World — 15 October 2012

By George Lizama, Special to American News Report

As the CEO of a direct production management firm that purchases in excess of 60 million dollars of direct mail and digital services for some 70 clients in both the public and private sector, I have the pleasure of “breaking bread” with executives of some of the most successful printing and mailing companies in the world.

I say pleasure because the printing and mailing industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, and meeting with some of these thought leaders and savvy entrepreneurs is always a learning experience for me.

The meetings allow me to learn about these evolving industries and what impact the economy has had on them – and enabled me to spot trends such as rising costs.

And contrary to popular belief by some agencies, costs are going up, not down or even holding!

As we sit dining and catching up on industry gossip, one of the more interesting topics is the ongoing notion by some suppliers that direct mail fundraising firms are “dinosaurs” of the past.  That they are losing their importance and others are picking up their expertise and running with it.

Ten or fifteen years ago there was a clear distinction between public relations firms, multi-media advertising agencies, direct mail fundraisers, printers, mailers, and high touch letter shops.

There was also a clear distinction between printing plants, mailing shops, data processing firms and  design/ composition firms.

All of these entities were separate, yet symbiotic and for the most part contiguous. Everyone was clear as to their specific role, with no overlapping of duties.

However, as time went on, things began to evolve, costs increased and the relentless pull of staying relevant changed the paradigm.

Two pivotal shifts occurred to make some companies start to broaden their brand – to concentrate their technical, tactical and strategic abilities in order to come up with that big IDEA for clients.

The first had to do with public relations firms and ad agencies doing pro-bono work for nonprofits.   As they learned and experienced nonprofit fundraising firsthand, they realized they could provide direct mail fundraising themselves.

The second pivotal change had to do with the suppliers wanting a bigger share of the direct mail and email business. Those services were brought in-house. Data firms acquired mailing houses, mailing houses acquired data firms, printing companies acquired mail shops, ad agencies acquired print shops, and on and on and on.

Now it seems that everyone is in the multi-channel fundraising business.  Premium vendors have hired fundraisers, printers have hired fundraisers, direct mail agencies have acquired email marketing and list firms, and greeting card companies have hired fundraisers.

Gone are the firms solely dealing with direct mail copy, design, content and strategy.

Gone are the suppliers who only provided printing, mailing services, database maintenance and greeting cards

Production companies now provide an array of multi-channel services for their clients

I know the race is to stay relevant, and to find better and inventive ways to keep donors and members engaged.

So the end of an era is here. Instead of calling yourself a direct mail fundraising agency, the new marque reads “multi-channel fundraising agency” that can also choose type fonts, data process, and print and mail your audience. Everything from soup to nuts.

Don’t know if that’s a good thing.  I’ve always been leery of restaurants with large menus that are pages and pages long.

I do know that change is happening. And those who provide a new direct response tool are still struggling to get the recipe to read “delicious.”

George Lizama

Editor’s Note: George Lizama, a founder of Production Solutions and its CEO and chief marketing officer, is a recognized leader in the fundraising industry. Lizama is the former president of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington and recipient of its Distinguished Achievement Award. He received the Washington Business Journal Philanthropy Award for CEO Leadership in 2008, in part to recognize his longtime support of Northern Virginia Family Service, of which he is a director. His blog is called Production Interrupted.

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