The PSP vs. MSP debate continues
Eric Stern loves the concept of the elevator pitch. Always has. He loves it so much that he tasked his Almaden sales team to get the company’s pitch down to 30 seconds. Sure, Almaden has pitches for a minute and a minute and a half, but Stern loves to watch his team—painfully at times, he muses—work through the process of practicing to explain to a customer who and what the company is.
While being President and CEO has its perks, that is not why Stern loves to watch his team work through the exercise. It is about perfecting the process of succinctly illustrating just what the Santa Clara, California, marketing supply chain service provider is capable of doing in a highly competitive and continually evolving landscape. And you’ll notice, while print is not in the snapshot description of Almaden, the company offers UV web and sheetfed offset, and digital print capabilities.
“Being able to tell our customers that we offer more than one thing is important. Trying to figure out how to grow your business as you go along doesn’t work.” — Eric Stern, President & CEO, Almaden
Stern discovered a long time ago that limiting yourself to just printing—in both name and offerings—was not the surest path to longtime sustainability. Interestingly, in an industry that has changed as much as commercial printing has over the past 10-plus years, the debate of whether you should label yourself a Print Service Provider (PSP) or Marketing Service Provider (MSP) rages on.
“Well, we’re a marketing supply chain service provider, so you can see where that label stands,” Stern says, noting that Almaden expanded the breadth of its offerings 10-plus years ago. “While we stayed out of the whole campaign creation side of the business, we provide a range of services that make what we do different than our competitors.”
Working with some of the best-known brands in California and around the world, Almaden’s capabilities include marketing collateral; promotional products; large format printing and wall graphics; direct marketing analytics and mailing services; and technology-enabled distribution, kitting and fulfillment. It also runs web-based ordering portals, company stores and gifting platforms that feature real-time reporting and tracking. Working from two California production facilities, it also operates a state-of-the-art distribution center.
“The elevator pitch,” Stern says. “Being able to tell our customers that we offer more than one thing is important. Trying to figure out how to grow your business as you go along doesn’t work. Too many printers have gone sideways doing that. The ones who were able to focus on product niches like labels and packaging have been able to perform. The companies that offer marketing-related services, however, have done well too.”
Debates aside, Stern believes your company’s direction is what you say it is and that in the end, your customers will let you know what works. “The No. 1 thing I always tell our people is to listen to our customers. They will tell us what they want and what they need.”
You are what you say you are…
Whichever side of the debate you stand on, your biggest asset is being able to solve your customer’s problems. So, how do you define yourself? “By the clients we serve and what they say about us,” says Dean Petrulakis, SVP, Sales for Lake County Press Inc. (LCP). “I try not to focus on what we do, but rather on the problems we solve. Your brand is what your customers say about you when you are not around. It starts and ends with your customer experience—period. I want my clients to always compare the other vendors they use against me. I want to be the measuring stick.”
In the snapshot that defines LCP, the Waukegan, Illinois, company—whose offerings include digital print-on-demand, web-to-print programs and in-house custom development for web/cloud based messaging—the focus is on the delivery of the marketing message. Petrulakis says the integration of Lake County’s highly skilled crafts people, backed by some of the industry’s leading technology, positions it to consistently meet and exceed the strict standards of quality and service its customers demand.
And in the end, that’s what ultimately matters to all parties involved. “First and foremost, I think printers are better off to stop thinking like a printer,” Petrulakis says. “Stop trying to sell ink on paper. I’m not saying run away from all print. There’s plenty of print business to be won and earned these days. But that cannot be your primary focus when approaching a new client or trying to add value to a current one. Your focus should be on how you can make their life easier, and how you can help them win more business or be more efficient.”
“Think and act like a marketer. A printer puts ink on paper, while an MSP solves marketing logistics challenges and provides solutions for today’s busy marketer.”
— Dean Petrulakis, SVP, Sales, Lake County Press
The key rests in seeing the bigger picture—in taking ownership of your company’s vision and working from that mission statement. Instead of being a company customers come to for a bid, be the source that helps them figure out what they need before they do.
“Think and act like a marketer,” Petrulakis says. “A printer puts ink on paper, while an MSP solves marketing logistics challenges and provides solutions for today’s busy marketer. Today’s client isn’t just buying print from us; they spend their days dealing in multiple media, so the more we can help manage their brand in those various touch points, the better partner we are.”
Way beyond print…
Located just north of Toronto in Vaughan, Willow Printing Group sits near Canada’s Wonderland amusement park. Since 1953, the printer has been helping its customers find creative and powerful ways to engage with their target audiences. The messaging Willow uses is straightforward: How we help you go way “beyond print.”
Today, along with printing, the company offers a broad expanse of services, including database management, direct mail, brochures and collateral, banners and signage, kitting and fulfillment, and postage audit. “We strive to help clients get better results with our consultative approach,” says Jeff Ekstein, who along with being President of Willow Printing is a third-generation owner of the company. “When the client wins, so do we. We will look at the message/objective of the project and make suggestions for improvements, i.e., it might be an integrated solution with the addition of technology to enhance the printed piece.”
Ekstein says Willow’s goal is to be a valuable part of its client’s team. In many cases, that means it is the glue that keeps everything together. “Our objective is to meet as soon as possible in the process to add value and help shape the project for success.”
Linda Whitehead, President of Zuz Marketing and a consultant to Willow Printing, says that too often when you describe yourself as a “printer,” the customer automatically views you as a commodity, an order-taker. You become a company that takes quotes, gets files and produces whatever you receive.
“Your real value is working as a partner on projects, providing input to make each project as successful as it can be, and acting as an integral part of each project.” — Linda Whitehead, President, Zuz Marketing
“Your real value is working as a partner on projects, providing input to make each project as successful as it can be, and acting as an integral part of each project,” she says. “I think you have to realize that print is a marketing service, and if that is the primary service you want to offer, make sure you do it in a valuable way, so your customers can’t live without you.”
In the end, the PSP vs. MSP will continue, especially in an industry that wants to be too busy to pick a side. The consensus, if one exists, is that whichever label you put on your business card, make sure to determine what the real opportunities are and partner with your customers who need you to solve their problems.