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Market fresh

Dec 1, 2008 12:00 AM

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R and R Images, Inc. (Phoenix) doesn't sell printing; it sells marketing ideas. By doing so, it has shown clients the value of variable-data printing (VDP). “Anyone who needs a way to target messages to individuals should look to VDP as a starting point,” says Rod Key, CEO of the $6.5 million firm.

With its stable of three HP Indigo digital presses running three shifts a day and one Quickmaster DI press running one shift a day, R and R has a solid base to provide digital printing to its clients. But Key knows printing alone doesn't get the big payoff. So, in addition to delivering “dialogue” marketing ideas, the company also offers data analytics, creative services for both print and online media, Web to print capabilities, personalized URLs and large-format solutions. “R and R is a marketing company, not a printer,” says Key.

Getting started

Success is backed by hard work and creative ideas. And that's what Rod Key brings to the table. “We started as a commercial photography studio about 20 years ago,” he says. “Of course, we went digital, then added a scanner and printer, which positioned us to do tons of catalog work.”

Ever flexible, R and R added imagesetters, proofers and other prepress equipment. “We were successful because we could speak the language of agencies. So we specialized in high-end, complex work. And we still have that photographic base as part of our product mix,” Key notes.

Prepress bureau work was on the way out, so with no background in print, Key bought a Quickmaster DI, hired a high-end press operator and specialized in short-run color. “We used to run that QM-DI around the clock because we marketed the prints as an elite service — not printing. That was great while it lasted, but all too soon our short-run business was regarded as commodity printing,” says Key.

The next step was to purchase an HP Indigo press and build a variable-data business. In the first month the press was running, R and R sold almost 400,000 impressions. “We started out fairly strong because we had a plan,” says Key. We targeted on-demand work, small quantities and worked to develop our variable-data work.”

Today, the shop runs three HP presses: a 5500, 5000 and 3050 as well as an HP Designjet Z.

R and R specializes in marketing ideas to its customers who have lots of data. “We try to understand our customers and make their data relevant to their marketing goals,” says Key. And it pays off. The firm is doing 2-3 million impressions per month on its digital presses, which translates into approximately 30 million impressions per year.

Bells and whistles

Key is proud of the company's commitment to a Web to print sales approach. “Our goal was to make it more convenient for our customers to purchase short runs of personalized materials. As a result, R and R was one of the first installations of iWay from Press Sense. This allowed us to have an electronic storefront that could be used as a convenience offering for our clients. And it worked out well from the beginning.”

R and R also worked with MindFire to provide personalized URLs (PURLs) to its customers. “A PURL can lift response rates,” explains Key. “By integrating personalized data and URLs, we can work with clients to deliver messages based on psychographics, demographics or other variable data or imagery. It's especially useful for either validating information about clients or providing information that might not already exist in a database.”

Technology isn't the only weapon in the printer's arsenal. Key believes peer-to-peer selling is required to develop a successful VDP business. That's why Key makes it a point to go on sales calls with his staff and to direct all sales calls toward top executives at the client's company. “If we can create a peer-to-peer conversation about marketing goals, targeted audiences and the executive's pain points, we can develop a plan that can achieve response rates two to three times the national average. R and R attempts to deliver the right message to the right person,” he says.

One of R and R's first clients was the Salt River Project (SRP), a public utility with more than 850,000 residential and commercial customers. The energy needs of the SRP's customers vary considerably — residential vs. commercial, older homes vs. newer, etc.

To target commercial customers, Key came up with a thank-you direct mail piece to send to customers after a special event. Targeted to each customer, the piece featured a photograph of the SRP account manager along with a PURL. Two hundred direct mail pieces were printed. The PURL asked attendees for feedback on the event.

The campaign was a success for SRP. Expecting a 2 percent response rate, SRP received an 11 percent response in the first 24 hours. Overall the response rate was 26 percent.

SRP is now a loyal customer of R and R Images, working together to develop ways to target its diverse customer base.

Similar programs have been developed for the Phoenix Suns, high-end home builders and many other midsize to large companies with strong customer databases.

Internal change for growth

With an ambitious plan to grow 20 to 30 percent every year, Key realizes new clients are needed on a regular basis. New projects such as custom point-of-purchase campaigns, development of high-value customers and high-quality personalized wedding books are just some of the ways that R and R finds new markets and new customers.

In order to facilitate that effort, Key has taken on a new president for R and R. Don Fuquay joined the company in early 2008 to manage day-to-day operations. With no print background but extensive big-business experience, Fuquay provides direction and accountability.

Of course, Key retains his position as CEO, but he is focusing more closely on developing new markets and sales strategies. “We have to learn how to think differently if we want to continue to grow,” he maintains. “Because we offer so many services, there needs to be a concentrated effort to sell all aspects of a job to the client. For example, when we sell variable-data campaigns, we should always remember to add in our design services.”

The way we market tomorrow

Another new direction for R and R is the establishment of a new sister company devoted to developing marketing strategies. Named Consero (from the Latin “to connect”), the new strategic marketing and planning company is gearing up to provide trigger-point marketing to a core group of clients. Still in its early days, Consero uses several independent marketing specialists to enhance the offerings currently available from R and R.

“We are trying to develop automated systems to incorporate emerging technologies into the marketing mix,” Key explains. “For example, if a client is interested in lead generation, we look at ways to use Face Book or MySpace to generate those leads. The leads are then placed into a CRM system and, depending on the type of lead and where it comes from, follow-up marketing messages can be sent via direct mail or e-mail.”

The trick to selling this type of service is having experts that can talk about these new components, says the exec. “That's why we have lined up three or four experts in narrow, emerging technologies. They can provide the insights needed to allow our clients' marketing dollars to go further.”

Key points out that this type of viral marketing, coupled with an effective CRM system, can allow clients to generate leads, identify where the leads come from, track which leads are getting the best results and deliver a cost-per-lead number. “Right now, we don't know how much print will come out of it, but there are clients out there who recognize the value of what we can do to enhance their marketing,” he says.

Offering a full range of services to its clients, from photography, design, data analytics and viral marketing to specialized non-print services such as Web to print, lead tracking and PURLs, R and R is well positioned to continue its growth trajectory. On the anniversary of its 20th year, Key cautions that the technology is only as good as the willingness to partner with customers. “It's our job to figure out the needs of our clients so that we can deliver a unique solution and prove the ROI,” he says. “Samples and statistics are needed to illustrate high response rates. We have to build trust in our client. That's what counts in a long-term relationship.”

Jill Roth is executive editor for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at