February 2001
From trophies to the bottom line
How to turn print awards and peer recognition into marketing savvy
Who does not enjoy a pat on the back, particularly if the compliment comes from someone whose judgment you value? A client who writes a glowing letter after seeing that important piece you just printed. A photographer who has been deeply involved in a project and is thrilled with the reproduction quality you have achieved. This praise makes our day, and spurs us on to do even better the next time around.

Industry award competitions are one way to receive recognition in the most consistent and professional manner. Most of these competitions operate in similarly, with pre-determined product categories that give all printing companies, large or small, the opportunity to submit entries. All of them have an expert panel of judges, so the best evaluation according to pre-established criteria is being applied.

Our company has participated in a number of regional, national and international competitions over the past decade, with a growing rate of success. Winning awards has become a very important part of our sales and marketing efforts in the past years. Being recognized by your peers gives you a nice reason to blow your own horn, both inside and outside the company. Needless to say, the pride of the Hemlock staff gets a boost with every award we win. The local press likes to write about these successes and, judging by the many positive comments we receive afterwards, this coverage is usually very well read. The benefits are quite clear to printers who participate in these competitions. But it takes a well-organized approach if you want to take part, along with some effort, and a bit of a budget.

And the winner is...
Think your work deserves a trophy? Try these competitions:
  • B.C. Gallery of Superb Printing, Unit #6, 34346 Manufacturers Way, Abbotsford, BC, V2S 7M1, 604-856-3383
  • Seattle Gallery of Superb Printing, 110 42nd Street, N.W. Auburn, WA, 98001, 206-720-5416
  • International Gallery of Superb Printing (Craftsmen Club), 7042 Brooklyn Boulevard, Minneapolis, MN, 55429, 800-466-4274 (Phone your local chapter of Printing House Craftsmen for information on local award ceremonies)
  • PIA Premier Print Awards (The Bennys),100 Daingerfield Road, Alexandria, VA, 22314-2888, 703-519-8100
  • Applied Arts Awards Annual, 18 Wynford Drive, Ste. 411, Toronto, M3C 3C2, 416-510-0909
  • AdMark American Advertising Awards, 1327 N. Main Street, Ste. 105, Walnut Creek, CA, 94596, 925-817-8183
  • National American Advertising Awards, 1101 Vermont Avenue NW, Ste. 500, Washington, DC, 20005-6306, 202-898-0089
  • Quick Printer of the Year Award, 401 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, 60611, 312-321-6886
  • Product of Excellence Award (from the Binding Industries of America), 70 East Lake St., Chicago, IL, 60601, 312-372-7606
Also phone your provincial printing industry association for information on
competitions and awards in your area.

The first step in developing a specialty market is analyzing your current customer list. Your goal is to identify national or large industries for which you currently do business, and then list other, but similar, businesses in your area. For example, if you currently produce work for an oil-and-gas company in Calgary or one of the many high-tech companies in Ottawa or on the East Coast, you immediately have a built-in customer base at your fingertips. The same is true if you currently produce work for a major pharmaceutical company in Montreal or a financial institution in Toronto.
Virtually every geographic area within Canada has one or more clusters of similar businesses that are unique to the region. It is these pockets of companies from a single industry that provide a fabulous opportunity for Canadian printers.

The next step is to examine the work you currently produce and assess why your organization was originally awarded this work in the first place. Does your firm have some specialty equipment, such as a perfecting press or mini folder, or offer some other capabilities, such as secure warehousing and distribution facilities, that can be made available to other customers in either competing or complementary industries?
It is important to remember that when you identify a unique talent or product, you must make certain you are good at it, because this is the story you relate as you build, or create, your niche markets. You must also be able to articulate the advantages and benefits of dealing with you and your organization. It is essential that you and your staff be perceived as a team that produces printed materials faster, better and cheaper than your competitors.

Another instance where niche marketing can be exploited successfully is when your firm is recognized for having a specific process rather than producing unique products. For example, an oversize Smythe sewing machine clearly gives you a unique opportunity to be a major producer of coffee-table books. Another company with which I am familiar has created an interesting, profitable niche for itself by printing only in black ink—nothing else. Its customers know what it does and that it does it effectively. As a result, this firm’s name comes to mind quickly when work of this description needs to be produced.

Making money in the printing industry is not easy. However, some of the hardships can be reduced or eliminated entirely by creatively using the materials you produce to enhance your sales calls.

Sales people must be directed and see the value in this type of marketing approach. We know that companies want to make more money and if the correct planning and implementation of these concepts is followed, printing firms will receive more work with higher margins.
Dick Kouwenhoven is the CEO and founder of Vancouver-based Hemlock Printers Ltd., a sheetfed printing company, with sales offices in Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and San Francisco. He can be reached via e-mail at, or by telephone at (604) 439-5001.
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