Features Business Marketing
Marketing for print services

Practical suggestions by industry leaders

November 3, 2021  By Bob Dale and Nicole Morrison

Any list of leading Canadian commercial print companies would include CJ Graphics, Hemlock Printers, and PDI. CJ Graphics is made up of more than 30 companies operating in one state-of-the-art facility on an 8-acre campus. It has won more awards than any other printing firm in North America, making it one of the industry’s most recognized companies.

Hemlock Printers is one of the largest and most recognized printing companies in North America, operating carbon-neutral from an 80,000-sf facility in Burnaby, B.C.

PDI is the largest independent sheet-fed printing company in Quebec, providing integrated print solutions. We recently spoke to Jamie Barbieri, president of PDI, Jay Mandarino, president and CEO of CJ Graphics, and Richard Kouwenhoven, president and COO of Hemlock Printers, about successfully marketing their companies in today’s challenging environment.


All three industry leaders mentioned Arthurs-Jones as an industry leader that they modelled their companies after. Mandarino shared Duncan McGregor was one of his mentors. Another mentor was Richard Kouwenhoven’s father Dick, who was an equally well-respected industry leader. Duncan has shared with us that he is very impressed with Mandarino’s accomplishments.

Meet client needs

For marketing excellence, the first thing that everyone mentioned was their focus on customer requirements. Companies must understand the clients’ needs, so they can deliver specific solutions. In many cases, there would be a need to develop expertise, customize workflows and use specialized equipment to differentiate the company from competitors.

Once you achieve an in-depth understanding of client needs, and demonstrate the ability to satisfy them, you can expand by offering other customers operating in the same space unique solutions. This could apply to several industries, such as financial, energy, beverage, food service and pharmaceuticals.

Marketing tools

To get the message out, you can adopt traditional marketing tools such as:

  • newsletters, brochures and samples to demonstrate quality or techniques (i.e. high-quality bound books);
  • press releases and various types of advertisements;
  • lunch and learn sessions;
  • customer surveys;
  • plant tours;
  • open house (or in CJ’s case, legendary holiday parties);
  • sponsorships;
  • quality competitions; and
  • participation in trade shows.

There are additional channels that have proven to be effective such as:

  • direct mail;
  • social media marketing and multi-channel marketing with QR codes, augmented reality and PURLs; and
  • support for corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Relationship marketing challenges

While relationship marketing is important, it’s becoming more challenging for print providers, especially with large enterprise or government clients. Many have formal processes and requirements to control the relationships with suppliers, and that lessens the impact of a personal relationship. In other organizations, as the corporations downsize staff, the remaining employees have a greater need to rely on fewer suppliers who have earned trust by demonstrating expertise, quality and superior customer service. The best scenario is when printers develop relationships with customers they ‘partner’ with for a common initiative or cause.

Quality is not the same differentiator as it once was. The industry has transitioned from a ‘craft-based’ one to ‘tech-based’, with advance colour calibration, CTP and advanced and automated technologies. This has led companies like Hemlock to differentiate with sustainability and environmental initiatives. Hemlock, (as well as CJ and PDI) have received many environmental awards from PrintAction’s Canadian Printing Awards.

Prudent tech investments
As these companies have grown with their success, they also have a few things in common. All make smart investments in technology. It is important to have current technology, but not necessary to be on the ‘bleeding’ edge of it. Second, all have developed capabilities to be a ‘one-stop shop’ with investments in pre- and post-press, wide-format, warehousing, kitting and distribution. This has been accomplished by developing internal capabilities and acquiring new ones.

One of the challenges companies face is developing a standard message and training the sales team to share that, especially with fewer tools than were available before the pandemic. Sales staff cannot make appointments to visit a client’s facility and show samples that demonstrate the good work they do.

Additionally, as sales staff progress in their careers, succession planning is critical to ensure there are qualified younger employees who are adept at social media engagement to also build customer relationships, support the good efforts of senior sales staff and carry the torch forward.

We wish to thank Barbieri, Mandarino and Kouwenhoven for sharing their insights with us. This is the sign of true industry leaders.

Bob Dale and Nicole Morrison are with Connecting for Results, Inc. They can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of PrintAction.

Print this page


Stories continue below