Author Archives: Elizabeth Gooding

About Elizabeth Gooding

Elizabeth Gooding is a visionary innovator in the area of relevant, personalized communications that drive positive business results. In addition to managing the Insight Forums blog, she conducts research on trends, technology and opportunities related to integrated, closed-loop transactional marketing (aka Transpromo), shareholder communications and social media. As the president of Gooding Communications Group www.GoodComm.net she leads a team of senior consultants solving problems with designing, producing and procuring business communications. Committed to driving innovation in communications, she has launched a series of business networking communities for communications professionals on Linkedin - the Transpromo Professionals Network, The Financial Communications Forum, The Healthcare Communications Forum and Shareholder Notice & Access group. Previously, Elizabeth founded Art Plus Technology, which provided design and communications strategy to the financial, insurance, and healthcare industries for 20 years prior to its sale in 2007. Elizabeth is the former editor of E.bill Magazine and is a frequent speaker at industry events such as AIIM, the Investment Company Institute (ICI) General Meeting, On Demand, NAVA Operations Conference (now IRI), the Gilbane Conference and Xplor. Follow her on www.twitter.com/egooding

Can Social Media Sources replace the RFI?

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Elizabeth Gooding CartoonPreviously I hit a few high points on what issuers and responders face when dealing with Requests for Proposals (RFPs). One factor that can send the whole RFP process downhill is the issuer’s desire to get the best results with the least amount of work.

In theory, if you really want to find the best solution at the best price, you need to talk to a lot of different suppliers and be willing to review a lot of bids. But who wants to source 100 vendors – or even 20 for that matter? In the past, I have always encouraged my clients to issue a short “Request for Information” or RFI in advance of the RFP process. Some possible goals of the RFI may be to:

  • Learn about new services available in the area you are searching for bids on – for example, the latest trends in direct marketing, fulfillment or variable full-color printing.
  • Vet the requirements for your upcoming RFP. Are you asking for the right services or are you looking for the best price on the leading edge solution from the 1990s? (You’d be surprised how many RFP’s read like the latter!)
  • Cull the list of suppliers who will receive the full RFP by asking just a few key Yes/No questions that are critical capabilities or contracting points that you will require from suppliers.

Now that you’ve read this far, let me confess that I don’t think that social media can actually replace the RFI – but, I do think it can help to make the RFI and the RFP process a lot more effective and efficient. There is a wealth of information out there that can be accessed without 16 advance meetings and a full legal and compliance review!

Let’s look at LinkedIn for example. In the Question and Answers area there are over 500 topics on Request for Proposal (from both the issuer and the responder perspectives.) It’s helpful to look at the questions that other people have asked – but it’s also a straight-out opportunity to ask questions of your own. Naturally a lot of the questions will get jumped on by suppliers trying to present their solution – but often they have some good insights on what makes a good RFP. And – you’d be surprised at how many times peers of yours at other companies log on to share their experiences, recommend suppliers, or share what they’ve learned about new technologies. Many times members will also recommend experts on a particular topic which may lead you to articles, blog posts, or even sample RFPs.

There are also discussion groups on particular topics. For example there is the Print and Procurement (International) Group which has 6,936 members from around the world. I would say that there is more Printing (3,478) than Procurement but it still posts some pretty lively topics. If you post a thread saying that you are looking for companies that can provide a specific service your likely to get a quick response. For example, the post:

“I have a 400 Pg + Cover perfect bound book live project. Quantity = 1,500 and involves spot colors. I am looking for a book manufacturer with digital and offset capabilities.”

. . . received 38 responses within a matter of days. The neat thing is, social media sites allow you to drill down on the responses you get. If someone responds to a post you can click over to their profile and see who has given them recommendations or look at the anwers they have supplied to other questions. Click again to look at the company page on LinkedIn – or go directly to the company website.  You can see who else works there and if they have any interesting presentations or recommendations as well. All of this is available before you have sent any formal communication out from your company.

Potentially, you can quickly identify many new suppliers that you might not have considered, identify experts who can help you define all of the things you should ask for in your RFP and identify ways of making the RFP process much more efficient. I still think that you will want to issue an RFI to narrow the field before you issue an RFP – but maybe in some cases you can get what you need from a bit of online research and networking. Let me know what you think.

