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Partnering for Profit

How, When, and Why to Build Alliances

By Barbara Pellow

We continually hear that customers are looking for complete solutions to re-engineer document oriented business processes. Some customers and prospects are looking for a better way to manage their document supply chain. Others want to automate marketing campaigns from creative concept to distribution of printed or electronic materials. Clients may also be looking for Web-to-print solutions for franchise networks to ensure that brand identity is protected. Savvy graphic communications service providers are trying to provide more complete and integrated solutions to clients. They are often finding that a successful strategy for growth and market awareness is to partner with another organization. In today’s business environment, no company can expect to provide all services under one roof. Successful graphic communications service providers are looking at developing strategic alliances to bring complementary offerings to the table and help drive business growth.

It Is Working
Graphic communications service providers have established partnerships for a variety of reasons. In some instances, it is to gain access to technology infrastructure, while in others it is to augment marketing skills or extend geographic reach.

The Mahoney Company is a CA-based family-owned business that targets both small businesses as well as global enterprises. While its roots are in print, its vision is to offer clients comprehensive marketing campaigns. The firm wanted to deliver services that help clients create and execute true market-to-one campaigns. Today, its services extend from campaign planning and consulting to database creation and maintenance. The company offers the full spectrum of support from creative development to execution across a broad range of media as well as tracking the marketing ROI. President John Mahoney says, "Our objective is to enhance our customer’s business by delivering the right information to the right audience at the right time. Our focus is the delivery of relevant, consistent, multi-channel campaigns."

The firm recognized the implications of the Internet for cross-media communications and established an alliance with Palo Alto, CA-based L2 Solutions for technology infrastructure for campaign management. It uses Fuse, a Web-based service through which distributed sales forces, resellers, and enterprise agents can securely access branded collateral and the tools to create and order personalized communications. By centralizing the management of the brand assets, marketing teams have the ability to control branding and messaging throughout the enterprise and facilitate local implementation. Fuse can produce direct-mail, Web landing pages, email content, and data integration from a single platform. Fuse gives the enterprise the option to generate campaigns initiated by individual users or can automate the process through data driven APIs.

According to Mahoney, "The combination of our digital capabilities and our implementation of Fuse makes our customers look at us as an invaluable resource. It establishes customer loyalty and provides an annuity revenue stream from repetitive marketing campaigns."

Yoffi Digital Press, a commercial digital printer, and Trekk Cross-Media, a full-service marketing and communications agency, in Rockford, IL, established a partnership to drive clients to new marketing approaches. Trekk Cross-Media has been working with variable data and web-to-print technologies for nine years and has gained valuable experience in applying technology to solve business problems. The Trekk technology programmers work with an agency’s or client’s designers to merge database information with traditionally generated graphics and messaging. The result is a direct marketing piece that is highly personalized and relevant.

Yoffi started its business with a strong vision for the organization. Early on, the partners decided that the firm would be a leader in the development and delivery of variable data direct-mail campaigns. Stefan Agustsson says, "We formed Yoffi Digital Press over two years ago, starting with virtually nothing and building a business strictly around digital. I came from the offset printing industry and we saw the market starting to consolidate. Digital offerings opened up a whole new door to our existing customers while at the same time attracting brand new customers to us."

The company recently expanded its alliance base and established a relationship with ZGraphics, Ltd. located in East Dundee, IL. ZGraphics is a full-service graphic design firm specializing in corporate and business-to-business communications. The combination of Yoffi’s strong digital printing capabilities and ZGraphics Web to print skills resulted in the formation of a LLC called Zoomco. Zoomco is a Web-based campaign management tool that allows users to send targeted, relevant direct-mail to customers from their desktop. Combining the skills of ZGraphics experienced marketing professionals with the flexibility of Yoffi’s cutting-edge, variable-data print technology, is helping clients send high-impact, personalized messages and images matched to prospect’s needs, interest, or past purchase history.

Yoffi and its partnerships offer a unique infrastructure that seamlessly merges data and design with the objective of increasing response rates, sales, and ROI on marketing communications dollars. These strategic alliances are clearly built on the premise of delivering an integrated solution where the partners each do what they do best.

Increasing geographic reach is also a reason for building strategic alliances. In the summer of 1993, the International Printer’s Network (IPN) was formed. IPN’s charter is simple. It is a printing alliance designed to provide a unique service giving clients access to a worldwide solution for the production and distribution of their visual and printed communications using people that care and that are both local to where the business originates and where it is finally needed. According to IPN chairman, Roger Gimbel, "The value of this structure is that major corporations have a single source for print solutions that can deliver globally. The local IPN member is responsible for the customer relationship, ranging from project initiation, management of the process, currency exchange, and coordination with other IPN members. The customer makes one call and can have materials simultaneously printed and delivered in any number of locations around the globe."

Today, there are more than fifty member companies with one hundred and fifty locations worldwide. Members include firms like Alexander’s Print Advantage in Lindon, UT; ABCO in Dallas, TX, CPI IT-IQ Global LTD in London, England; Shanghai Computer Printing Co. in Shanghai, China; Basingstoke Press in Hampshire, England; McKay Press in Midland, MI; Houston Datum Corporation, in Houston TX; First Impressions Graphics in Ontario, Canada; Allkopi-Thrane in Hovik, Norway; Dupli-Print in Domont, France; and a host of other business communications service providers on every continent.

Building Alliances
When you talk with graphic communications service providers about how they found their strategic alliance partners, you will frequently hear, "I realized I did not have the resources to deliver the services essential to growing my business. I couldn’t build the entire infrastructure myself, and I did not have all the essential skills to participate in growing digital markets." These owners identified four critical success factors in alliance building—Strategize; Pound the Pavement; Complement; and Patience.

First and foremost, alliances need to be closely aligned with your business strategy. Yoffi had a clear vision for the digital print market that it wanted to participate in, but did not have all the requisite skills and infrastructure, and so joined up with Trekk. Members of the IPN had clients that wanted services globally. Rather than risking loss of customers to larger print providers, it built an alliance.

Establishing an alliance is hard work. You need to build a job description of the type of partner that you need to augment your current business model and then search for the right partner. As with personal relationships, marriage is significantly easier than getting a divorce, so spend time assessing alliances carefully before signing on the dotted line.

There is a temptation to look for a partner that’s just like you. With strategic alliances, you want to find a partner whose skills and background are quite different from—but complementary to—yours.

Once you have found the right partner, much like with romance, you need to cement the relationship. It can’t be hurried along, and it won’t be perfect from the outset. Building a strong alliance takes time.

In today’s complex environment, alliances are fundamental to growth and building market awareness. Small graphic communication firms are growing by adding complementary partnerships, resulting in their ability to offer new services and deliver increased value to customers.

Nov2006, Digital Output

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