Quick Printing
April 2007
Direct mail in a template
Buying direct-mail artwork can lighten the load of a busy print-shop manager
I own a company called Ink, Inc. that sells monthly direct mail advertising artwork to printers. We’ve been doing this since 1989, and about 6,000 printers in North America have used our services. There are three other fine companies that do the same thing and there’s contact information for them here, too. But, what I’d like to do is tell you about the advantages of letting a third-party vendor help you create your marketing materials.

I became an artwork provider when my print shop was small. We needed more sales and more customers because we weren’t making a lot of money. In two prior careers—auto sales and insurance sales—I’d seen how direct mail was the foundation for fueling sales growth. It just made sense to me to apply the same concepts to my print shop.
Well…it worked. We began sending monthly mailers to about 550 businesses and my list eventually peaked at around 4,400 firms. It went really well for about 18 months. Then, I began to run out of ideas and time to create my next mailer.

I decided to try to find a really good freelance writer and designer to help me. To make a long story very short, I did, and I never missed a deadline again. In fact, my print shop mailed marketing materials for more than 168 months—14 years—before we missed a month. Along the way, other printers would occasionally ask me if I’d “share my designs with them” and that’s how Ink, Inc. was born.
Great marketing advice
Monthly direct mail marketing can have a big impact on your success, but if you’re like most printers, you never quite get around to it because you’re too busy. That’s where a third party artwork provider can help.

Through the years, more than 6,000 printers have used our newsletters, and mailed out 57,600,000 pieces of our artwork. We have had tens of thousands of conversations with printers about what works and what doesn’t. Their observations and feedback represent what I call “the greatest marketing advice ever.” Here is a summary.

Most business owners don’t even know your printing firm exists. How can they know if you don’t tell them?

Most printers are very gifted creatively but those who try to design marketing materials rarely succeed. They’re too busy managing their business.

It costs more—way more—to create marketing materials in-house than it does to use pre-formatted artwork. The average time to research, write, and edit an 11" x 17" newsletter is 16 to 23 hours. Designing it takes 18 to 24 hours.

It takes about eight to nine months of monthly direct mail before you start to see results. You have to think of it as an investment in the future and not a quick fix.

My direct mail company had approximately 2,200 printers cancel their subscriptions to our service because “direct mail doesn’t work”. Today, approximately 1,800 of those printers are out of business.

Technical newsletters are far less effective than general content newsletters. It’s easier to find technical content, and we’d all love to educate our customers, but they just don’t work very well because customers don’t want to read the technical stuff.

Expect your employees and families to be the biggest critics of your marketing materials. They’ll squawk about everything. If you don’t ignore them, they’ll eventually convince you to stop what you’re doing.

Virtually every survey ever done listed direct mail as one of the top two or three ways to grow your business. It’s often the number-one marketing method. Yet fewer than five printers in 100 mail regularly, and less than two in 100 mail monthly.

Consistency is more important than style. Doing whatever it takes to get your mailing out is far more important than how it looks. You want your marketing materials to look good, but don’t keep delaying it to get it perfect. Get it good—and mail it.

Direct mail works. If you use it for a long time with no results, be grateful. You’ve got other problems, like poor quality, overly high prices, poor customer service, or bad location. This is an alarm bell warning you to look around and fix it…fast.

About once a month a printer calls us in Fargo and says something like “We’re in trouble at my print shop. I’m losing money. Cash is gone, and if I don’t do something fast, I’m afraid I’ll go under and lose my business.” Then he asks, “What can you do to help me?” Sadly, we say, “We’re sorry, but we can’t help. You’ve waited too long. You called 18 months too late.”

If your printing firm doesn’t use monthly direct mail advertising, you’re making a dreadful mistake. Some of you will get agitated because I say that. You need a marketing plan for the future. That’s built on monthly direct mail. It works.
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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