And, stay tuned (or stay RSSed or something.) Next time I’m going to talk about why you might want to skip the RFP all together!

More Font Fanatics

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I posted Fans and Foes of Fonts awhile back about the fanaticism and activism that is out there related to the use of fonts (seriously.) I recently saw a video on design:related promoting submissions for this year’s Type Directors Club competitions. This video talks about being a “type snob” and being darn proud of it!

I would just like to say to Matteo Bologna – with great mustache comes great responsibility. If he takes typography as seriously as his mustache, the man is very, very serious.

If you think you have typography worthy of submission – the deadline is next week. Finalists and winners may be included in the TDC Annual (#32) which is quite an honor. Are you a type snob?

The 2011 RFP Season has Begun!

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Elizabeth Gooding Boston Color picFor those businesses on a calendar-based fiscal year, Requests for Proposals (RFPs) are already hitting the street. Whether you are on the issuing side or the responding side of bids for print and other business communications services here are some tips to keep in mind based on my many years sitting on both sides of the RFP table.

Issuers of RFPs

These days, most businesses rely on some sort of strategic procurement group for all or part of their RFP processes. In addition, the business group(s) requiring the services, their respective IT organizations and potentially a separate legal and compliance group may also be involved. Everyone is busy so the goal is typically to avoid “bothering the business units.” That’s mistake number 1 – bother the heck out of the business units and anyone else who can ensure a better result. If they don’t participate in the definition and weighting of requirements you might as well not bother issuing an RFP. You won’t get what you need and you will waste a lot of time and money not getting it. There is always a tradeoff between designing an RFP that takes the least effort for your business to evaluate and one that gets you the best and most creative bids. The latter will be more work in the short-term but can pay off for years.

Speaking of not getting what you need – that leads to mistake number 2: simply asking for bids on what you have now. What you have is not necessarily what you need and may not be the lowest cost, highest quality or most effective solution available. Tell the suppliers what you have now, what your goals are and get bids on their recommended solutions – you may want to get bids on what you have now also for an apples-to-apples comparison – but don’t limit yourself to what you think you know. I guarantee that the people who deliver the services for a living know a few things that you don’t about the best way to do it.

Top Tips for Issuers:

  1. Get all stakeholders to participate in both defining and weighting requirements up front
  2. Get all stakeholders to rate existing vendors on those requirements in advance of issuing the RFP (you really should be rating suppliers at least 2X per year anyway)
  3. Get an expert consultant (internal or external) to review requirements to ensure that they are complete, up-to-date and stated in a manner that will make sense to suppliers
  4. Don’t rely solely on “check the box” and “fill in the blanks” RFP formats. This may make it easier to score the RFP but will limit the quality and quantity of information you get to score.
  5. Don’t rely solely on “catalog pricing” for price comparisons. Have specific jobs estimated where possible. Catalog pricing, particularly for variable full-color printing jobs will likely cost you more in the long run.

Responding to RFPs

Let’s face it – responding to RFPs is not fun. They are typically poorly constructed; a lot of work and often you have no idea if they will ever really be awarded or if they are just a fishing expedition or post decision justification exercise. It’s easy to start off the process with a bad attitude. Well… don’t. That would be your first mistake.

If you don’t think an RFP is a good fit or a “real bid” then don’t respond. Quite frankly, many RFPs are not worth the time and effort. But once you make the decision to participate – go after it with your best people and your best effort. Participate in every possible aspect of the RFP process – ask questions on calls, ask questions in writing, make suggestions for improving the RFP and – at all times – play by the rules of the RFP. Also – if you decide not to respond – write a really kickin’ “No Bid letter” explaining exactly why you have chosen not to respond and under what circumstances, or for what types of services, you would like to respond to a future RFP. I’ve written no bid letters that ended up getting the whole RFP process changed for the better. I’ve also seen vendors barred from future RFP opportunities for failing to respond to the invitation to bid.

