Specialty printing posted no revenue growth last year, but industry sources say that demand for products including game pieces and high-quality direct mail remained steady at $5.3 billion. The total printing market increased 6 percent in 1997, but specialty printing sales have slipped for three years running, and the number of specialty-printing plants declined to 924 in 1997 from 1,107 in 1995, according to A.F. Lewis & Co., a New York-based graphic arts database company.
Ron Davis, chief economist of Printing Industries of America, Alexandria, VA, attributes the sales downshift to reporting aberrations. “I think a lot of printers are redefining themselves as general commercial printers. Specialty printing is a category that is in decline only on paper,” he says. Meanwhile, agency and manufacturer observers say an upswing is underway this year, with the number of plants rising to 1,025 by June.
“We are closing deals with clients for about one game a week. Fast-food chains and consumer product companies see contests, games, and sweepstakes as great ways to build short-term traffic,” says Mark Blaylock, principal at AdWorks Communications in Omaha.
Marketers’ desire to add a new twist to promotions spurred demand last year for unique premium items, three-dimensional game pieces and inserts, high-quality imaging, and more personalized direct mail.
Specialty printers have introduced new delivery methods that are still largely untried but have promise, including magnetic stripes on paper instead of plastic, and fragrance sampling labels.
Mergers have consolidated the specialty printing segment. World Color Press, Greenwich, CT, bought Dittler Bros., Atlanta, in March, its third printer acquisition in the past year. Webcraft Technologies, Lawrenceville, NJ, another large specialty printer, was snapped up recently by Big Flower Holdings, New York. World Color bought Dittler for its expertise in complex personalized direct mail and intricate consumer game pieces.
Piece work Marketers’ insatiable appetite for in-pack and on-pack offers benefits game piece makers.
“We are always looking for new ideas and different items for a promotion with games, contests, or sweepstakes,” says Art Irvine, senior vp-production services, MCA, Westport, CT. “We look for press-finished pieces that are ready to be mailed when they come off the press. You can attain that with the new technology.”
In American Express’s Window of Opportunity promotion this year, bill-stuffers with die-cut windows helped illustrate the promo’s theme. Consumers pulled down the windows on the press-finished pieces, by Lehigh-Cadillac, Chicago, to see descriptions of the benefits of a new investment service.
Though games were flat last year, the prognosis for rub-off and pull-tab devices for 1998 is much healthier. “Promotional games have been going like gangbusters the first five months of this year, and we don’t see any slow down,” says Jack Haver, exec vp, Eureka Security Printing Co., Jessup, PA.
Direct hits Print runs of 50 million direct-mail pieces may be a thing of the past as targeted marketing replaces broadcast campaigns. Promoters are mailing more frequently, though, and that’s driving demand.
“Direct mail is the fastest-growing segment in the printing industry because of its ability to target and personalize mailings,” says Pamela Spain, vp-marketing, World Color Direct.
Last year Webcraft bought database and telemarketing company Impco, Rochester, NY, to expand its services to direct mailers, says company marketing manager Stan Humpton. He adds that direct mail is “skyrocketing,” as clients seek higher quality and more personalization.
* Total specialty printing sales were flat, but many items used in promotions – from game pieces to stickers and tattoos – achieved robust sales.
* World Color Press bought Dittler Bros., furthering industry consolidation.
* Direct mail is the fastest growing segment, with clients looking for more personalization and higher-quality mailings.
* Magnetic stripes on paper and fragrance sampling labels are technical innovations that could break out this year.