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A New Strategy in Minnesota

With its business changing and traditional work drying up, University of Minnesota Printing Services embarked on an ambitious self-evaluation project. The result is a new communications strategy, which will help guide the in-plant to future success.

May 2013 By Victoria Gaitskell
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Besides declining print volumes, shrinking budgets and the many other demands facing today's in-plants, University of Minnesota Printing Services faces a special challenge: the in-plant operates in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, the largest metropolitan area in a state where printing is manufacturing's second-largest sector.

Printing employs more than 42,000 people in Minnesota at more than 1,000 firms, with shipments in excess of $6.1 billion, according to Printing Industry Midwest. Such stiff competition for orders makes the in-plant's task of marketing its services to the university's 25,000 faculty and staff especially critical.

In response, Dianne Gregory, executive director, General Services, has launched an initiative to develop and implement an effective communications strategy for her 75-employee operation, and uncover new opportunities for improvements to help the operation attract and retain precious in-house customers.

"Our main goal in this exercise is to figure out how to market ourselves in a very competitive market," she explains. "We already have about 60 percent of the printing on campus, but we need more to remain healthy."

One reason the in-plant needs to build business is that what was once its main activity—reproducing course packets—has largely gone digital. And although Printing Services faithfully maintains its FSC certification and other environmentally friendly practices, the university administration still issues periodic organization-wide directives to reduce printing for either environmental or financial reasons. Younger clients are also driving the popularity of digital communications over print and are more likely to shop around online for outside print vendors. U of M's replacement of a centralized internal billing system with purchasing cards ("P-cards") has made buying from outside vendors easier than ever before for faculty and staff.

Additionally, the in-plant constantly battles the unfounded perception that, just because its operation is an in-house facility at a state-funded university, it automatically must share all the worst characteristics of slow, unresponsive, inflexible, low-performing government services. Contrary to this stereotype, the in-plant won three Gold awards in this year's In-Print 2013 contest; last year Printing Services won the contest's distinguished Best of Show award. Gregory hopes these accolades will help customers and prospects better appreciate the high quality of the in-plant's work.

A Seven-step Plan

To get started developing its communications strategy, Gregory tapped Shawn Welch, the in-plant's art director since 1999. He was given the task of researching and designing a customized procedure that would help the operation gain a clearer understanding of its business and competitive advantage, and determine a direction and message for its marketing collateral.

 

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