Top Tips for Responders:

  1. Follow the rules. If you are not supposed to call anyone but procurement – Don’t! If you are supposed to respond in a certain format – Do! By all means – meet the deadlines.
  2. If the RFP is poorly constructed – try to get the rules changed. During Q&A sessions make the case for changing the format to allow suppliers to provide more effective responses or suggest expanding requirements. Explain why this will benefit the Issuer. If the Issuer won’t budge – see Tip #1.
  3. Put the boilerplate at the end (and eliminate anything that is not pertinent to the Issuer.) Keep answers in the body of the RFP succinct and to the point. It takes more work to write fresh answers for RFPs – but the shorter you can make your answer the more likely it is to be read and understood.
  4. Make sure that the person responsible for writing your response can actually write. Some of the responses I’ve seen would embarrass a 3rd grader. Even if you have multiple people responsible for responding – there should be one voice and one responsible editor. And SPELLCHECK!
  5. The right references are important. If possible, give more than they ask for and make sure that the references will be pertinent to the Issuer (same or similar industry, company size, services provided, level of complexity.) Just providing a reference to say you’re a great company is not enough – it needs to relate to the particular RFP you are responding to.

RFPs are a lot of work for both Issuers and Suppliers. They work out best for everyone when it is a respectful process. Issuers don’t get the best bids when they treat suppliers like second-class citizens of the business realm. Likewise, suppliers don’t get the respect they deserve when they don’t play by the rules or fail to state their case in an effective manner. I wish everyone a prosperous and efficient RFP season and a Happy New Year.

If you want to get connected with some experts – comment on this post or find me on LinkedIn.

What’s Your Idea of Nirvana? (Prize for best answer)

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Elizabeth Gooding CartoonOver the past few months the readership of  TheDigitalNirvana (TDN)  has expanded pretty significantly; growing, on average, 15% per month for 6 months. At the same time, the types of people following TDN has evolved. Traditionally, a lot of our followers have been people working in the print business or managing print businesses of various sizes and types but, we are seeing a lot more people in other aspects of business communications services such as designers, marketing consultants and technologists. We’re also seeing more readers from the client side of the equation – print buyers, technology buyers and in-the-trenches marketing folks from a variety of industries.

Sounds good right? Well, yes it is – but it also means that there are a lot more interests to try to cater to. With all the different perspectives on digital communications – how can we keep everyone happy?

I hope that asking what you want will help us to keep TDN fresh and relevant for all its readers – new and old. So, what’s your idea of  Nirvana (in the form of a blog of course)?

  • Do you want more of a particular type of story?
  • Are there bloggers you just love and would like to hear more from?
  • Should we break out a few different “departments” to make it easier to find the types of stories you are most interested in? If so – what “departments” make sense to you?
  • What about the categories and tagging – are they relevant?
  • Is there information you would like us to cover that you don’t see?
  • Any suggestions for changes to the User Interface?
  • Have you subscribed to the RSS feed or the weekly news push? How’s that working?

Whoever you are – what can we do to make your job a little easier – or at least share your pain a bit (and maybe add a little humor to your day once in awhile?) I’m collecting ideas for a 2011 site update and really want to know what you think. So, post your ideas here, or find me on LinkedIn and help us keep getting better and better. I have hand-turned wooden pens to award to the two people who offer the best and most usable suggestions for improving the site. These were turned by my father in Oregon out of beautiful wood like manzanita, California olive and madrone. You can’t by them anywhere, they are only available as gifts.

I’m looking forward to some great feedback and ideas from all of you. Thanks for reading!

Where does Change Come From?

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Elizabeth Gooding CartoonI was looking at some of the comments on TheDigitalNirvana recently and I saw one from someone at ekeymailer.com and said hmmm – I wonder who they are. I looked them up and found a company that seems to embody a lot of the change and innovation concepts that various bloggers here have talked about on this site in 2010.

eKey Technologies is the design and technology division of Butler Mailing Services. Butler appears to be a very untraditional provider of traditional letter shop services. They were founded in 1983 and, I’m not sure what went on for the first couple of decades but, in this decade someone seems to have caught the process redesign bug. Rather than keep doing the same old letter-shop thing the same old way – someone at Butler/eKey has been pulling processes apart looking for every tiny way to make them just a little better. This process innovation has led to 4 patent applications (1 accepted and 3 pending) and over 40 mailer designs so far that have received USPS approval.

