Higher education takes a lesson in digital printing

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Many higher education institutions were early adopters of digital print, but it wasn't until recently that they really hit the books to take full advantage of this technology.

Many colleges and universities have in-plant printing facilities, which historically have used offset printing. Given the relative simplicity of digital presses for basic printing, many campuses began switching over several years ago.

"Our demand is for short-run work, so we decided [a few] years ago that digital is the way to go," says Wayne French, manager of printing and warehouse operations at Ithaca College in Upstate New York.

Today, 95 percent of the work produced there is four-color - four years ago only 20 percent was color - and printing jobs can be turned around in two to three days instead of five.

Where Ithaca College and other higher education institutions have been behind the learning curve, compared to users of digital presses from the business world, is in taking advantage of their variable data applications.

There are a couple of reasons colleges have been slow to adopt variable data printing (VDP). One is a reluctance among some on campus to part with the necessary data.

"We've been very slow to get into VDP," says French. "A lot of people are territorial about databases and don't want to give out this information," he continues.

However, after a couple of successful campaigns that employed basic personalization techniques, such as including the recipient's name, things are beginning to change at Ithaca College. "The response rate is more than double what they are used to," French says about the personalized campaigns.

French expects to meet with the college's marketing and admissions teams to talk about putting together customized brochures for prospective students.

"More universities are progressing toward using data to create a personalized portfolio of media for students and alumni," says Ed Danielczyk, public sector worldwide industry manager for Xerox. In fact, universities and colleges represent "a very significant market" for digital press manufacturers.

Indiana's University of Notre Dame is digitizing all of its collateral with the expectation of being able to use the images in personalized mailings, according to Danielczyk. He also points to a recent campaign from the Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology (RIT) for a student open house that is worthy of the most sophisticated direct marketer. RIT mailed a postcard to prospective students with an image of the back of a car. Personalization included the license plate, which had the recipient's name, and changed based on where the recipient lives; a bumper sticker reflecting the recipient's expressed area of interest; and a road sign showing how many miles it is between Rochester and the recipient's home.

More colleges don't take advantage of VDP because they don't have the know-how. "[Schools] don't have the data competence to create these campaigns," Danielczyk says.

This is why some universities outsource their digital campaigns.

Kennickell Printing and Global Marketing has designed a VDP program for the University of Alabama intended to increase the number of football season ticket holders who renew their seat licenses online. The goal was reducing the wait for the money - which runs between $10 million and $20 million per year - as well as reducing the labor involved in processing checks and forms that come in the mail, says Al Kennickell, president of Kennickell Printing and Global Marketing.

A six-inch by nine-inch postcard was mailed to approximately 12,000 seat license holders. There was a picture of the football stadium, and on the field was the team band spelling out the name of the recipient.

Those who went to the personalized URL, or PURL, saw a picture of the cheerleaders holding up signs with the person's name. Below that was the photo of the stadium with the name spelt on it from the postcard. On one side, visitors were asked to renew their membership online and, on the other, they were given the chance to order the custom stadium print.

More than 28 percent of the people who received the mailer went to the PURL and online renewals rose from 5 percent to 38 percent, according to Kennickell. In addition, over 1,000 personalized posters have been sold.

The University is adding personalized pictures of football and basketball scoreboards, and adding items such note cards, T-shirts and coffee mugs to the list of what can be printed on. Kennickell is bringing additional universities into the program.

Cal Poly and RIT are among a handful of universities that house state-of-the-art printing facilities - much of it donated by companies such as Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Xerox and Heidelberg - where they conduct research and testing on printing and cross-channel communications.

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