Print vs Digital or Everything That's Old is New

Here’s a history lesson. Yes, and it's about me. Then you’ll learn all about how print is useful in the digital world.

That's me. Circa 1972, wearing Seafarers - the real kind - with buttons. And my first car, a '63 VW safari top. 

That's me. Circa 1972, wearing Seafarers - the real kind - with buttons. And my first car, a '63 VW safari top. 

I started my ‘career’ in advertising as a paste-up artist. Even more exciting than that, I was creating technical manuals at the in-house department of a high-tech company. When high-tech was called electronics. The company also had one of the largest in-house print shops on the West coast. It was also the ‘70’s and I wore Seafarers (by the way, they’re coming back, say hello to high-waist jeans).

Lesson: Don’t throw out those jeans. Put them in the attic for 40 years.

So that job gave me a background on production. From writing, designing, illustrating; to shooting, stripping and plating film; and on to printing and bindery. Great boot camp for a newbie.

All of that is relevant today. All that stuff we actually did on a board is now done on your little ol’ Mac – but you know that.  So all those tools in your workspace relate right back to the good old days. Cut and paste.

Lesson: If you don’t understand the process from start-to-finish, you’ll have no idea that what you do or don’t do affects the next person (or three steps from now) until they complain. Then you get do to whatever you did – over again. Understand process.

So, I caught this piece in the Denver Business Journal that print is making a Big Comeback. It’s a friendly, albeit fluffy read. But it makes the point that direct mail is relevant and it ties in with digital. The writer’s connection to digital is a stretch, but I’ll make a more direct connection. Read on.

In my glorious past, I transitioned from paste-up on a board to using a Mac, the internet was invented, and I witnessed the change to where driving eyeballs to a website was the New Goal; and even got to see the first iteration of watching real-time as a user navigated a site. Then that became illegal and it evolved to Big Data – which seems to have some sketchy components.

Anyway, we had this odd transitional period – from getting junk mail to your home and telling them about cool stuff, to sending people to your website so they could experience it – we had to tell them you had a website. This is the digital connection.

You didn’t know that the world didn’t automatically GO TO THE INTERWEBS?

No they didn’t. This was pre-dot-com.

So whether business or consumer, we did a lot of direct mail – ink on paper delivered to you via USPS – and then directed the eager public to websites to tell them all about awesome stuff to buy. And we started tracking them. Early Big Data.

On to digital. Faster. Cheaper. Prolific.

These days my email in-box is full of all kinds of stuff I don’t read. As of this morning, I have 198 unread emails in my TRASH. I received two items via direct mail – the print kind – today. Two-for-one buffet at my local casino, and 20% off at Bed Bath and Beyond. Easy.

Get it? I know what those two pieces said. I haven’t a clue what’s on those emails.

Lesson: We’re on digital overload. For me personally, I look through my mail. Even the stuff addressed to resident. There isn’t that much, really. And I don’t have to click, scroll and read. Thank you.

Maybe it’s time to try out print. I personally love print. If you’re a designer, and you understand print – paper, ink, foil, die cutting, folding, bindery – and finally hold that finished product in your hands, you understand. Tactile. Thoughtful.

Even a postcard can be (and should be) done well.

Quit filling up everyone’s email with crap. Getting something wonderful in the mail is so rare these days. And did you ever think that going to direct mail you would be cutting through the clutter?

Now go forth and design something for print.

Final lesson: Be sure to follow USPS guidelines. Never assume anything when dealing with a quasi-governmental agency.

Closing the Great Divide – Or Integrating Your Agency

I am actually going to go down this slippery slope...

I have worked in and with agencies that have severe silo problems. Digital and traditional (online and offline – or whatever description du jour) work separately – but in a parallel universe.  Wasteful.

In my personal experience, I found the digital folks think that those on the traditional side have no way of EVER understanding their world.

Conversely, the traditional folks think the digital know-it-alls are way-over-stating it.

What I have also witnessed in the digital world, is that there are either extremely stringent producers/project managers who control every-person’s every-move; or they’re extremely loose and kind of shoot from the hip to get work done – they just run around asking where’s this or that.

Traditional producers/project managers are in their groove and with the exception of some technology advancements, have pretty much the same parameters in managing work as they’ve had for years. Life is good and what’s the fuss?

Digital and traditional are different. And I get it.

Well, knowing that nothing is insurmountable, and most employees are capable of learning, I believe we can actually integrate digital and traditional.

And that’s good for an agency.

I don’t need to learn to code, and you don’t need to learn how to put ink on paper, or edit video. But we all need to know what it takes to get those things done.

There’s a big bonus when knowledge is shared: Communication with your client is clear and accurate (sure we can do X in Y time for Z budget – it's not a guess, or worse, over-promised), better utilization of resources and assets, and consistency in brand and message. But I shouldn’t have to tell you that.

So we travel to an agency in Sweden called Honesty and they’re going for their version of agency 2.0. The belief is that everyone should understand how to produce digital as well as traditional – even getting rid of their specific titles – wow.

I agree with this – and hope the great divide between disciplines is actually bridged – because I’ve seen too much of holding info close – not letting others in because it’s so complicated.

In an article in AdAge, the agency’s CEO, Walter Naeslund says:

It just doesn't make sense anymore to have separate staff to handle a separate area which is inherently impossible to separate from anything else…To achieve speed we attack organizational overhead and inertia by putting all our efforts into integrating strategy, storytelling, design, advertising, PR and production under one roof, one strategic account director and one creative team...To our clients this will mean better results in shorter time and at better prices. To Honesty it will mean a lot of new learning, more creative control, better output and further improved profitability.”

Control, better output and improved profitability.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?