They have slowly expanded their business beyond their core letter shop print and mail services to become a technology, design and consulting services provider to mailers and to other service providers. This change seems to have happened naturally through intellectual curiousity and a desire to do good work rather than from a consultant coming in to tell them ” you should evolve. Trust me I know.”

But alas, building a better mousetrap does not ensure that customers will beat a path to your door (sorry Emerson.) People need to know that you have new coolio solutions for bringing down the cost of mailing and reducing breakage and streamlining the package assembly process. Oh, but wait, they’re pretty good at spreading the word too…

Butler and eKey both have websites. -While neither is likely to win any design awards, they post useful information on their eKey site- not a full on blog – but content that would make you come back.  Todd Butler, their president,  is frequently published in the industry press and works the conference circuit too. They have taken a page from John Foley’s last post “Make Social Media Work For You.” They are on LinkedIn – again not going to win any awards – but they’re out there.  They even capture testimonials from customers and make them “evergreen” through video on YouTube. Take a look at the video – it’s a good demonstration of how a simple packaging change can save a ton of money – and it’s quite well done.

Butler and eKey are not run by marketing wizards – but they keep figuring out ways to take what they know and re-package it at a profit. They keep learning new ways to get the word out too. They change just a little bit all the time. I guess that’s how evolution is supposed to work – not some big bang transformation. If some regular guys from Ohio can do it – maybe you can too. 

What do you think – will change at your company come from within or do you need an outside catalyst?

What can the printing industry be “thankful” for this Thanksgiving?

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With all the doom and gloom in the industry today – I was interested in finding out if anyone had managed to see a bright side.  So, I posted the question to various social networking sites and here are some of the answers I received(warning – some are kind of snarky):

“They should be thankful that folks will continue to read “real” books made of pulp for the forseeable future…

They should also be thankful that folks will continue to hand out business cards forever…

  • Restaurant menus…
  • Greeting cards…
  • Store signs…
  • Printing digital images…

The list goes on and on…”

                Dave Maskin, Wirenames.com

“I think the print industry should be thankful for the opportunity to convert to digital media. I think in the end, it’s about brand reputation. It’s moronic to think that because of your status, consumers owe you something. That’s just prideful arrogance and it derides the very people who got you where you are. That’s what they should be thankful for; at least they’re being given a fighting chance to survive.”

                  Joshua Barnes, Director of IT at Socialmatics

“The printing industry has a lot to be thankful for. Smart young people are finally starting to trickle into the industry and work their magic with digital.

But the biggest thing to be thankful as of late is if you are still employed. The industry has been shrinking and it will continue to shrink until the smart people are in power at the majority of plants.

 Kevin Waldvogel, Printing Account Executive at Image Systems a Consolidated Graphics Company

Well, I don’t think that there is a Disney film to be made out of any of these comments – no real warm fuzzies. However, there does seem to be a theme that change can be an opportunity or a challenge depending on your perspective. If you’re one of the people who has embraced the opportunities presented by digital printing and perhaps expanding into online media – you probably have a lot to be thankful for. If not, let’s hope restaurants don’t start putting their menus on an iPad and having orders placed electronically (I’ve already heard about a texting service for restaurants.)

Here is my personal list of things to be thankful for at work:

  • Great people to work with
  • New things to learn every day
  • A global network of  people to share what I learn with, and to learn fron
  • Clients who pay on time (count this one double!)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

Elizabeth

Fans and Foes of Fonts

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I’m old enough to remember when all we had to work with were fixed-pitch fonts – oh, the horror!

Then, suddenly, proportional fonts were available and BitStream (not Adobe mind you) ruled the font world. Of course, communications across the world began to resemble ransom notes with everyone trying out new fonts– sometimes as many as 20 treatments in a single document –sound familiar?

The rising popularity of Macs among graphic designers (more like a complete overthrow of the PC in that market actually) gave a goose to Adobe Type Manager and soon there were even more fonts being developed and distributed to an unprepared world. Licensing problems on PCs and production printers ensued and consultants and lawyers began to make money controlling the flow of fonts.

