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Specializing in single-source solutions

May 1, 2009 12:00 AM

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Reader Fay Cofrancesco alerted me to the transformation underway at Rainbow Printing of Maryland (RPM) (Baltimore). “We are undergoing a major operations makeover,” writes Confrancesco, RPM's graphic design and fulfillment manager.

Earlier this year, the 25-year-old, 50-employee company changed its name. As Rainbow Printing, the company was known for its offset printing. As RPM Solutions Group, the company is a single-source solutions provider. “We now offer offset and digital print, prepress, print on demand, marketing, variable data, graphic design, illustration, kitting, warehousing, distribution, fulfillment, mailing, online inventory management, lead inquiry management and finishing all under one roof,” says Cofrancesco.

In January 2008, owners Joe and Rob Cavey hired Michael Ellison help their company move beyond offset printing. As RPM's operations director, Ellison implemented a solutions-based sales strategy that helps clients drive down costs by getting their product to market faster while reducing their internal expenses. A customer that previously worked with a printer, warehouse and mailing house, for example, now deals only with RPM. Benefits include simplified administration and communication as well as streamlined shipping and transportation.

Of course, this sounds good in theory, but in practice, such shifts seldom are easy. “One of the most difficult things is to get employees and management to understand what you're trying to do,” says Ellison, a 17-year-industry veteran. “It's very difficult to envision all of the things you have to do to be successful. Until you start moving the product through the facility and can start providing solutions, it's difficult for people [to grasp]. You must experience it to appreciate and fully understand what you are trying to achieve.”

Targeting C-level executives

Employees also must take on additional roles and responsibilities. While some staffers will emerge as shining stars, inevitably a few are more comfortable with the status quo. “It's always uncertain how people will respond, but you get them onboard, explain the goals and make them accountable,” says Ellison. “We've been very successful with that.”

On the sales side, Ellison worked with RPM's staff to define the new approach and explain how it would work. Reviewing the client base with the salespeople, Ellison stressed targeting “the chief of command”: CEOs, CFOs, company presidents and vice presidents. “These people understand the solution sell vs. the print buyer who often is looking at getting the best deal on a job.”

RPM also strives to diversify its client base between what Ellison terms “economic” and “non-economic” organizations. “Manufacturing firms and investment firms are good clients to have, but they're mainly driven by the economy,” he explains. “Other companies and government agencies are [immune to economic fluctuations], they must continue to get their product to market. That's part of the sales training process, teaching salespeople the difference.”

Despite the economic downturn, things RPM is doing well. “We've had very positive growth over the past 12 months,” says Ellison. “We're starting to see new opportunities coming through — we've been able to utilize the solution sell to attract new customers. To help grow a company is one of the most satisfying things to do. It's a phenomenal experience.”

Are you listening to social media?

When Oprah features Twitter on her show, it's official: Social media has hit the big time. Is it for everyone? Probably not. Can it be misused? Definitely. “Hey, wanna buy some cheap print?” is a lame strategy when prospecting on the phone or in person. Condensing that strategy to 140 characters or less on Twitter won't improve your results.

Twitter and other social media outlets are still evolving. You might decide it's not your cup of tea. But take some time to explore it. You might find it's not really about telling people what you do but listening to others, including friends, clients and prospects.

Special thanks to PagePath's Joe Kern ( for creating a hash tag (#TwitterPrint). You can go to and search for this tag to find print related items.

Kern also created a free presentation called “Social Media Marketing for Printers.” If you've been meaning to learn more about blogging, LinkedIn and Twitter, here' s an overview prepared specifically for commercial printers. (See

You don't have to join Twitter to read someone's tweets. I hope you'll follow me at Let me know if you are already on Twitter — I'd love to follow you!