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SINGLE SOURCE SUCCESS

Jan 1, 1998 12:00 AM


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Jim Burkhart is a printing and prepress executive who believes in looking closely at where his customer's business is going. "About two years ago, we looked ahead and analyzed the needs of our corporate clients. We saw that as a result of downsizing, buyers would want and need to go to a single source supplier to accomplish their aims."

And that's what Burkhart's company, D&S Creative Communications (Mansfield, OH), decided to offer.

Not that adapting to your customer's needs doesn't mean big changes. After all, D&S, located in the middle of the state about half-way between Cleveland and Columbus, was founded 25 years ago as a commercial printing company. Advertising agency capabilities were soon added, eventually becoming known as D&S Advertising.

So what do you do when your customers are moving beyond conventional advertising into promoting via Web sites, videos and CD-ROMs -- all integral parts of today's marketing communications mix?

As a company that targets corporate customers, D&S not only changed its name but broadened its list of services to handle all types of media for its clients, plus the creative, photography, printing, bindery and fulfillment requirements. "In short, we handle all the marketing needs a company may have," says Burkhart, D&S's vice president of operations.

D&S has always prided itself on its customer-directed culture, first adding electronic prepress to its services in 1989 and then becoming an Apple value-added reseller shortly thereafter. As part of its Apple VAR status, D&S trains its clients to hone their desktop file preparation skills, a value-added service that continues to pay off in the prepress department.

According to Burkhart, about three years ago he investigated the World Wide Web and knew that it would be significant. Today, D&S may prepare Web advertising for clients, design their home page and/or Web site or even act as their Internet service provider. The firm now offers training classes that include Web design because customers need to know what works (and what doesn't) in cyberspace. These classes are not just lectures but hands-on sessions at one of eight workstations.

Promising a complete marketing communications portfolio is one thing, delivering is another. In addition to the right people -- there are now 65 employees -- D&S has structured its workflow to create a streamlined multimedia output.

"We use what we call a parallel design and production process," Burkhart explains. "We know that our customers need a variety of marketing materials. We keep in mind that the customer needs to repurpose images for other media besides print -- video, CD-ROM and so on. Example: when we separate images, we always do a high-res scan, as well as a 72-dpi version, in order to be ready to port over to other media as needed.

"Our clients are repurposing. They may do a print catalog and then take those images and data to their Web site, CD-ROM or video. The same images may then be used on a training videotape. For instance, with an interactive CD, a salesperson can do a presentation on a laptop without having to be connected to the Web. If a Web connection is available and the CD contains links, then they can link to a site. Several closely integrated digital products, principally from Fujifilm Graphic Systems, have given us the ability to speed up this process."

Burkhart says the shop scans on the Fujifilm Celsis 5250 drum scanner, with a direct digital interface to the Macintosh. From there, D&S moves the scans onto the server and the low-res images to the designer for page layout.

"We use Color-Art as our contract proof and the digital FirstProof for customer approvals before outputting film," he explains. "The color consistency between these proofs is very good because both systems use the same pigments. And with FirstProof, we can laminate on actual printing stock to see first-hand how the colors will appear once printed."

D&S has also recently added Fuji's Pictrography 3000, a digital image printer for photographic-quality FirstLook prints. These digital prints provide for accurate color verification early on in the production cycle. "We use these for a quick, good proof," Burkhart continues. "They are also useful for the retouchers." In addition, the company runs an Iris 3424 color printer to output mockups of its package designs, since folding carton design and printing is also part of its mix of services.

Once the digital proof cycle is over, D&S outputs film to an imagesetter and images Fujifilm plates for printing. Presses in-house include six-color and five-color Mitsubishi 28-inch machines. The six-color is also equipped with a tower coater.

"As our market changes, the 28-inch format becomes more viable, especially for short runs," Burkhart observes. "A few years ago, our typical pressrun was 20,000 sheets. Today that number has dropped to 5,000. Some customers just don't want to buy long runs any more. Consequently, we're investigating digital presses as opposed to computer-to-plate (CTP) technology. We just haven't seen the need for CTP with shorter runs."

Burkhart points out that D&S has not yet invested in either a digital press or a digital camera but notes that the company is interested in short-run digital presses with variable data capabilities.

"We see our customers moving to targeted marketing instead of mass direct mail," he says. "The Web is important here because companies are using it to identify markets and customers."

D&S is itself among the companies using the Web to identify markets and customers and to communicate with customers as well. Its Web site (www.ds-creative.com) is an example of how this medium can coordinate with print.

In print, D&S's corporate brochure develops the same theme, describing capabilities such as spot and full coating, six-color printing and bindery options. Although some of the images are repeated from print to Web with similar images, none are carbon copies of the others. There's just enough differentiation to keep a reader's (or browser's) attention, while at the same time inviting them to explore the other medium.

Just as D&S preaches to its own customers, the company approaches equipment and vendor selection with a one-source supplier philosophy. "With prepress proofing, for example, we stick with the whole Fujifilm solution to maintain quality and consistency," Burkhart says.

It's not surprising, since that outlook is part of the firm's own culture.