Enter the “brand police” who, over the course of the nineties systematically locked down font usage in major corporations to make sure that “corporate identity” was being properly and consistently represented to the world. The idea is that corporate fonts are (nearly) as important as logos and other brand identifiers and should be carefully controlled. Under the watchful eye of the brand police and era of peace and harmony ensued . . .

But corporations aren’t the only users of fonts.

The expansion of publishing online and off – blogs, social media sites, self-published books, the ability to personalize your email template- has created a zealous, perhaps overzealous, group of fans and foes of fonts.

Some are fanatic about font choices perhaps drawing on recently debunked research about the benefits of serif verus sans serif fonts or lists of most popular corporate fonts. Just take a look at Jessica Levco’s piece on “What Does Your Typeface Say About You” which has been published on multiple occasions and always garners comment from font fanatics. You have to love it when people self-identify with “I’m a Calibri” or “I’m a Trebuchet.” Does this foreshadow the next great pick up line: “Hey baby, what font are you?”

On the flip side, there are font activist like the “Ban Comic Sans” group. Seriously. These guys are collecting money and making videos about how much they hate Comic Sans. (I wonder if they are funded by the same people who have been comparing how cats lap up milk versus dogs.)

Fonts are just tools of the trade, folks. I have my favorites but I’m not planning on having them tattooed anywhere. Is it me – or have fonts taken on a level of importance that seems a bit out of proportion?

P.S. I confess I do rather like setting my facebook page to “Pirate” but that’s a whole different facet of personalized publishing!

Software-as-a-Service in the Printing Industry

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There has been a lot written recently about changes in printing technology and the transformation of the printing industry, but I have seen little written about one of the other key drivers impacting our industry – software, and more specifically, SAAS or Software-as-a-Service.

As print technology has gotten “better, faster and cheaper” it has caused a shift in the types of companies that are offering specific services along the Marketing Services Value Chain.  Service providers are trying to both demonstrate value to customers through broader offerings and also want to get more volume onto new, more flexible print equipment. Many times, new software is considered when purchasing new printing equipment – perhaps composition software or content management software or web-2-print technology- but, even after acquiring the printer and the software, you still have to invest time and money to develop applications on the new platform – or do you?

There are many SAAS solutions available on the market today specifically geared to getting new print applications up and running fast, without direct investment in the underlying software. While many service providers have jumped on the SAAS band-wagon for delivering white-labeled e-presentment or archiving solutions, few have leveraged SAAS to broaden their print capabilities or offer Transpromo solutions. Below are just a few of the independent  SAAS solutions available on the market today:

There are also hosted solutions for fulfillment management, various vertical market statement and confirmation applications and integrated marketing solutions available. The applications and software represented by these platforms would cost a million, or many millions, to replicate – but are typically offered at a very reasonable monthly subscription cost that grows with the number of applications and volume of production used.

In many cases, the key benefit of these solutions to service providers trying to transition to new markets is that they offer the ability to tap into expertise and services as opposed to simply software. Having great power tools (particularly rented ones) doesn’t make you a master carpenter any more than having the top software makes you a programmer – or a vertical business expert. Access to proven platforms, customizable applications ready-to-run, expert consulting support and a price based on actual usage seems like a great way to broaden services without breaking the bank.

If you haven’t considered SAAS yet, why not? If you have, what has your experience been?

Vertical Stuff Transaction Printers Should Know

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A quick note on some regulations that are impacting transaction documents in the Financial Services Vertical:

1. Cost Basis Reporting

2. 401(k) Fee Disclosure

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 is best known for the $700 billion bailout provision – but also includes new requirements for financial intermediaries  to report adjusted cost basis  to investors and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for securities transactions. The stated goal of the legislation is to provide investors with the means to accurately report gains or losses on the sale of securities for their annual tax filings. However – a more realistic perspective would be that the government wants a way to ensure that investors are accurately reporting gains and losses (particularly the gains!) on their annual tax filings. In 2005, the IRS estimated that the US federal government was losing approximately $11 billion in tax revenues due to the failure of investors to accurately report adjusted cost basis information and it has likely gotten worse since then.

