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Variable printing, invariable success

Sep 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Variables 2005

Take one printing company, an influx of digital technology, clients with high expectations, and a whirlwind of incoming data describing not just the printed piece, but its individual end recipients. What do you get? A booming business in providing variable-data print (VDP) products that can put static mailers and generic advertising messages to shame.

But it takes more than mere capability to make a VDP operation take flight. As some printers learned early, successful variable-data campaigns depend on rock-solid planning in the beginning stages of design and production. Additionally, a successful VDP business depends on strategic planning and follow-through from top management down through order entry.

Chicago’s historic Drake hotel was the setting for AMERICAN PRINTER’s third annual Variables VDP seminar held July 11-12, 2005. Attendees, panelists and sponsors interactively discussed the business and technical issues involved in a VDP operation. Conference highlights included:

  • Developing a VDP business strategy.
  • How to develop a successful VDP campaign.
  • Understanding mailing and the U.S. Post Office.
  • What you need to know about finishing.
Transforming the business
Variables 2005 was cohosted by Rick Littrell of Littrell Associates. Littrell currently is starting a new consultancy, MagiComm LLC, focused on strategic marketing solutions leveraging digital technology. Littrell took the reins on behalf of perennial Variables host Jill Roth, AMERICAN PRINTER’s director of brand development and special projects editor, who was unable to attend due to severe weather in her home state (FL).

Littrell emphasizes the importance of sharing ideas among printers who are successfully implementing VDP, saying, “To really take advantage of variable data and get into multichannel marketing solutions, it’s solution selling. You’re offering marketing solutions via a partnership with your customer. Take a traditional $500 job with one-day turnaround vs. a $10,000 job with a one- to two-week turnaround. That requires a systemic change in the business. There tends to be a high comfort level with the available technology and a high confusion level with how to successfully implement it.”

Thomas Beecherl, a sales executive with MJA Graphics Network (Clawson, MI), says, “As a new venture into VDP from a prepress background, I thought this was the most valuable training and insight into the industry. I would recommend this to anyone. What I learned in two days would have taken months to learn outside the conference.”

The voice of experience
Variables panel sessions focused on practical applications of VDP technology, as well as business strategies and trends. In the session titled, “Developing a VDP Business Strategy,” Susan Kinney from Castle Press (Pasadena, CA)—a full-service digital print and mailing business for more than 65 years—discussed the importance of tracking results. She noted a surge in VDP within the past year, and emphasized flexibility in working with customers. “Sometimes, we do different estimates based on which equipment—a digital press vs. offset—can be used for a job,” she said.

Littrell notes several presentations addressed concerns about obtaining and using databases, as well as automation. “The more successful plants tend to touch the jobs less, from Web submission even through online finishing,” he says. Kinney noted during her panel session, “Data is the key—not equipment.”

Joe Metzger of Metzgers Printing + Mailing (Toledo, OH), tells us, “I have a lot of good ideas and action items to take home with me. Overall, this was well worth the money and time. Thank you!”

AMERICAN PRINTER thanks our attendees, presenters and sponsors for another successful Variables seminar. See you next year!

Denise Kapel is Managing Editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at