinds of guys.” Even identifying and gaining access to those people, however, “can be difficult sometimes.”

Superior’s approach is direct: provide relevant data “and you don’t spend a lot of money needlessly. It’s all about ROI. That’s our story, and it works for many places,” English points out.

The other integral factor is the institution’s end game concerning the students it is trying to attract and the necessary messaging. “We want to build documents that reflect that adequately. We’re all about variable data print.”

Gaining that background can be tricky, English concedes. Obviously, an existing relationship with someone in the development or admissions areas would be the first option. “Each of those areas has trade associations that commonly get together and share all the latest thought on what’s going on,” he notes. “That’s a good place to be, as well.”


Make it Count

Education “just like everyone else, has been hit hard in this recession,” notes Judy Brumley, co-owner of PIP Printing and Marketing Services Burlington, based in Burlington, NC. “They have lost much of their federal funding for scholarships, so their budgets are lean. People also can’t give to their schools like they used to, so be ready to get very creative with your pricing.” The best approaches to marketing, she adds, aren’t hard to figure out. “Referrals, cold calls; give examples when you go in.”

The types of print work that are typically needed in the education field, according to Brumley, include everything from commodity print and both black-and-white and full-color catalogs to color programs for athletics, mailings for open houses, alumni weekends, homecoming, and other events.

“If they want the commodity work like letterhead, envelopes, or business cards, I would go after the person who runs their print shop or purchasing,” Brumley recommends. “If you are going after the mailing of postcards for events and admissions, and also for the more creative development, ask who is in charge of marketing and advancement.” The directors of purchasing, marketing, and advancement should be the first contacts.


Different Beast

“Higher education is kind of a different beast than some of the kindergarten grades,” says Jason Mutz, commercial print specialist for Konica Minolta. “It’s just such a grander scale when it comes to departments and organizational charts and overall size and scope of operation.”

Another difference, according to Konica Minolta education and government solutions manager Stephanie Keer, is that public schools with K-12 programs “depend, obviously, on dollars from the government, whereas higher-ed institutions can be independently marketed and are dependent more on tuition.”

The decision making apparatus also differs, she adds, “Things are usually decided—at least big types of decisions—on a district-wide level. University decisions are made on the department level, depending on the department and the grant.”

When eyeing K-12, says Mutz, printers can reach out to business mangers or superintendents at the district level, or to principals and other administrators at individual schools. According to Keer, K-12 departments have less fear of being replaced by an outside print shop than those at universities.

Projects at that level will include lots of handouts and correspondence with parents, says Mutz, as well as signage and course materials. “If you get up into higher education it’s pretty much anything that can possibly be printed. They have marketing departments; a lot of individual departments have their own business cards for faculty and staff with their own specialized logos, letterheads for official communications. I can’t really think of anything that they don’t print in higher education.”

Pain points in higher ed include backlog, poor quality and customer service, and limited capabilities, Keer explains. The lower grades likely also suffer from limited capabilities. “I have yet to see any school district or individual school have an offset press or bindery or anything like that. I would focus on turn time, extended business hours, quality, customer service in general, and delivery options.”

Servicing any vertical begins with servicing a single client and collecting knowledge. “Land your first one, take what you have learned and proceed forward,” Brumley suggests. “Just like all verticals, you have to learn each business. Become an expert in this field, then go share your knowledge.”