While adjusted cost basis will be required to be reported on the 1099-B, many firms are also preparing to include  it on customer statements so that their customers are aware of the tax consequences of their trading activity. At minimum, firms are preparing messaging strategy around this issue. This legislation will impact Equity holdings (brokerage) in 2011, Mutual Funds (held directly or through brokerage) in 2012 and debt investments and options holdings in 2013. The DTCC provides a good overview of the reporting requirements and open questions. This will make statements and possibly trade confirmations and 1099-B forms longer – significantly longer for firmst that do not currently report holdings at the tax lot level.

Next on the list of regulations making envelopes fatter is the US Department of Labor who will be issuing new guidelines in the next 30 days to require 401(k) plan sponsors (employers offering 401(k) plans) to provide plan-participants (employees invested in the plan) with more-detailed information on the fees and expenses associated with the investments in their retirement portfolios. While the legislation talks about the plan sponsors, in reality, the process changes will fall on the backs of the recordkeepers who support them – companies like Fidelity Investments, T. Rowe Price, Schwab, TIAA-CREF – who are the same companies dealing with the cost basis changes as well. Investment News is a pretty good source to keep on track of changes for the 401k market – however they are more concerned with the potential litigation aspects of the issue than the impact on customer communications.

What does this all mean to you? Well, if you are a service provider, this is a great opportunity to help your clients out with redesign and plain language services to minimize the impact of providing the new information. In situations like this, the impact on page count is a concern, but the phone ringing off the hook due to new and confusing information can be even more costly in the short term. If you don’t have the expertise in-house to provide this type of vertical market redesign and consultation – now would be a good time to find a partner because the regulatory changes aren’t going to stop any time soon. With the right partner – you have a chance to be a real hero to customers struggling with these regulations – and that’s the kind of relationship you want to build right?

So keep up with the “vertical stuff transaction printers should know” and have a real conversation with your next customer or prospect.

Magazine Publishers of America: Minus the Publishing?

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Yesterday, the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA)  unveiled a new name, tagline and logo for their trade group: MPA – The Association of Magazine Media. By keeping the well-established initials, MPA, as the organization’s formal name and dropping “publishers” from its tagline, MPA is underscoring the fact that magazine media content engages consumers across multiple platforms, including websites, tablets, smartphones, books, live events and more. One could say that they are embracing new media – or one could say that they are distancing themselves from print.

“Magazine media companies are rapidly embracing cross-platform business models that incorporate print, digital and other ways of providing content to consumers,” said Jack Griffin, incoming Chair of MPA, and CEO of Time Inc. “MPA’s new identity expresses our strong belief that, together, all of these forms collectively express what it means to be a magazine media company.”

Added Nina Link, MPA President and CEO, “The essence of what consumers love about magazines – the immersive experience, the curated content, the sense of community and the award-winning photography and design – is now being enhanced by technologies and devices that support high definition imagery, video animation, mobile e-reading and Web access. The future of magazine reading is undergoing a transformation; audiences and advertisers now interact with magazine brands on so many different levels and platforms. MPA’s identity simply had to reflect this fact.”  

MPA will officially launch its new name and logo to its membership at the annual American Magazine Conference (AMC) on Monday, October 4, in Chicago – the same week as GraphExpo descends on Chicago.

MPA will also premiere a new series of videos at AMC called “Magazine Media Minutes.” Produced by the editors of various magazine titles, these mini-documentaries spotlight how innovative magazine titles are creating content and brand experiences across a variety of media platforms.  Participating magazines include Food & Wine, Glamour, GQ, Men’s Health, More, Natural Home, People, Popular Mechanics, Real Simple, Runner’s World and Yoga Journal. The videos are available on a special MPA YouTube channel at www.magazine.org/mmm. Most of these videos talk about how new media is better than print – can you find me one that doesn’t?

“In defining our business as magazine media we are explicitly focusing MPA’s leadership agenda on promoting magazine brands and their unique relationships with consumers across all platforms,” said John Q. Griffin, outgoing MPA Chair and President of National Geographic Publishing Group.

All platforms, including print? Hmmmm. Maybe we should take a bunch of GraphExpo folks on a  field trip over to the AMC next week . . .